Codecs, Codecs and More Codecs, the easy, Minimalist approach

Over the years the one thing that has always plagued HTPC users are codecs. Some take the approach to just install any random codec and just keep installing codecs until the file you are trying to play back finally starts playing. The problem with this approach however is that, especially with Windows 7 Media Center, is that you can over ride many of the default codecs that Microsoft includes as part of windows. Once you are in that situation where the default codecs are over ridden, you start to experience play back issues, and shuddering issues. You can try to remove the codecs however most of the time, residual files, configurations and permissions are already over written and can never be brought back the way it was without having to wipe your windows partition clean and starting over from scratch.

For many new comers to the HTPC game, these trials and tribulations are all too familiar. Years ago when I first got into the HTPC game and became a HTPC enthusiast (or at the time I thought I was) I too felt the wrath of what we HTPC Mavens call “Codec Hell”. It starts out as a single codec, then moves onto a few codecs until finally you install a complete codec pack and instantly your issues go from bad to worse.

Over the years I have perfected my method of installing codecs, individually, and as minimal as possible to acheive steady, stutter free, issue free playback of any and all material thrown at my HTPC. From avi’s to mkv’s to ogg to m2ts, no matter what I throw at my HTPC it’ll play it back without issue, but only because I am able to achieve the proper codec installation without breaking anything in the process.

Today with the help of a cleaver developer (Shark 007) I will walk you through step by step on how to go about installing, configuring and playing back content within Windows Media Player as well as Windows Media Center. To start out you will need one or two downloads, depending on what version of windows you are running. For the sake of writing this, we will say you are running Windows 7, which is what I am basing this write up off of. If you are running 32bit version of windows you will only need a single download. Go to Shark’s website and download the latest 32bit version of the Win7Codecs Download HERE. Once you have downloaded scroll down to the installation process. If you are running 64bit version of windows 7, go to Sharks’s website and download the latest 64bit version of the Win7Codecs Download HERE.

As you can see this is a single exe installer, and you might be asking yourself why is he having you install what seems to be a codec pack, when above was just telling you against using coed packs. The reason being is that Sharks installer is NOT a codec pack, however more so a stream lined installer with all the separate codecs you will need to for proper playback all located into a single installer. I will walk you through how to stream line Sharks installer, configure each setting step by step, to the point when you are complete your HTPC will play back smoothly, with hardware acceleration, subtitle support, as well as bitstream audio out via spdif and HDMI. Some will still argue that this method is still bloated and causes issues with Live TV playback, however if you follow my procedures step by step that will not happen.

Now that you have downloaded the proper files it is now time to install and configure the codecs. First step is to locate the downloaded file(s) and proceed to install the 32bit version of Sharks codec installer.

32bit installer

Next to Continue

32bit installer 2

Click Accept and next (read the agreement if you’d like)

32bit installer 3

The only grip I have about this software and others like it, if you don’t pay attention and continue to click right through the installer you’ll notice they add into tool bars like this. While I can respect the need to make money off of the hard work developers put into their software, I still hate how they include tool bars and such as part of their installer package. You can uncheck the tool bar install like I did. Won’t make any difference in the operation of the software.

32bit installer 4

Now here comes the difference on a full install of Sharks Codecs vs. what I normally do. I use Sharks as a guide point for my installs however, I simplify it a tad. Click on the custom radio button, and click next.

32bit installer 5

Now that we are into the custom installer menu of Sharks Codecs. You can click on the drop down box and disable which features you want installed.

32bit installer 7

Click the drop down menu and choose the red X option of “This Feature will not be available” choosing this for the following features disables them and prevents them being installed as  additional codecs.

Uncheck/disable the following features:

  • DirectVobSub (FFdshow has sub titles built into it)
  • AC3Filter  (FFdshow Audio has what AC3Filter does)
  • RealMedia
  • Xvid

by disabling those four features from installing it drastically decreases the need for extra features/codecs from getting install and possibly messing things up.

32bit installer 6

Once those options are disabled you can click next and complete the 32Bit installer.

