Windows 7’s new “play all” decoders, encoders and transcoding capabilities

If you have had any theories Microsoft was conspiring with the media conglomerates to protect their interests and not the user’s, throw them in the bin, pour jet fuel and remotely detonate them since Microsoft can’t be any bolder than building in DivX and Xvid native support in Windows 7. Yes, all your favorite Family Guy episodes will play in Windows Media Player. Yes I’m looking at you. You may have also heard there’s native H.264 and AAC support. But that’s not all. After all, decoding is only one part of the equation.

In a presentation titled “Video Improvements In Windows 7” at WinHEC 2008, Microsoft also revealed new encoding and similarly transcoding capabilities in Windows 7. The new “Media Foundation” decoders are as follows,

In Windows 7, encoding is extended to widely adopted MPEG-4 and 3GPP standards with H.264 video and AAC audio encoders built in, on top of the WMV, WMA and MP3 encoders built-in to Vista today – after all, hardly anyone uses Windows Media outside of the Microsoft ecosystem. Speaking of which the Zune even supports H.264 and AAC natively.

Bear in mind however these encoders are not a replacement for commercial alternatives. The limitations include simple profiles, maximum bitrate and resolutions.

With this new pool of decoders and encoders, Microsoft’s also doing some building in some interesting transcoding (decoding and re-encoding from one format to another) technology in Windows. From what I can at least gather from the presentation, transcoding is actually built right into the Windows 7 shell. That is, if you drag and drop a video from your desktop to your portable media player, the conversion will happen automatically. Personally, anything that removes unnecessary third-party bloatware to add content to portable devices gets my vote.

Microsoft also recognizes that software transcoding is less than ideal – a movie will usually take hours, so Windows 7 will also support a new breed of dedicated hardware transcoders which could ideally become a standard motherboard chipset feature. Here’s a particular one from Quartics.

62 insightful thoughts

  1. That’s brilliant news –wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could offload the transcoding to your PS3, Home Server or Xbox360 (maybe all at once?!)

  2. I wonder what is going to happen to DirectShow, are these codecs going to be available exclusively via Media Foundation? Also, I assume that they wrote their own, or used the ones from the 360 instead of actually getting DivX certified (or god forbid, actually including something opensource!)

  3. Will this mean, when I drag and drop a video file to my Sony mobile phone, the video will be automaticly converted to 3GP so my phone can play it? That would be cool!

    What’s next? Drag and drop a game/program and run it smoothly on any phone? That would rock!

  4. hmm. looks good.
    is windows 7 going to have its own hardware because of its ability to use touch?
    and what i mean by its own hardware is not made by HP, Dell, Cicero, etc.
    that might be better because some computers dont run vista as well as others..
    so that may happen in windows 7?

  5. i tell you – this is one of my absolute favourite features! all my music in itunes that was encoded in aac is now playable in a player that actaully works! yes, i could have kept most things in mp3, but this is really great having it in wmp. now if only they would add podcast support in WMP (and not just zune..)

  6. This all info about Win7 looks almost too good to be true (or, too good to be Microsoft :) If it`s not history repeating, MS will have a winner in shining armor.

  7. Well I knew about the MPEG-4 ASP and H.264 support but am pleasantly surprised to see support for AVCHD which allows H.264 + AC3 so nice one again Microsoft.

    These are their own codecs so their MPEG-4 ASP implementation just call it msix or something anyway it’s on par with xvid in terms of features & decoding.

    Scrinner – thats H.264 for mobile devices which is why its so low, the top chart is for the PC.

    tuc – very unlikely codecs cost money which must be licensed from the MPEG LA and the costs no doubt have been factored into the price of Windows 7. If Microsoft were to release it for free for Xp/Vista then they would be paying out an awful lot of money to the MPEG LA.

    Speaking of licensing quirks & the MPEG LA I wonder what’s going to happen with the Xbox 360 media center extender I heard that it was because of such issues that it never got the codecs which the v2 extenders acquired. But on the Windows 7 media center preview the author stated that it was coming to the Xbox MCX as well (but only for Win7 users), I hope MS has worked something out and can finally unify there media platforms.

    Anyway all in all this is great news and a good thing for windows in general as it will stop at least some from installing those buggy and unreliable codec packs which are oh so popular.

  8. Sven – MKV support is a little tricky as its a universal container that can hold any combination of video and audio.

    There is somewhat new unofficial specification (if you get my drift) just like there was with XviD which is why it proliferated among DVD players but the new spec containing H.264/AC3/AAC LC in MKV is still very young and it might be a while before it becomes as big a “standard” as the past one was. DivX incidentally is going to be using the same specification with DivX 7 so really its just a matter of time.

    The good news is that MS has already paid for the codecs used so theoretically MKV support is just a matter of adding in their own MKV splitter and your in business.

