For those of you that use Media Center, you may or may not know about the need to supply your own MPEG2 video decoder. An MPEG2 decoder is software that allows you to play DVDs and files that contain video content that was encoded in the MPEG2 format (such as DVR-MS files, MPG files, etc). This includes Live TV, Recorded TV, DVD Playback and My Videos.
Microsoft does not include a MPEG2 video decoder with any of the Windows XP editions, including Media Center, so with Media Center being an OEM-only product, the onus was placed on the OEM to include whatever MPEG2 video decoder that they wanted. However, with the large number of people interested in the Media Center platform, many have chosen to build their own systems. As such, they are not aware of this MPEG2 video decoder issue.
The easiest way to get a MPEG2 video decoder that will work for Media Center is to get the latest version one of the common DVD playback programs. The top three DVD playback software include:
If you are not sure what MPEG2 video decoder you have installed, Microsoft has created the Windows XP Video Decoder Checkup Utility. This utility helps you determine if an MPEG2 video decoder (also called a DVD decoder) is installed on your Windows XP computer and whether or not the decoder is compatible with Windows Media Player 10 and Windows XP Media Center Edition.
I personally use the NVidia Purevideo Decoder on my Media Center PCs; however, all three of the above software are known to work with Media Center. Many OEMs tend to include older versions of the above software. Whether you want to stick with the older version, or upgrade to a newer version, that is up to you. However, if you do run into trouble, it often helps to upgrade to a known good working version (i.e. the latest revisions) to rule out any potential issues that may have already been addressed. The latest DVD playback software also tend to take advantage of features found in more advanced video cards. For example, the Purevideo decoder takes advantage of the Purevideo technology features found in the latest NVidia video cards.
Because of the growth of home-built Media Center PCs, Microsoft recognizes that the need to purchase a separate MPEG2 video decoder is a major pain point for those that are enthusiastic about setting up their own systems. As a result, the versions of Vista that will have Media Center functionality included (as mentioned in a previous blog entry), Home Premium and Ultimate, will have an MPEG2 video decoder included. This decoder will be sufficient for Media Center needs, and if the user requires something better, they are free to obtain and install another MPEG2 video decoder.