Guide to a clean and powerful Codec System

Many will know the turmoil: After installing a codec pack like say, K-Lite or Nimo’s Codec pack (for the oldschoolers), your player sometimes crashes when opening a movie file, your explorer dies off when you highlight a movie file, sometimes there’s flickering when playing back a movie, an entirely green screen when playing back a movie, or annoyances of the such. All of those are clear cases of a fucked up codec system.

Video playback operates by using Codecs, those are used to render video data via Microsoft’s DirectShow system. How these Codecs are loaded is referenced in the so-called “Merit System”. When you install multiple codec packs, or even multiple codecs that can render the same kind of video data, it is no longer clear which codec is going to be used when you play back a video file. Additionally, many codecs that are installed by some of the many codec packs in existence are beta versions; highly unstable and hence often prone to lead to applicational failure.

This guide will tell you how clean your merit system to the point where it is as tidy as the one on a fresh windows install, and afterwards i’ll point out how to set up a powerful and yet (in terms of software) minimalistic multimedia codec system.

The Cleanup

We’ll need a piece of Software for this job: Zoom Player. It’s a powerful player that has a shitload of features, but might bring too big a change in usability from your usual media player; hence you’re free to delete it after the first few steps.

  1. Get Zoom Player.
  2. Start it, then hit Ctrl+O to open up the Options Dialog.
  3. Switch to Advanced Mode using the button in the bottom left area of the Dialog.
  4. Go to System -> Filter Management and hit the “Registered Filter Manager”-Button in the bottom right.
  5. In the window that opens up, select all the entries and hit “Unregister Filter(s)”. If Zoom Player fails to unregister one of the filters, it means that it’s currently in use. If you have time, reboot your windows to safe mode and start over. If you don’t, just try to delete around the used filters by selecting everything codecs from further down the list; if it fails to just unregister all of them, the topmost entry(/-ies) are the ones it could not remove.
  6. If all of the filters are gone, hit Close, then OK, and then close down Zoom Player. At this point, you may uninstall the program if you no longer have a need for it.
  7. Now that your merit system is empty, you’ll have to restore windows’ basic capabilities. You do that by executing this .bat file: download. It will re-register the original windows filters that are still inside windows’ system32 folder.

The Setup

Now that your codec system is in a maiden state, let’s go about installing codecs and filters. The idea behind a clean, yet powerful media system is to limit the amount of registered filters to a bare minimum. We’ll do this by merely installing one filter for the parsing of container files (avi, mkv, mp4 and more), one filter for displaying subtitles and only one filter to handle all the codecs (xvid, divx, h264, mpeg2 and so on).

  1. Get Haali Media Splitter. Install it.
  2. Get VSFilter. Install it!
  3. Get ffdshow-tryouts. Install it.

This is it. I have selected the urls of the most recent encodes of these programs. Except for Haali Media Splitter, they have predecessors that are no longer developed. With the setup you just configured, you should be set for all the media files you might encounter, with the exception of a few.

The Optionals

Videos that you of yet can’t playback include, among mostly very rare, proprietary formats, Apple Quicktime formats. Especially .mov-files are still relevant in our modern internet times, they are for instance used on Apple’s Movie Trailer page. To emphasize, this is stuff you CAN get, but don’t have to. I’d recommend it anyways.

  • Quicktime Alternative. This contains the filters and codecs that let .mov-containers work with the ordinary DirectShow system.  Not required, but good for watching those trailers. I can’t really think of any other use, everything else is .avi or .mkv.
  • Media Player Classic – Home Cinema. The player i like the very most. Windows Media Player has too low of a functionality and a crappy overview. Zoom Player i never got into, it looks quite complicated and like with VLC, the handling is not as good as MPC-HC. There are also beta builds, but they’re not organized on any page.
  • AC3Filter. Gives you a tad more configuration options than ffdshow’s audio functionality. It’s not needed, but if you’re an audiophile and feel that ac3filter improves your audio experience, shoot.

Well, i’d say that’s about it. Maybe one small note to leave you with: If you like a player with low functionality and next to no focus to usability, a player that goes around the merit system and instead uses its integrated filters and codecs, just use Videolan Client.

11 responses to “Guide to a clean and powerful Codec System

  1. really nice tutorial , i tried this , and now my screen cappers is working smooth again.

    awesome , and thank you so much.

    can i post this guide in my blog ? sure i will credit you.

  2. when i try to get to the options of zoom player in safe mode, it just freezes.

    the filters i have left that i cant remove in normal windows xp are:
    nero audio decoder 2 and nero video decoder

    in case it makes a difference i downloaded zoom player max

    i dont know why it was freezing in safe mode, hope you can help.

    thanks a lot

  3. if even safe mode doesn’t work for you, you’ll have to try uninstalling nero, as that will most probably do the trick for those particular filters. as you’re however probably going to want to re-install nero afterwards, you can just keep these two filters installed – they usually are on a pretty low priority merit-wise and aren’t used that often. your system should be “clean enough”.

  4. Damn! I spent days (!) to finding out why winamp would’t play mp4… and finally something that worked!

    thanks a lot!

  5. I followed each step and this didn’t seem to work for me. I may be doing something wrong or incorrectly. I just want my Morrowind game to work again.. it shows an error message saying “Music Error: Can not play file. Data Files/Music/Special/morrowind title.mp3” which is caused by filter issues… I don’t know which one or how to modify filters. HELP

  6. I have the same Morrowind game error and this tutorial didn’t work for me either. I could not unregister a single filter.

  7. Hello, it didnt work for me, i unregistered all files, installed those 3 a it still keeps saying that error message. (In files that can be unregistered are now only ffswd and haali files). 😦

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