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Beginner: How to Find What Codecs You Need to Play Any Media File

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There must have been an occasion when you launched a video and got sound but no picture. The most likely cause is that you never had the correct codec installed, so here’s how to find out exactly which codec is needed to play any media file.

Finding the Codec

Head over to the developer’s website and grab a copy of CodecInstaller (full package).

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Once downloaded, launch it and run through the install wizard.

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Once you have it installed, launch it from the shortcut on your desktop, then click on the analyze file button.

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Now you will need to select a file, once selected, you will be given a fairly detailed break down of the file. It looks like the file I chose is encoded with the FLAC codec.

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A quick Google search takes us directly to the download page where i can grab a copy of the FLAC codec.

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Of course you could always use VLC, but for those more conscious about what gets installed on their PC’s, this is a great alternative.

Taylor Gibb is a Microsoft MVP and all round geek, he loves everything from Windows 8 to Windows Server 2012 and even C# and PowerShell. You can also follow him on Google+

  • Published 07/8/12

Comments (18)

  1. Jon

    If you are more concious about what gets installed then surely VLC is the better alternative to hundreds of codecs?

  2. hellboy1975

    Agreed, as a conscious installer I’d rather an Open Source VLC to this…

  3. Alan

    Another tool : Gspot

    unusual name for a software but we’re all grownups here lol & gets the job done too :D

  4. 7Away

    i prefer using MediaInfo

  5. Nathan

    I used to get all the codecs until I realised, what the hell am I doing? Then I downloaded VLC and havn’t looked back since :).

  6. Raging God

    one word: ?/</

  7. Matthew

    A simpler option is to use a codec pack – I use the K-Lite Codec Pack with MPC-HC, and it works fine.

  8. Dan

    Does VLC work with IOS or Android . I am having trouble playing MKV and AVI on both

  9. Shawn Collins

    VLC is the way to go! I used K-Lite codec pack and I can’t say I know of anything wrong with it. That being said, I’m a minimalist when it goes to installing extraneous software on my machine. Why install a codec pack in order to get another media player to work when VLC will play anything you throw at it. That, coupled with the fact that it’s open-source should sell anyone. When I do a Windows installation, I’ll download and install VLC then set Windows to use VLC for ALL the files it can play by default. After that, I install WinAmp and set Windows to use WinAmp for all the defaults WinAmp can play.

    Yes, they’re both capable of playing both video and audio files. Setting them up to use their defaults in that manner, however, sets up Windows to use VLC for all video files and WinAmp for all audio files.

    Shawn Collins

  10. Nathan J.

    I’m confused. The screenshots show Windows 8, but this hasn’t been a real problem for anybody for over 10 years, or however long VLC has been out, and VLC runs just fine in Windows 8, at least on my rig.

    If you mess with codecs, you’re just asking for trouble. Literally. The rest of us just picked up VLC (or another mplayer or ffdshow based player; SMPlayer is another good one).

    @Dan. Not sure what IOS is, but VLC for Android is available if you have some obscure GPU I’ve never heard of (Neon?) but other versions are coming soon. IOS looks a lot like iOS; if you mean the software on iPod/iPhone/iPad, probably not, best to find a converter. Apple doesn’t like choices.

  11. nonosh

    I prefer Combined Community Codec Pack (CCCP) over VLC, mainly because some complex video files (e.g., H.264 High 10 Profile) can’t be played properly on VLC.

    CCCP combines the best of the best codecs/splitters in a custom single installation package to optimize all complex — and non-mainstream — formats.

  12. Anon

    @ Dan,

    The quick answer is, sort of.

    VLC can stream nearly anything including mkv and avi files to an Android device. (BTW, The file name is not always a good way to tell if a media file is indeed an avi or mkv or something either.) But to stream, you will probably need a more recent version of VLC on your PC. And if you don’t know how to stream then you’re in luck! HTG just recently did a great write up on this (thanks again Chris):

    http://www.howtogeek.com/118075/how-to-stream-videos-and-music-over-the-network-using-vlc/

    Currently (as 7/8/12), I believe VLC is up to version 2.02 for the PC. It’ just under 22Mb and can be downloaded from their web page:

    http://www.videolan.org/vlc/

    But as far as Android goes, I don’t think VLC has a full fledged player app. However there is an Android app called VLC Remote that I seem to recall can act as a remote control as well as a media player – I’m probably wrong so don’t quote me on that. And it really doesn’t matter anyway if your existing Android media player can already deal with streaming media. I just mention streaming media from a PC using VLC since you don’t have to copy all your media to your portable device in order to enjoy it. After all, most portable devices are already a bit cramped for space especially when it comes to video.

    Then again, if you want your media more portable but can’t get it to work with your current player you could get a different more capable player or you could look into trans coding your media before you put it on your device. And as far as trans coding media on a Windows PC goes, I kind of like Format Factory (which has nothing to do with formatting hard drives or anything either). And although a lot of people seem to prefer Handbrake (also a good choice), I happen to like Format Factory for it’s configure-ability and wider range or “formats.” Just be willing to jump ship at the first sign of trouble since Format Factory does seem to rely on a rather large codec pack (keep reading). You can find Format Factory and more about it here:

    http://www.pcfreetime.com/

    Now, a far as relying on codec packs go, I hope you realize that codec “packs” are a very common way to distribute and catch viruses, worms and malware. Before I knew better, I remember occasionally getting codec packs from good old reliable places like CNet before they went all uber commercial and everything. Later on I would get bitten so hard that a few times I had to reformat and reinstall my OS! These codec packs always passed all possible virus/malware scans and even appeared to be clean – even now! But some were just traps. So beware.

  13. UltimatePSV

    I prefer to use VLC but I keep K-Lite Codec Pack installed on my computer.

  14. Dave

    I tend to use G-Spot [http://www.headbands.com/gspot/] for finding codecs if I need to standalone no installs

  15. TheFu

    If you **prefer** CLI solutions, then …

    $ mplayer -identify “$infile” -frames 0

    Tells us everything we need to know.

    Installing a “codec pak” just seems crazy to me. For many, many years terrible codecs cause stability issues AND were used to distribute malware. If VLC can’t play it, I don’t need to view it. It really is that simple.

  16. Randy

    There’s another free open source Media player that I like even better than VLC and it’s called Pot player by Daum. Both x86 and x64 free and it plays everything I’ve thrown at it so far, MKV, Mp4, AAC, FLAC, those are some of the tough ones it plays w/o having to install additional codecs.

  17. Shane

    I use VLC to play everything (and the only things its stuttered on are broken files – some are just too broken!), but I also regularly update and install the K-Lite Mega Codec Pack (www.codecguide.com). VLC is fine if you’re just going to be playing files, but if you’re like me and burn the odd DVD and/or transcode things so your Xbox can play them (yes I know it is possible to do this on the fly, but I find it handier just to convert and leave it there for future use) then having a codec pack installed is a must.

  18. Benny

    Lav filters for me

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