Codecs – The Lynchpin for Video Conversions

So what’s a Codec, and why should I care about them? A codec is a program that is used for performing encoding and decoding of digital data. In fact, the word “Codec” usually stands for, ‘Compessor-Decompressor’ or ‘Compression/Decompression’. For video and audio files, a codec is used to encode (or compress) the data so the file size is minimized. To play back such a compressed file, you need to use the same codec to decode the data. That is why if you download a movie file that was encoded with the DivX codec you need that same codec to decode the data and view it using Windows Media Player.

For the Zune, you’re limited to the Windows Media Video/Audio 7/8/9 codec for the WMV files, and the H.264 codec for the MP4 files. However, if you have a video file that was encoded with a DivX codec you’ll need to install that specific codec on your system to decode the data, then use the WMV/A or H.264 codec to encode for the Zune device.

So, if you’ve been having trouble converting movie files or DVD VOB files using Windows Media Encoder (or other converter program), it’s probably being caused by a bad, missing, or conflicting codec installed on your system. Note, that not all codecs are equal in quality or performance. You might have a codec that just doesn’t run correctly on your system and that will cause errors during a conversion process.

Now, if you’re like me you probably loaded trial versions of several different commercial and freeware video converters to test them out and try to find a good one to use. In that process, you’ve probably installed a lot of different codec packs also. These “junk” codec packs can most certainly cause problems with video conversions.

So, what should I do about all of this? What I did, was go into Control Panel on my Windows system and select “Add or Remove Programs”, and then remove all visible codec packs. Some are pretty obvious, with one called “K-Lite Codec” that was giving me some real problems. After removing all of them, I did a reboot and had a clean, codec-free system.

At this point, I simply reinstalled Windows Media Encoder which installs most of the codecs that I’ll need. The only other codec that I had to install was the AC3Filter audio codec (which is often used for DVDs). Without the AC3Filter installed, my converted DVD VOB files didn’t have any sound.

If you do find a troublesome video that you really want to convert and you suspect you’re missing a codec for decoding, you can use a program called GSpot which will help identify what codecs are being used in that file for the video and audio encoding. Then, you can do a search on the Internet for that codec for download and installation. I suggest that if a newly codec doesn’t solve your problem, immediately remove it from your system.

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