Hacking Windows 7 Media Center

Choosing a Video Codec Setup for Windows Media Center

by @ 11:55 am on August 16th, 2010 in codecs with 44 Comments

Folder-my-videos-icon Choosing the right codec setup for your Windows 7 Media Center build can be tricky. Should you stick with the built-in Microsoft decoders or get something a little more tweak-able? Even the built-in decoders need some help playing a number of file formats available, including the most popular format among enthusiasts, MKV. How do we choose which route to go while installing our Media Center setups for the first time (or after having trouble with an already setup machine)? First we’ll have to take a look at what we want from our setups.

The first question is do we need DXVA (hardware acceleration) or why would we need to use hardware acceleration? Hardware acceleration in the form of DXVA requires the proper hardware, a recent video card with sufficient power, and takes the load off of the CPU when decoding video files. With modern video formats reaching enormous resolutions some older CPUs have trouble processing them without severely crippling the frame rate, the addition of a more recent video card to an aging machine can clear this up with DXVA however and save an older box from the recycling bin.

Microsoft’s built-in decoders are perfect for DXVA acceleration and require only the installation of a good splitter to play most video file types. The problem with using Microsoft’s built-in decoders for playing back your video files is the almost complete lack of support for subtitles of any kind. In fact this is a problem you’re likely to find across any DXVA enabled decoder. Most cannot decode and display subtitles while still retaining DXVA capability.

If subtitles aren’t a problem, however, we advocate a minimalist approach to everything here at Hack7MC and encourage using the built-in decoders since video quality across any set of decoders is unlikely to vary much if at all. To play most video files using the built-in decoders you’ll only need to install a good splitter and we suggest either Haali’s splitter or Gabest’s splitter which you can download for x86 systems here and x64 systems here. Install the Gabest splitter package  by extracting the files to the root C:\ drive and running the gabest_enable.cmd file as administrator (right-click -> run as administrator).

To display MKV files inside the Media Center movie library you’ll also need to install one of the available registry entries for either x86 systems or x64 systems.

movie library

If you’ve got a system capable of handling all the resolution video you plan on throwing at it and you do need subtitles with your video playback, and most users will considering foreign dialog usually present in a few movies in everyone’s collection, we’ll need to install a subtitle renderer. This will make DXVA playback no longer possible, however.

Installing a capable subtitle rendered is fairly simple using one of the packages we’ve put together. Download the VSFilter package for either x86 systems or x64 systems and extract the file to the root C:\ drive. Then right click the vsfilter_enable.cmd file and select Run as Administrator. A dialog should appear and confirm successful installation.

subtitles

If you need even more control over your video playback than simply being able to watch your video and read subtitles it’s likely time to move away from the built-in Microsoft decoders and look for a more complex solution. One of the best available decoders available is FFDShow Tryouts. This set of decoders allows for decoding most any video type and includes a large array of options for tweaking the video output.

To install FFDShow Tryouts select the latest version available for x86 systems or x64 systems for download and install them to the Media Center machine. Once installed the filter can be tweaked quite a bit by launching the decoder options from the ffdshow start menu entry. To get the FFDShow decoders to override the built-in Microsoft decoders requires some extra work, however.

You will also need to use the Windows 7 Filter Tweaker to select the FFDShow filters for each video type you’d like to use FFDShow to decode. Simply download and run the Filter Tweaker and select FFDShow for each of the applicable video formats. In some extreme cases you may also need to disable the Microsoft decoders completely but generally restarting Media Center or the machine will be all that is required after using the Filter Tweaker tool.

video tweaker

If you aren’t comfortable making these installations and using programs to make changes to the heart of your system you may prefer to go with an all in one solution to video playback. The most recommended all in one solution for Media Center users is Shark007’s complete codec package.

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Shark007’s package will install a large number of options and decoders to choose from as well as a simplified control panel from which you can select and configure each decoder. Download the x86 package as well as the x64 package if you’ve got a 64-bit machine and you’ll be all set to play virtually anything.

