Codecs: What Are They And Why Do We Need Them?

Have you ever downloaded a movie, clip, or music file and had Windows Media Player tell you that it can’t play that format or error out and crash the whole program?  Fixing it could be something as simple as adding a codec pack to fill in the gaps that your favorite media players have in them.  All media players are installed with base codecs allowing them to play the most common of formats but not all.  Installing a codec pack is a fast and simple way to get a little bit more functionality from our media players.

What Are Codecs

Codecs are an interesting little piece of software that are basically two-fold.  Both Audio and Video have sets of codecs that deal with encoding and decoding data from all of the compressed formats that exist.  “A codec is a device or computer program capable of encoding or decoding a digital data stream or signal.*  While the term gets banded about loosely, a codec and format, or file extension, are not the same thing.  The format, .wav/.avi/.acr, is different in that the codec is the ability to read/write these data streams but not necessarily associated only with the file extension.

Why Do We Need Codecs

Well there are a lot of people out there that don’t need them really.  If you don’t download anything other than your standard .wav or .mp3 file, odds are the stock codecs included in the base install of Windows Media Player will suffice.  Since the majority of people using a computer just surf the web and play in Microsoft Office, they will not need anything extra.  Those of us that are constantly downloading clips in obscure formats, doing video or audio editing, and generally pushing our machines might need our media players to be able to play certain formats that aren’t supported by the out of the box media players.  That’s where Codec Packs come in and Cole2k is one of my personal favorites.

codecs

Installing Cole2k Codec Pack

Go to the main site and you will see that there are two options to download, the Advanced and Standard Codec Packs.  The Advanced consists of extra main stream encoder codecs for creating Audio and Video files.  If you aren’t doing much Audio or Video manipulation, you won’t need this pack.  The Standard should be good enough for most users as it contains the main playback codecs for Audio and Video.

what are codecs

After going to the main site to download the codec pack, the install is up next.  The install process is very simple and does a lot of the work for you.  The Cole2k website proclaims that any part of the codec pack that could cause issues the installer will leave out, making a built in safety feature.  Just leave the installer at the Default option and it will be a breeze.  Make sure to uncheck the Dealio toolbar and Yahoo! homepage offer unless you want to install them as well.  Before hitting finish make sure to uncheck the AnyDVD trial offer and making Windows Media Player the default and you are all set.

Summary

Codecs enable us to play uncommon formats with most media players.  Some times installing a pack of extra codecs can be just the trick.  While there are numerous codec packs out there such as K-Lite, Cole2k has done a great job any time it was installed.  The download is centralized on their own site so you don’t need to use a third party site which could have malware infused in the download.  Also, I have yet to come across a format that it hasn’t been able to play.  Although K-Lite’s Mega Pack seems to have a few extra codecs and filters, I have yet to need them.  My former place of work would install this on all new and used computers so customers wouldn’t have the above issues.  No one ever came back saying they needed additional codecs or came back with a codec related problem.  Also, if you are not a fan of installing codecs, you could use VLC media player as it touts the ability to run most music and video formats without the installation of some codecs.  Running Linux?  Don’t think we forgot about you, install the w32codecs package.  Download it here for Lucid.

Source
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codec