32bit installer 8

and you are now done installing the 32Bit Win7Codecs.

64bit installer

Now if you are a 64Bit windows user double click and start to install the x64 version you downloaded as well. You do not need to do any custom install options with 64Bit version of Win7 Codecs, the only difference is that the codec does install Microsoft Visual C++ as part of its package, not sure what that is for but so far it hasn’t impacted how the codecs work or lag anything down.

64bit installer 3

Now that we have both 32Bit and 64Bit Win7 Codecs installed it is now time to configure them. When you first get them installed they will show up in a folder under Start > All Programs >  Shark007 Codecs in that folder you will see two different programs the first, which is the 32Bit version is labeled “Settings Application” and the 64Bit version is labeled “Settings Application x64””

shortcuts

Now that you have the short cuts located, BEFORE you load the short cuts, you need to give both administrative privileges. To do so, right click on each short cut and to properties

admin priv

Click on the compatibility tab, and at the bottom you have two options, you can click on “Change Settings for All Users” and then click on run as administrator  or you can click on “Run this Program as an administrator” under Privilege Level. Either option will work.

privelages

Now double click on Application Settings, you will be presented with a UAC (User Access Control) menu, Click Yes to Continue.

UAC

Now we are into the 32Bit settings for Sharks007 Win7 Codecs.

32bit config

On the First tab, the Config tab, choose the follow:

  • Click the Radio button for FFshow/Embedded under the Subtitle Control
  • Check the box in front of Disable Xvid Decoder
  • Check the box in front of Disable AC3Filter

Now Click on the Misc Tab

32bit misc config

Under the Misc Tab do the following:

  • Check the box in front of FFDshow Video tray Icon OFF
  • Check the box in front of FFDshow Audio tray Icon OFF
  • Check the box in front of AC3Filter tray icon OFF
  • Check the box in front of Haali tray icon OFF

Now click on the Audio Tab

32bit audio config

There are two options here, and these two options are all based on what type of audio setup you have connected to your HTPC.

  • IF you are running SPDIF (digital coax, or Optical SPDIF cable, ie digital bit stream audio output) single cable from your HTPC to an external AV Receiver or external surround sound decoder then choose the following:
    • Under FFDshow S/PDIF pass-through choose use pass-through (Digital Audio)
    • Under Choose Speaker configuration choose Same as Input
  • IF you are using Analog audio put, 2 channel, 3.5mm head phone style audio jacks, then chose the following:
    • Under FFDshow S/PDIF pass-through choose turn off pass-through (Default)
    • Under Choose Speaker configuration, choose what you have, 2.0 Stereo, or 5.1 Speaker system or 7.1 Speaker system.

Again All settings are based on what your speaker configuration is. If have issues trying to figure out what speaker configuration you have please feel free to leave a comment and I will be glad to help you out.

Now click on the H264 tab

32bit H264 config

Complete the following tasks:

  • Under Use MPC-HC Codec, click on the “Use MPC-HC Codec” radio button.
  • Under H264 Codec in Direct Show Players box choose “Use MPC-HC Codec” radio button.
  • under Use FFDshows’s codec box click on “do not use FFDshow” radio button.

Now Click on MKV tab

32bit MKV config

Chose “Use Gabest’s Splitter” radio button

Click on MOV tab

64bit MOV config

Use Gabests Splitter for both MOV and OGG playback.

Click on MPG/MP4 tab

64bit MPG config

choose the following:

  • Under overall MPEG Playback choose “Use Gabest’s Blu ray splitter” also make sure both boxes are checked
  • Leave MPEG2 at system default
  • Chose Gabests splitter for MP4 playback

Click on SWAP tab

32bit SWAP config

Leave everything default on this tab, however check the box that says “Use MPC-HC for WVC1 instead of Microsoft” This option enables hardware acceleration codec for VC-1 based content. One of the bigger issues with VC-1 based MKV’s is stuttering as Microsoft’s VC-1 codec is not DXVA and doesn’t take advantage of hardware acceleration.