    Oh and I forgot to add thanks Microsoft for not skimping on the AAC audio support in MP4 and adding LC/HE/5.1 support as some encoding programs no longer distinguish between them and you dodged a major bullet by supporting all of them so thanks again.

  9. Their builtin divx codecs doesn’t play all of the divx/xvid encoded movies! GRRR
    Also we can’t override these codecs with ffdshow yet, so no subtitles for the MSDIVX decoded movies either… What a shame!!!
    I hope you’re builtin the original divx codecs in the mid-December beta release, and to thought something about implementation of subtitles in SRT and SUB formats at least! Not everyone in the world is english-speaking! Get it in your heads!

  10. speedycars – I ran the DivX/XviD test CD plus XviD encoded samples against their codec on the Xbox 360 and it played everything that XviD could handle and seeing as XviD is superior feature wise to DivX I’m not sure whats up with your movies not playing.

    Subtitles aren’t supported though so yeah a small disappointment but hey its better than nothing and there are tools for burning subs into videos.

    As for disabling the built in codecs well you can set a merit in directshow to give priority to a codec, I’m sure ffdshow-tryouts will be appropriately tweaked upon Windows 7 release so if need be they can take over though you only need that if playing content in WMP or WMC. If you want a media player with all formats supported and subs go get Media Player Classic Home Cinema, go into the options and under output set it to VMR9 or EVR-Custom so it will shows subs.
    http://mpc-hc.sourceforge.net/

    mrmckeb – Quicktime does indeed suck very hard on Windows but we don’t need QT support as H.264 in MP4 will be supported and anyone making a cross platform video all they have to do is roll one of those.

  11. Argh deleted the rest of my text by accident, anyway containing on from the QT sentence, plus Apples mov container supports a load of old Apple formats that would be a pain in the ass & just arent worth it.

    Windows 7 native H.264 support with DXVA GPU support and no doubt multi-threaded too will be a lot better than Apples QT/OSX H.264 implementation which Apple has let languish for many years so it may even get Apple to pull their socks up with H.264 support.

  12. This is the killer feature! This is it! I hope I can finally convert my AVI collection quickly to Zune compatible H.264 Baseline profile without crapware converters since the Zune software is very evil and doesn’t support many formats. And for OGG, FLAC and MKV demanders, the framework will be extensible like DirectShow AND the power available to end users if its part of the shell UNLIKE DirectShow. Awesome!!!

    I hope they add AVC High Profile and MPEG-4 ASP support. And maybe even HE-AAC!!!!!!!!!!

  13. tuc – these codecs have to be PAID for, the MPEG licensing authority (which governs video patents etc) lives off the royalties commercial companies pay to it.

    WMP12 being released on Vista is very, very unlikely as it not only takes away a selling point of Windows 7 but it comes out of Microsofts pocket to pay for the licensing costs unless MS had the foresight to factor in the cost to Vista in the first place either way I cant see it happening.

    theoriginalsomeone – I too hope they finally update the Zune as well, it was quite annoying for the Zune software to be limited to base and main profile H.264 (a result of basing their H.264 profile of Apples limited implementation), hopefully the new H.264 mobile encoder in Win7 will get ported to the Zune software along with unifying media support to bring it in-line with all Win7/WMP/WMC/XBOX/MCX & finally end the confusion over which MS platform supports what.

  14. WMP12 won’t support most of my files: OGG Vorbis, FLAC, WavePack (WV), APE, Matroska container (MKV). There is no subtitles support (SRT, SSA, ASS).
    Could you tell me one good reason why Microsoft doesn’t want to support them (they are mostly open source -> there is no need to acquire licenses and pay license fees). I’m very disappointed by their policy.

  15. “Lack of mainstream appeal” ?
    I can’t agree with that. There are many companies who support these formats in their products. Latest example? Western Digital and their WD TV HD Media Player. Supported formats:
    Music – mpe, wma, OGG (!!!), wav/pcm/lpcm, aac, FLAC (!!!), dolby digital, aif/aiff, MKA (!!!)
    Video -MPEG1/2/4, WMV9, AVI (MPEG4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, MKV (!!!) , MOV (MPEG4, H.264)
    Playlist – PLS, M3U, WPL
    Subtitle -SRT (UTF-8) (!!!!!!)

    And it’s only a tip of the iceberg.

    There are many MP4 players like iRiver or Cowon with OGG / FLAC support. Matroska is very popular due to the scene adopting it as a format of choice for high definition content ripped from HDTV and next generation video discs (HD DVD and Blu-ray). Number of hardware players with MKV supports is increasing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matroska#Hardware_support)

    Why OGG Vorbis and FLAC are natively supported in Winamp but not in Windows Media Player ? Why OGG Vorbis can supported by Yahoo, Roxio or Nero but not by Microsoft ?

