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Monday, July 27, 2009

No codec packs please!

2916165056_f24643d284_b A recent posting by fellow blogger Claus reminded me of a frequent problem I see on computers I’m called to for “fixing”: codec packs (like K-Lite, CCCP, etc). They are usually installed so that the computer can play back all the video formats which can be found out there. All fine and dandy, right? Wrong! These codec packs have several issues:

  • They make your system less stable. Especially Windows Explorer, which loads all the codecs into memory so that it can generate thumbnails of the video files, can become quite unstable.
  • They make your system slower, by filling it with a bunch of codecs which you most likely won’t ever need! (and some of the codecs contain all kind of “utility” parts which clutter the tray)
  • They may contain bits of questionable legality! What these packs do essentially is to take out the relevant dll / inf files from the original installation kit of the codec and bundle them into one setup. However, it is quite frequent for these setup programs to contain an EULA which forbids exactly this behavior (distributing part of the program separately)

So what is my recommendation? In fact, I have two alternative solutions (both of them open source and free):

  • Use VLC. While the GUI can be a little confusing (although they improved it quite a little bit lately), it can play back almost anything under the sun.
  • Use ffdshow tryouts. It is a codec (based partially on the same library as VLC – ffmpeg) which can decode a lot of formats. It works with all the players using DirectShow filters (like Windows Media Player, Winamp, etc) and contains other useful features (like normalizing the volume, postprocessing the video, overlaying the subtitles, etc)

While I realize that my ranting here won’t change the behavior of people overnight, hopefully it can add a little signal to the noise out there. No more code packs please!

Picture taken from Terretta's photostream with permission.


  1. Hi cdman83 - I appreciate you adding the tip to the "ffdshow tryouts" project on my original post.

    I've been fortunate (so far) to not need to install a codec pack myself. Generally when I end up in a situation like that where a video/audio file-format something isn't supported natively by the system/application, I'd rather do a one-off conversion of the file into a native format rather than muck around with different codec packs. It's much easier that way in my geeky logic.

    Your words are quite wise and I would offer a fourth reason to avoid non-standard codec pack: particularly as I have seen (all too often at the workplace) where users want to stream (unauthorized) a video file or something via an email or website they are on, but, surprise they "don't" have the right codec...but it is helpfully offered to them and they download it and end up with a compromised malware-infested system. Home users often fall into this trap as well.

    For my personal back-up media players I use either VLC Media Player Portable at or The KMPlayer.


    --Claus V.

  2. Hi!
    What about mplayer ported from Linux to Windows? There is a GUI interface (MPUI) that makes all the stuff easier. For those "guru" that loves command line, they still can play with it. I think that this is the best video player. I'm using from time to time MPlayer for Windows package which contains mplayer mentioned above and it can play all stuff from swf, mov, flv, etc... Installing without SMPlayer interface (which I don't like) one can enjoy playing almost all movies (all codecs).
    Also one can use mencoder (it uses mplayer) that can convert all you can dream:D...

  3. Howdy Ghe :-)

    Yes, Mplayer is also a good choice. In fact there is a strict relation between the FFMpeg project used by VLC and Mplayer (many developers are part of both projects, FFMpeg is hosted on the Mplayer server, etc).

    What I like in VLC is that all the options are exposed in the GUI (as compared to Mplayer where the main program is a command-line one and the available GUI's are quite basic).

    From a technical point of view they are both great though and you can use whatever works for you :-)

    See you later.