What is a codec?
A codec is software that is used to compress or decompress a digital media file, such as a song or video. Windows Media Player and other programs use codecs to play and create digital media files.
A codec can consist of two components: an encoder and a decoder. The encoder performs the compression (encoding) function and the decoder performs the decompression (decoding) function. Some codecs include both of these components and some codecs only include one of them.
For example, when you rip a song from an audio CD to your computer, the Player uses Window Media Audio codec by default to compress the song into a compact WMA file. When you play the WMA file (or any WMA file that might be streamed from a website), the Player uses the Windows Media Audio codec to decompress the file so the music can be played through your speakers.
There are hundreds of audio and video codecs in use today. Some have been created by Microsoft, but the vast majority of codecs have been created by other companies, organizations, or individuals. By default, the Windows operating system and the Player include a number of the most popular codecs, such as Windows Media Audio, Windows Media Video, and MP3.
There might be times, however, when you want to play content that was compressed with a codec that Windows or the Player doesn’t include by default. In many cases, you can download the necessary codec from the web for free or for a fee. And, in some cases, the Player can automatically use the codecs installed by other digital playback and creation programs on your computer.
If you know the name of the codec or its ID (known as a FourCC identifier for video codecs or a WaveFormat identifier for audio codecs), try searching the Internet. You can often go to a codec manufacturer’s website to download the most recent version of a codec.
What is a codec?