Once you have walked through each and every single tab, followed the instructions for complete configuration, click on EXIT. IF you are a windows 32Bit user, you are now ready to play back any MKV, or other AVI files you have. Now if you are a 64Bit windows user please continue on.

As in above please click on the short cut to Sharks007 Win7 Codecs, however this time click on the x64 variant.

x64 configuration tab

64bit config

  • Check both boxes to disable both Xvid Decoder and AC3Filter
  • Click on the FFDshow/Embeded radio button under Subtitle Control

Click on Misc Tab

64bit misc config

  • Check both boxes for FFDshow video and FFDshow Audio tray icons

Click on 64Bit Audio tab

64bit Audio config

As in above for 32Bit, choose the same options you did for 32Bit.

Click on 64Bit H264 Tab

64bit H264 config

As in above for 32Bit configurations, Do not use FFDshow, choose both MPC-HC codecs for DXVA and direct show players.

Click on 64Bit MKV Tab

64bit MKV config

As in 32Bit choose Gabest’s Splitter

Click on 64bit MOV tab

64bit MOV config

Choose Gabests splitter for both options

Click on 64Bit MPG/MP4 tab

64bit MPG config

  • Again as under the 32Bit options, choose Gabests blu ray splitter for over all MPEG playback
  • Leave MPEG2 playback at defualt
  • Choose Gabests splitter for MP4 playback

Click on 64Bit SWAP tab

64bit swap config

Leave everything at default, just as you did in the 32Bit options, the only thing to click on is “use MPC-HC for WVC-1 instead of Microsoft”

Now you are completely configured for both 32Bit and 64Bit versions of windows. Click on exit and enjoy. Now that you have went through and configured Sharks Win7 Codecs you should now be able to play virtually all modern day, popular codecs, containers, ect… within Media Center and Media Player. If you have any questions please feel free to register on the side and leave a comment. Also if you have any feed back please feel free to do so as well. I hope this helped you so you do not have to live through any version of the “Codec Hell” like I have had to do in the past.

Enjoy!

11 thoughts on “Codecs, Codecs and More Codecs, the easy, Minimalist approach

  1. Hey nice to see an update. This will come in very handy after putting together my own HTPC this next winter.

  2. Great guide! would you suggest any changes since this was written a while ago? i am getting ready to configure my htpc and want to make sure i dont miss anything. thanks again!

  3. Thanks very much for the extremely helpful guide.

    Will .flv files play in media center with this configuration, else could you please comment on how to configure shark to play those?

  4. Pargoff: Thanks, yes it is a little outdated, however the bulk of the guide will get any and all mkv’s to play back perfectly in media center.

    Dabl: I have never dealt with .flv files and nor have I ever tried to play them back in media center sorry.

    – Josh

  5. Great job with this guide ! All my movies seem to play perfectly, there is just one flaw, which I haven’t been able to resolve by myself. Any external subtitles from .srt/.sub files won’t be loaded and displayed. Actually, it seems like the FFDshow filter, which does take care of this is used for what ever reason :-(

  6. Vesa,
    I’ve been meaning to update this guide and a few other things, but might take some time as i am busy reviewing other hardware over at http://www.missingremote.com right now.

    Anyways yes FFDshow will show subtitles, you just need to enable them in sharks, open up sharks, go to config tab and click on FFDshow video config, scroll down on the left hand side and check the box for subtitles, make sure accept embedded subtitles is enabled, also check the box search in, and choose a default folder where you can dump the .srt file into.

    -Josh

  7. Josh,

    Thanks for this guide.
    I want to use my HTPC also to listen to music, using MediaCenter plus Mediabrowser. What should I do to be able to listen to flac files.
    My music collection is based on flac only (CD quality).

    When I listen I turn of Media Center and open J. River via external DAC. This is very good. But in under normal use I like to be able to listen via Mediacenter/Mediabrowser.

    Many thanks in advance for your reply.

    Robin

  8. Hi josh will this bitstream hd audio as well? if not do you know how to do so?

    thanks

    Scott

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