No matter which solution you decide to go with, Microsoft, FFDShow or Shark’s we hope you’ll continue reading with us here at Hack7MC as we continue to bring you even more how-tos and guide to Windows 7 Media Center this fall!

44 Comments


Richard
Comment #15308 from Richard [Reply]

Yikes! It had been so long since the last posting that I almost thought you’d given up! :)

Yet another really useful article, especially given that I’ve got to get MKV working quickly tonight. A couple of questions though:

(1) Am I right in assuming that using DXVA is recommended for ION based machines?
(2) Assuming I’m correct, how do I tell whether or not a format is using DXVA? I’ve installed the ffdshow-tryouts and the ffdshow configuration page tells me I’m using libavcodec.

Thanks!

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 12:26 pm Permanent Link
@Reply #15310 from Michael Healy [Reply]

Yes, I would suggest DXVA on an ION machine. I’m trying to think of the easiest way to check if DXVA is working, first you’ll need to make sure your ffdshow has DXVA enabled which means having the latest CLSID version of the tryouts from the links above. They include DXVA capability and have a special settings dialog listed for DXVA in the start menu (you’ll need to turn off h.264 rendering by the normal ffdshow as well I believe).

Then I suppose check the cpu usage while playing an h.264 and see if it remains fairly low or if it’s high. You can also use graphstudio to check which codecs are being loaded though it won’t tell you explicitly if DXVA is working or not.

For the best DXVA performance I’d stick with the MS decoders though, like with most DXVA, you won’t get subtitle support.

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 12:58 pm Permanent Link

jED DUFF
Comment #15309 from jED DUFF [Reply]

The Shark codecs are the best (64bit) the 32 bit version seems buggy.

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 12:47 pm Permanent Link

Lee
Comment #15311 from Lee [Reply]

Glad to see this blog still alive. I thought I was going to have to delete the feed from my reader. Very useful article.

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 1:05 pm Permanent Link

Lee
Comment #15312 from Lee [Reply]

PS. I’ve recently had trouble with MKV files playing “glitchy” with weird artifacting. They had been working fine so I initially thought it was just the files that I was playing but it seems to be happening on all MKVs. To my best recollection, I have not changed anything recently. Where do I even begin to troubleshoot this problem?

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm Permanent Link

Geko
Comment #15315 from Geko [Reply]

Someone knows why? , in windows 7 64-bit Media center, the Real Media dont work, i cant find the correct codec,

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm Permanent Link

Rodrigo
@Reply #19368 from Rodrigo [Reply]

I´m troubling the same… did you already find anything ?

Comment left October 4, 2010 at 4:34 pm Permanent Link

Ossot
Comment #15317 from Ossot [Reply]

So I have mkv’s and virtually any other file playing fine. Even to my xbox360 extender, which is the only thing I watch movies on. However, I am unable to fast forward mkv at all, and can only 30 sec skip style fast forward anything with h264 regardless of the wrapper. (Although, admittedly, 99% of my h264 is mp4).

I once tried fixing it all by installing some of the codec packages found here (shark and others) and while I managed to play back all codecs flawlessly on my PC, it rendered even mp4 playback futile on my xbox360. Files the 360 natively supported just fine.

I often want to go through hoops again to try to get my fast forwarding issue corrected, but I fear breaking my extender once again. The only fool-proof method I knew for fixing it was re-installing Win7. Does anyone know of a way to completely, 100%, back up my codec & MC settings?

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 2:38 pm Permanent Link

JackTrenton.. jk
Comment #15319 from JackTrenton.. jk [Reply]

@Ossot
The only way to fast forward an MKV in an extender is to convert it to a different format such as dvr-ms or wtv. Doesn’t take long at all. A 2hr 1080p movie takes maybe 5 mintues to convert on a decent system.

Are there any updates for getting subtitles rolling on extenders through MKV, WTV, DVR-MS?

