Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Media Center, MPEG2 Decoders, Now and the Future

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:

  1. NVidia Purevideo Decoder
  2. Cyberlink PowerDVD
  3. Intervideo WinDVD
Unfortunately, none of these programs are free due to MPEG2 licensing issues; however, each offer a 30 day trial. In general, it is best to get the latest version of the DVD software, as many bugs are often fixed. Often times, the software is updated silently (i.e. WinDVD 7 has been updated 8 times since it was first released in September 2005).

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.


Anonymous said...

Hi again Jason, I got your email about my new ATI card and thanks! Also, I just downloaded the beta WMP 11 and was wondering if you know whether it has an mpeg2 decoder included? Thanks for all your help again.

Jason said...

Media Player 11 does not come with a MPEG2 decoder.

Anonymous said...

I am using Pinnacle PCTV , and have installed almost all MCE certified MPEG
2 decoders , but while connecting to live TV , i still get DecoderError.
I have tried following decoders
I hv checked them using vedio decoder checkup utility.
(i am using correct pinnacle MCE drivers )
What do you say?

Jason said...

First thing I'd do is to remove all the MPEG2 decoders from your system. Start from a clean slate.

At this point, try playing back a DVD in Windows Media Player. It should fail.

Then install *1* DVD playback software (presumably one that you are still entitled to a trial period for). At this point, DVD playback should work in Windows Media Player.

Once you've confirmed this, try playing back Live/Recorded TV in Media Center and it should work.

Usually, having way too many codecs is a recipe for disaster, not to mention it makes troubleshooting more difficult. The old KISS principle applies here.

Also, what video card do you have? Make sure it is one that is DirectX9 capable in hardware (i.e. ATI Radeon 9500 or higher or Nvidia FX5200 or higher)

Unknown said...

Note that ALL graphics boards using ATI Radeon chipsets, certified to be Vista Ready by Microsoft, and that have a certified WDDM driver (ATI Catalyst 7.1) whose ALL files are figitially signed by Microsoft, and that are sold with a on-box and on-description pages as featuring a MCE certified component for Windows Media (or the MEdia Center) and VIVO or TV-Out option builtin will:

The reason is that ATI has still NOT updated its XP driver for the MCE and VIVO components to make them work in Vista.

So ALL the RADEON graphics card are NOT compatible with Vista. Note also that when trying to use a third party MPEG2 decoder this does not work either: ATI boards are recognized, but the CE requirements are NOT met. So yo can only play video DVD without copyright protection (those are EXTREMELY RARE: all studios are not only encrypting the VOB with the basic protection, but are also making all video chapters marked as copyrighted, and region-limited.)

You will ahve no problem to play those DVD in XP with Radeon boards. But if you buy a Vista Ready graphics board, you should know that it won't play any DVD for now... until ATI releases a Vista compatible MCE component that works like the XP equivalent.

(The XP version of the ATI MCE and VIVO components DO NOT work in Vista)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason

A free mpeg2 decoder: http://www.deskshare.com/Resources/articles/dmc_DVRMS.aspx

For Media Center. Good.

Anonymous said...


mpeg2decoder is your name

Anonymous said...

I cannot get the remote that came with my Hauppauge PVR-USB2 TV Tuner to work with media center. I have installed the latest MCE software fro hauppauge but still no go. Any tips?
My tuner came with an extra IR receiver, but they say it is for external cable tuners, but the darn instructions can be taken as meaning that you need it for media center, but add the IR extension cords to control the external digital tuners.