    One of my theories is that Microsoft doesn’t want to support them because they are simply better than their own solutions: OGG Vorbis (sound quality with the same bitrate) is better than WMA; FLAC is the standard for lossless audio compression, not WMA Lossless; Matroska is the most advanced media container with many interesting features – multiple audio and subtitle streams, chapters, embedded fonts for subtitles, segments, tags, you can use in MKV container almost every existing audio/video format (there is no other so flexible solution) etc. Besides that they are license free and… DRM-Free (!!!).

  16. I too wish that we could get ogg, ogm, mkv, etc. support in windows, but my guess is that it came down to a development time/resources vs. usefulness to the general public.
    In particular, all media codecs are potential security vulnerabilities, plus a big feature to test. Not to mention the fact that it takes about 5 minutes to download and install k-lite codec pack and play absolutely anything on windows (and presumably if you have mkv files you know how to do this).
    I’d say ogg has the best argument since wikipedia uses it (although it does link to a player i believe).

    Comparing to devices isn’t really fair, since most of them can’t be easily extended to play new media types, so they have to have support out of the box, or you’re out of luck.

  17. on a fresh install win 7-6801 x64 ran all avi,wmv,mpeg mpg but not flv or divx without installing the VistaCodecs_vxxx- plus x64Components_vxxx which is the very best packs i have ever used
    i only run 64 bit system now they are just out and out better than 32 bit systems so use these packs in windows 7 like i have –PS–after you install them no other packs installed of course….go to 64 bit tools in vista codec directory in the start menu and open default player hit the two file there to set 64 bit media player as default
    enable 64 bit registry
    enable 64 bit wmp
    and you will be running all forms of video media in a 64 bit player————BOB
    I HAVE BEEN TESTING WIN 7 FOR A WHILE ITS A COOL SYSTEM I WONT BE GOING BACK TO VISTA X64

  18. “One of my theories is that Microsoft doesn’t want to support them because they are simply better than their own solutions: OGG Vorbis (sound quality with the same bitrate) is better than WMA; FLAC is the standard for lossless audio compression, not WMA Lossless; Matroska is the most advanced media container with many interesting features – multiple audio and subtitle streams, chapters, embedded fonts for subtitles, segments, tags, you can use in MKV container almost every existing audio/video format”

    Well, the mpeg4 codecs are also better than the Windows Media equivalents, yet they are still adding the support (HE-AAC is hard to beat at under 96k, and surround sound under 128k, big streaming bitrates). Also, mp4 is capable of multiple audio and subtitle streams, chapters, tags, and segments – not sure on font embedding. It’s drawback is lack of the flexibility mkv offers.

    I love the formats too, but ultimately it might be tougher for a company like MS (or Apple) to support codecs and containers that have no real licensing board to work with on implementations.

  19. Some relatively good news for HDTV fans wondering whether MKV will work. I just ran a test on Windows 7 build 7000 and MKV is not recognized, even with HAALI installed. Actually, according to Graphedit, it’s only the video that is not recognised, so an update in HAALI should fix this.

    BUT, using TSMuxeR I converted an MKV with H.264 and AC3 to a M2TS stream and Windows plays it beautifully. I used the same procedure as converting it for the PS3. Another nice thing is that it actually can show a thumbnail in Explorer and MediaCenter.

    My first test was with a 720p episode of Sanctuary (S01E03) and the CPU time on my laptop was around the 15% to 25% mark. I have an Intel T7300 dual core (2.00 Ghz) running on batteries, so that means its clock speed is lower that on mains power. I therefor conclude that it must be using DXVA as well.

    I am running a conversion of Cars 1080p now, to see what the result is. I know this falls within the BlueRay profile, so DXVA should also work here. If there is no update, you can bet ya that it worked!

  20. MKV must be part of this otherwise its a just a marketing noise and users will need anyway to install the same k-lite codec pack or the other one BOB described above. If MS can eliminate installation of unsafe codec packs for majority of users because Windows7 will play MOST POPULAR formats out of the box, that I would say this will be a big achievement. Anyone can play H.264 now even with XP but codec distribution is not secure and Windows Update does not help if codec is improved.

    If they say they work for the customer and not against the customer then what I need is support for MKV with H.264 or VC-1 video and AAC, AC3 or DTS sound. If this is not in Windows7 then I anyway need to install codec pack and all this improvement is of very little value.

  21. Great! Windows Beta also released. so i am going to test it practically to check it out its capability to play all encoder and decoder files.

  22. Algis:

    Actually all that should be needed is a Haali update that plugs into the new Media Foundation API instead of just DirectShow. A codec pack is a bit overkill if that change gets implemented.

  23. @Algis

    Dude, I think you need to reread what you wrote, and you’ll realise it’s silly. Codec Pack? Seriously? All the codecs you mentioned are already supported out of the box (with the POSSIBLE exception of DTS). MKV is not a codec, it is a container, and all that is needed to support it is a splitter such as Haali (although yes, an updated version is needed for a version that will work with the new API). But as everyone is saying, it’s not really that necessary, as M2TS already seems to play, all that is necessary is remuxing.

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