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm Permanent Link

Richard
@Reply #15358 from Richard [Reply]

Before you go down that route, you might want to try the Media Control Plugin which (amongst other things) enables fast-forward and rewind in the video formats that Microsoft doesn’t support.

I have no idea whether or not it’ll work through an extender though.

Comment left August 17, 2010 at 8:26 am Permanent Link

Yogi
@Reply #16489 from Yogi [Reply]

What is the best way to convert MKV to another format that will allow you to use FF and Rewind?

Comment left August 31, 2010 at 10:58 pm Permanent Link

Tester
Comment #15324 from Tester [Reply]

Good article and glad to see you back !!

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 4:17 pm Permanent Link

aapala
Comment #15336 from aapala [Reply]

Man, it’s good to hear from you again.

Thanks for this article… it’s ridiculously useful and thorough, as always.

:)

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 10:10 pm Permanent Link

Andy
Comment #15339 from Andy [Reply]

I managed to mess things up pretty good. I installed Shark 007 (64-bit), and in my attempt to tweak something to get it just right, I’ve managed it such that I now get BSOD when playing youtube, vimeo, and most other video that is embedded in a web page.

I’ve gotten around this irritant by using VLC with my 7MC solution. Works great, but the wife is pissed that youtube makes that computer crash.

Any ideas/suggestions on where I could get started? Might a repair or re-install of Windows 7 be in order?

Cheers, and glad to see this blog back.

Comment left August 16, 2010 at 11:05 pm Permanent Link
@Reply #15419 from Michael Healy [Reply]

If uninstalling Shark’s package hasn’t fixed the issue you may want to try doing a system restore.

Comment left August 18, 2010 at 9:10 am Permanent Link

Centauro
Comment #15359 from Centauro [Reply]

any aideas on how to changue langues inside MC on a mkv files

Comment left August 17, 2010 at 9:56 am Permanent Link

Anonymous
Comment #15426 from Anonymous [Reply]

I’m trying not to use codec’s if possible. I only have mp4, wtv and m4v to play though so its not a problem. plus that shark guy came across as a real d1ck on a few forums i follow where people have had problems

Comment left August 18, 2010 at 12:00 pm Permanent Link
@Reply #15458 from chadd [Reply]

i’m trying not to use an OS if possible. that gates guy came across as a real d1ck on a few forums i follow where people have had problems.

Comment left August 19, 2010 at 7:06 am Permanent Link

Anonymous
@Reply #18505 from Anonymous [Reply]

and how are you getting on with that? worse than i am without Shark007 i would wager…

Comment left September 27, 2010 at 11:34 am Permanent Link

Dimitri
Comment #15457 from Dimitri [Reply]

Honestly, why would anyone bother with any codec other than ffdshow is beyond me!

It supports ALL video and audio formats (well 98% of them), supports DXVA for h264 and is the only thing to offer subtitles with DXVA mode. You can use it to turn a 6 year old system into a decent HTPC.

As for Codec Packs there are basically two smart options: K-Lite Codec Pack or NO Codec pack.

K-Lite is produced by CLSID who is the lead project manager for the development of ffdshow.

All other codec packs are IMO simply not worth the effort. No offense to the nice people who spend their time building them, but none of them come close to the stability and ease of configuration of K-Lite.

Some of the ones mentioned above come up time and again in forums by people who messed up their systems by using them. I never had a problem after I switched to Klite and I’m now on my 3rd HTPC build.

Comment left August 19, 2010 at 7:06 am Permanent Link

Fourthletter
Comment #15467 from Fourthletter [Reply]

My own experience has been that K-Lite and Shark’s can cause more problems than they solve, Shark especially.
I tend to just install CCCP, which includes FFDShow and lets me easily play MKVs.

