Why Codec Packs Are Bad
by forum member, ScottW
Many visitors to the How-To Geek Forums have experienced software conflicts from codec packs and their problems have been resolved when the codec pack is removed. After debugging so many problems related to codec packs, I have begun to strongly recommend against their use. To avoid a long explanation, I tell people that codec packs are bad, but some people want to know why they are bad. Here, then, is the long explanation.
Figure 1: a forum member's problem is fixed by removing a codec pack
What are Codec Packs?
Codec packs are downloads that you can find that promise to give you the ability to play any videos that you might encounter. They are called packs because they contain a number of different filters, codecs, splitters, and who knows what else that all gets installed in your system. The people who put these packs together don't make the tools, they just put them together in a pack. They also change settings on your system when they install to make their codec pack the default tool.
Examples of well-known codec packs
These packages are not recommended. I recommend against them!
- K-Lite Mega Codec Pack
- K-lite Codec Pack
- Vista Codec Pack
- XP Codec Pack
- Combined Community Codec Pack (CCCP)
Figure 2: Thinking about installing that codec pack? Don't do it!
The Trouble with Codec Packs
In theory, a codec pack sounds like a good idea. It would give you all of the decoders that you need to play videos. In practice, they are nothing but trouble. Here is why:
It's a one-size-fits-all solution. The tools in the pack and the setting changes are always the same. It might work on their system, even most systems, but there's no guarantee that it will work on your system. The codec pack maker doesn't know what other software you have or what settings are right for your system, so they pick what they like not what you need.
It's a scatter-gun approach. You may only need one or two filters or codecs, but the codec pack will come with 10, 20, 30 or more parts! Some of these might conflict with software or drivers you already have. Even worse, they might conflict with something you get later leading you to blame the new software instead of the codec pack installed months ago. What other software carries so much foistware with it? See Figure 2, above, for an idea of just how much software can be installed.
Codec packs contain down-level or pirated software. The codec makers are trying to jam a bunch of unrelated tools together. To make it complete, they will include older software that is license-free or they will redistribute software that they don't have a license to redistribute. Sometimes that is commercial (paid) software, other times it's freeware that is not licensed for distribution. Install one of these and you become a party to the piracy. Also, this unofficial software increases your risk of conflicts and crashes, due to bugs which may be fixed in newer versions.
The setting changes are atrocious. DirectShow filters use a merit system. The higher the merit, the more likely the filter is to be used. In order to become the default, codec packs use merit numbers that are ridiculously high and sometimes numbers that are not valid.
Codec removal is a common fix. I have helped so many people whose troubles all went away when they uninstalled a codec pack. You can find many of them on this very site. I have heard plenty of stories of similar fixing, and seen the posts on other websites.
If you have any codec packs installed, use Add/Remove programs (XP) or Programs and Features (Vista) to uninstall them immediately. Even if you are not having any conflicts now, you might have them in the future and not realize that they are caused by that old codec pack.
The alternative to codec packs is to install only the filters and codecs that you need one at a time. I will explore how to do this in a future article.
Figure 3: another satisfied forum member
Learn More About the Evils of Codec Packs
I always recommend that people do their own research. Here are some links that support my position that codec packs are trouble.
- Codec Packs are evil, don't install them!!
- Zero codec pack (another codec pack destroyed your system?)
- A comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about codecs and how to not destroy your system using them.
- WMP FAQ (Q: I installed a codec pack and now I'm experiencing problems)
ScottW is a computer engineer with 17 years of software development experience in the corporate sector who is fascinated by all types of geek tech, especially computers and home theater. He enjoys helping others with their tech problems.
Article text Copyright 2008 by Scott D. Walton