Essential Software: CODEC Chaos

In this first part, I’ll discuss in basic terms; a) The common system used in Windows to handle codecs and b) The problems associated with codec utilisation in Windows.  Part II article will focus on essential software used to counter codec issues posed by the system described in Part I..

I don’t think that I am speaking for myself here, when I say that CODEC packs can introduce some really annoying scenarios concerning loss of media playback in certain media player applications.  People think that the more codecs they have installed, the more media files they can play.  In actual fact, the introduction of more and more codecs is likely to over-write the priority of the pre-existing codecs that did their job properly in the first place. 


Codec communication

Basically, when you want to play a media file, the software you are using is generally making a request to a component of DirectX* called DirectShow**.  This request is based on the file extension of the media being executed eg; .wmv or .mpg – which determines the next steps.  Next, the codec is implemented as a path/pipeline of filters, known as a Filter Graph.  The filters represent stages who’s type and functionality depend on the operation being performed, ie. whether/what you are playing or recording. 

*DirectX: A set of commonly accessed programming interfaces to improve the ease at which a programmer can write code for multimedia/other hardware operations. 

**DirectShow is the framework that has been used by Microsoft in their operating systems since before Windows 98 (under another name) hitherto to enable one to play media files.  There are a couple of newer interfaces that Microsoft recommends software developers use – but that’s beyond the scope of this article. 


Codec communication chaos

Unfortunately (as has been the case for me in the past), when you are faced with a codec pack installer (like K-Lite Codec Pack) that tells you to stick to installation presets provided (eg. Basic) unless you know what you are doing, then you tend to listen because it sounds like the thing to do, and think little more about it until it is too late..  The problem is related to the DirectShow interface using a merit system to facilitate the setting of filter priorities.  You wind up with a conflict between two or more filters or certain filters that rank above that of the previous ones and thus will always lead to a problem playing the media files under certain players.  Also, there are media players that will ‘repair’ the position of their filters each time they are run, reintroducing the problem if you had fixed it.  As a result, the average person tries to use inefficient methods to ‘undo’ the problem by uninstalling the codec pack and re-installing the media player(s) again. 

Not everyone understands the nature of codecs – let alone, how the Windows environment handles them!  This leads me to my Part II article, that features an essential software tool to bypass this problem, without necessarily uninstalling codecs. 

To be continued…

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One Response to “Essential Software: CODEC Chaos”

  1. […] This is part II of the article series on codecs – the final part of the series.  In Part I, we looked at the scenarios where codec-related problems could arise and the way in which Windows […]

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