A new version of Windows always brings its own challenges. There’s usually the struggle with the little things; icons, folder views, ID3 tags, hardware support and various other bear bugs. Windows 7 is no exception - this week on the battlefield it’ a solution to that newly emerging question - which codec’s are needed to play my media?
Well that depends entirely on what media formats you use in the first place. I opted for Matroska - the open standards format that’s trying to bring a little standardization and sense into this hectic world of codec’s, containers and patents. It’s not tied up into anyone’s technology (and therefore future), and it share my beliefs, that I can rip the crap out of anything I don’t want contained in a file I use to hold my media ;)
With that said, there’s just one problem - Windows never has, nor probably ever will support the Matroska format.
NoteThere's no real proof that Microsoft will never support Matroska - I just don't see it happening for a long time. Microsoft have invested too much in their own proprietary formats (wmv etc) to let a 'freebie' take over as the de facto - so I wouldn't hold your breath.
To view Matroska MKV files on Windows 7, I find it easier to use a codec pack. They get a lot of bad press for being bloated and overly complicated, but in reality - I find them by far the easiest way to get the right audio\video decoders installed properly with minimal hassle. But just as there are multiple decoders for file formats - there are also multiple codec packs.
After doing quite a bit of research, I narrowed down my Windows 7 codec pack choice to the following:
I tried each of the above on a clean Windows 7 64-bit installation. It’s important to note the differences in 64-bit installations of Windows, the golden rule being:
On Windows 7 64-bit by default - Windows Media Player runs as a 32-bit application, while Media Center runs as a 64-bit application.
This is absolutely vital to understand as many codec packs come in two flavours, 32-bit and 64-bit. The 32-bit codec packs alone will not be enough to run Media Center!</p>
With that said, DivX was the only pack to include both sets of decoders in the installation, I installed the pack from the link above using just the standard Windows installer, which allowed both Media Player and Media Center to play MKV files, however the DivX codec pack had little support on Windows 7 for the AC-3 audio encoder, and therefore failed to play audio on some files.
Next up with K-Lite. I’d heard good things, and the installation proved easy. You’ll need to download two separate installers, one for 32-bit and one for 64-bit. In these cases it’s usually best to install the 32-bit installer first.
Again K-Lite worked well, and both my 32-bit Media Player and 64-bit Media Center worked OK, with only a couple of glitches. Media Center was unable to determine the length of MKV files (although Media Player was), creating thumbnails in Media Center seemed a little problematic and finally - the strangest quirk - Media Player wouldn’t see the MKV files in the ‘File’ -> ‘Open’ dialog, but would still play them if loaded from Windows Explorer.
Finally - I tried Shark007 - just to see how it compared. Again I had to download both a 32-bit and 64-bit installer, after which, both players read MKV files fine. Media Center suffered the same pitfall as it did with K-Lite - it couldn’t determine the full length of MKV videos, but the other two quirks had gone! Media Player had thumbnails, and I could directly open files!
With this in mind, I settled for Shark007 for my Windows 7 64-bit codec pack. It’s been working fine so far. Each have their bugs, but it’s new territory and development is a constant effort.
You can download the Shark007 Codec pack for Windows 7 64-bit from http://shark007.net.