@ Michael Healy

I appreciate that you have a life and all but any chance of a write up on the latest Media Browser and all the latest themes/plugins.
I know you mentioned it moving to paid for model in the future but it is still free and available with some amazing looking themes like Maelstrom

Comment left August 19, 2010 at 11:35 am Permanent Link
@Reply #15514 from Michael Healy [Reply]

I’ll take a look at it this weekend and write something up. Been planning on putting the latest version on my main machine since My Movies is giving me a slew of troubles.

Comment left August 20, 2010 at 8:59 am Permanent Link

Momo
Comment #15579 from Momo [Reply]

I’m just glad to see you still working the site, Mike. Don’t scare us like that again! I thought you abandoned…and like the saying goes, you never know what you had until it’s gone. So I will donate $omething, next paycheck. thanks!

Comment left August 21, 2010 at 5:19 pm Permanent Link
Comment #16189 from Coach purses [Reply]

My own experience has been that K-Lite and Shark’s can cause more problems than they solve. Good post! Thanks for sharing with us, I’ll recommend it to all my friends!

Comment left August 27, 2010 at 4:59 am Permanent Link

tim van thuyne
Comment #16436 from tim van thuyne [Reply]

I can’t figure out how to display .srt subtitles files on xbox 360 (media center extender). Can it just nog be done? Cause I rather avoid hardcoding them.

Comment left August 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm Permanent Link

mitch
Comment #16446 from mitch [Reply]

The shark 007 codecs caused my system to just hard freeze meaning a hard reset was the only way out of it. Not sure if it was just 32bit or both but I got rid of them and haven’t had a problem since. I installed K Lite pack and haven’t had any issues.

Comment left August 30, 2010 at 11:42 pm Permanent Link

Mark
Comment #16533 from Mark [Reply]

Here is what I use.
Matroskasplitter -x64
V7-wmp-11-mkv x64 reg file
AC3filter_1_63b.exe

That last one is needed for DTS playback

Comment left September 1, 2010 at 9:55 pm Permanent Link
Comment #16988 from Jon Scaife [Reply]

Dmitri beat me to it. Surely the optimal solution these days is ffdshow – at least for video. It will do DXVA with subtitles and supports just about every format in existence. I’ve got various posts about codecs on my blog, with one dedicated to using DXVA with ffdshow. You’ll need to disable the mediafoundation stuff with win7dsfiltertweaker to use directshow codecs in 7MC

Comment left September 10, 2010 at 7:46 am Permanent Link

Patrick
Comment #17056 from Patrick [Reply]

Hi,

I cannot find a way of being able to view FLV files on WMC without Shark. I am doing a clean reinstall of my Media Center PC and would like to install only Haali but cannot find the additional codec or specific setup I may use to view these in WMC.

How could I manage to view FLV movies inside WMC with a minimalistic approach?

The FLV files are very common for the videoclips my girls are saving from YouTube (once in a while they are in MP4 and they play fine with Haali with no further config).

Thanks! And great site by the way… this is definitively the best ressource for WMC enthusiast.

Comment left September 11, 2010 at 10:30 am Permanent Link

token
Comment #18545 from token [Reply]

Hey i installed the Haali splitter and ac3 codecs, when i went to run a xvid video only the audio worked, would i need to download the xvid codec aswell?

Comment left September 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm Permanent Link

Rodrigo
Comment #19363 from Rodrigo [Reply]

Hi, there !

And what about RMVB files ? I couldn´t find anything to able 7 Media Center to play this type of video files !Does the Shark Codecs solves the problem ? Thanks for all (if anyone can help me) ;-)

Comment left October 4, 2010 at 4:23 pm Permanent Link

ssalsekki
Comment #21348 from ssalsekki [Reply]

Hey guys I recall a year ago when i used ffdshow instead of the built in MS decoders I had to apply some registry tweaks to force media center to use ffdshow decoders. Is this still true today? Also at the time, DXVA acceleration did not work so well with FFDshow has this been resolved? Please let me know because i would love to go back to ffdshow codecs.

Thanks!

