I need ... codec. Where can I get it?
Internet Filmmakers' FAQ
With the boom in streaming media, a large number of audio-visual codecs (Compressor/Decompressor) have hit the market. There are two main types of codecs: software and hardware. Software codecs are installed on your operating system and allow your computer to read and process the compression algorithms used for a video or audio file. Hardware codecs are used by capture devices, such as video capture card, to create multimedia files from external sources. Hardware codecs are often proprietary (ie. only available to users who have purchased the vendor's hardware solution).
This is all well and good, but what if the file you are trying to use has been compressed with a codec that you don't have available on your system?
Windows Media Player
The latest version of Microsoft's Windows Media Player has a very neat feature - if the file you are trying to view uses a codec that is not present on your system, WMP attempts to download it from Microsoft's centralised codec resource (assuming your are connected to the Internet). In many cases, WMP locates, downloads, and installs the codec automatically in a few moments. Unfortunately because some codecs are proprietary or require you to buy them, WMP cannot always locate a suitable codec.
Named after the defunct competitor to DVD, DivX started as a hacked version of Microsoft's MPEG4 codec. Although DivX is the codec of choice for most online video pirates, its high-quality for low-filesize makes it an interesting tool for independent filmmakers. This is one codec that Windows Media Player won't download for you. Get it yourself at the DivX web site.
XviD is an ISO MPEG-4 compliant video codec. It's not a product, it's an open source project which is developed and maintained by lots of people from all over the world. More information and codec downloads can be found at the official XvID project site.
Motion-JPEG a close cousin of the familiar photo JPEG, M-JPEG is one of the most common codecs used by many analogue video capture cards. Morgan Multimedia make a software codec call Morgan M-JPEG that allows you to play M-JPEG files created by proprietary capture cards such as Marvel, Rainbow Runner, DC30 etc. You can download a trial version for free from their web site.
Indeo was originally developed by Intel, but is now owned by Ligos and versions are present on most Windows systems. It is worth downloading the latest version from the Ligos web site to ensure that you can play all versions of Indeo.
Early versions of ATI's All-In-Wonder cards used a ATI's VCR1 and VCR2 codecs. Support has been dropped for these codecs in the latest version of the products, however ATI have made the old codec available for download so you can still play your files. Windows only.
For more information on common codecs, you should check out the following sites:
If you've got hold of an AVI file, but you don't know what codec it uses, get yourself a copy of a little utility called AVICodec. This essential tool allows you to easily identify which audio and video codecs an AVI file uses, tells you whether they are currently installed on your system, and even gives you a link to the relevant codec web site to download it where necessary!