How To Play Different Types Of Video On A PC

Posted by Robert Headrick on October 1, 2013

In the world of creative video production, many clients are working on PCs as they review content that has been created on Macs. Unfortunately, PCs tend to be less adept out-of-the-box at handling the media formats that have become standard in the creative world.

In particular, work PCs provided to employees in a corporate environment are often ill-suited for robust media handling, which can lead to frustrating situations where video quality has to be sacrificed in order to create a file that can be played back on a client's computer. It also creates extra steps in the creative workflow as we use additional software to convert our files to a Windows-specific format.

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In some cases, a work computer has its settings locked in place by the IT policies at a particular company. There's really not much that can be done to improve the situation other than pinpointing the best file format for that machine and sticking with it for all future projects. This isn’t the end of the world, as the video can still be converted into a format that will work for you. However, if you do have some control over what's installed on your machine, it's possible to open up a whole new world of high-quality video formats that can be played on a PC.

First, double-check the setting in Windows Media Player that allows it to search for codecs, (if it doesn't already have the correct one installed for a particular format it's trying to play.) A codec is a file that gives a media player the right tools to properly decode and then play back a video that's been formatted to a particular file type.

In Windows Media Player, under the "Tools" menu, select "Options." Click on the "Player" tab in the dialog box that opens and then click the box next to "Download codecs automatically," if it doesn't already have a checkmark in it. With this option turned on, Windows Media Player will attempt to download the necessary codec to play a file if it doesn't already have it installed.

Another option – and one that's more likely to solve any given issue – is to download and install the VLC media player, which supports almost every standardized file format available, from H.264 to DivX, and everything in between. This includes some formats that may not be supported at all by Windows Media Player. VLC can be downloaded here. Follow the instructions for installation and you've instantly solved most of your media issues.

VLC is particularly good at playing videos encoded with the H.264 codec, which is one of the industry standards for online video, as it can generate small file sizes while retaining fairly high quality. If you're able to update your machine to handle this codec and let your creative producers know about it, you'll be able to enjoy much higher quality on the drafts that get sent your way for review, in addition to simplifying the workflow required to get those drafts to you.

Do you have other tips for playing a variety of video file formats on your PC? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.