Comment left October 21, 2010 at 11:14 pm Permanent Link

JBroderick
Comment #22001 from JBroderick [Reply]

I am buying a new Windows 7 PC after switching to mac during the late win xp days.
After watching my friend’s media center setup on his xbox, I was convinced to better utilize my xbox360 as a media hub.
I am actually quite excited about WMC after reading all the posts on this website. On DivX’s website they claim you can “Stream MKV videos to your game console (using Windows 7).” Does that mean if I install DivX I won’t need Haali’s or Gabest’s splitter?

Comment left October 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm Permanent Link

ttran
Comment #26112 from ttran [Reply]

I’ve got Shark007 codec running on my machine to play mkv files. I can get video and audio to play using Windows Media Player with Dolby Digital or DTS but for some reason I can only get video and no audio when using Windows Media Center.

Any help to get Dolby Digital/DTS on Media Center playing MKV files?

Comment left December 16, 2010 at 12:01 am Permanent Link
Comment #26309 from Shark007 [Reply]

Issues like this are easier resolved on the Shark007 forums. Maybe this will help, On the MKV TAB, disable the DivX MF splitter.

Comment left December 17, 2010 at 7:52 pm Permanent Link

Anonymous
Comment #27498 from Anonymous [Reply]

Thanks for the updated post, the “MKV for Minimalists” was so handy but the CPU loading was crazy for a “silent” HTPC setup.

What do we think of the DIVX codecs? Hardware decoding is a big plus!

Comment left December 27, 2010 at 2:03 pm Permanent Link
Comment #29668 from Rufus [Reply]

The latest ffshow-tryouts has already introduced a dxva decoder, which makes DXVA working with subtitles.

Comment left January 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm Permanent Link

Vas
Comment #31328 from Vas [Reply]

If the MKV has chapter with MPC splitter and ffdshow the win7MC player crash! Any idea why happen this?
PS. I don’t like the Haali because don’t play trueHD (freezes)!

Comment left January 30, 2011 at 10:27 pm Permanent Link

NizZ8
Comment #38219 from NizZ8 [Reply]

Has anyone else experienced audio level ( dynamic range ? ) variances with mp4/mkv videos w/ AAC audio?

I seem to find that during action scenes the audio seems to increase significantly. And quiet/dialog sections seem very quiet. I’m using CoreAVC for video processing and default for audio out via coax to my receiver.

Any ideas? Or anyone else have similar issues?

Comment left April 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm Permanent Link

TheFu
Comment #45397 from TheFu [Reply]

For all the people having issues with subtitle playback, you know that for $60 (from deal sites) you can get a completely silent network playback device that plays pretty much everything **except** .WTV and .dvr-ms files. It handles 1080p. “WD TV Live HD” is the device, but there are probably others too. It can also be a cheap NAS with USB attached storage.

If you need Netflix support, there’s an upgraded device for $80-$100 (also on deal sites) – the “Plus” model.

Of course, these devices don’t have the pretty interfaces … yet. People are working to port XBMC (a beautiful playback solution) to these specific HW devices. Silence is important here, so a full PC doesn’t cut it in either the family room or bedrooms and can’t compare for the price. Keep the noisy 7MC recording server in the basement.

I’m unwilling to impact the stability of any machine by installing a 3rd party codec pak these days. I’ve been burned. If the machine can’t stay up for a month at a time, then there’s a software issue, IMHO.

Comment left July 9, 2011 at 8:23 am Permanent Link
Comment #48431 from Deetta Romaine [Reply]

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Comment left October 9, 2011 at 6:45 am Permanent Link

Woodchuck
Comment #51235 from Woodchuck [Reply]

Will messing with codecs screw up my CableCard rig? I have a Ceton Infinitv 4 and am leery of messing with things.

Comment left November 13, 2011 at 6:50 pm Permanent Link
Comment #95237 from harshal [Reply]

you’re a saint, my friend. Thanks for the help.

Comment left December 18, 2012 at 11:31 am Permanent Link

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