What's the Best Codec Pack for Playing Audio and Video?

Play more audio and video file formats by installing a codec pack

If you've ever downloaded a digital music file or video from the internet and not been able to play it, you may need to install the correct codec on your computer. There's a mind-boggling array of different audio and video formats in use today, and so installing a media codec pack is often the most sensible solution. These packs save time hunting about on the internet for one particular codec. They often contain just about every useful codec you'll ever need to make your computer ultra compatible.

Whether you use Windows Media Player, Winamp, Media Player Classic, or another audio-visual program, having the right set of codecs installed on your system is vital if you need to play a wide range of different file formats.

This media codec pack list showcases some of the best collections for Windows that you can download for free. However, if you are a Mac user, then VLC Media Player for OS X is worth a look. It can handle quite a lot of formats out of the box.

K-lite Codec Pack
K-lite Codec Pack installation. Mark Harris 

The K-Lite Codec Pack, which is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 is probably the most popular codec compilation available for a few good reasons. It has a user-friendly interface that makes installation easy, and it contains an impressive variety of codecs that are regularly updated.

There are four versions available to download for 32 and 64 bit depending on your requirements. They are:

  • K-lite Codec Pack Basic – This is a streamlined version that only contains the essential codecs, which is great when you want only the bare minimum to save space on your hard disk.
  • K-lite Codec Pack Standard – If you're an average user, then you'll probably want to download this one. It contains a wide array of codecs that play all the major audio and video formats.
  • K-Lite Codec Pack Full – Installing this one gets you everything the Standard pack offers with additional support for specialized filters and tools you might need. 
  • K-Lite Codec Pack Mega – This is the ultimate pack if you want it all. As well as everything that the Full pack contains, there are tools for creating your own encoded audio and video files.
X Codec Pack
X Codec Pack screen in Media Player Classic. X Codec Pack

X Codec Pack is another full-featured compilation that will give your version of Windows good support for almost all the video and audio files you download.

Just like some of the other codec packs available to download, X Codec Pack also comes with the popular Media Player Classic application. Although the X Codec Pack isn't updated as regularly as other compilations, it still has an impressive collection of codecs, filters, and splitters for playing back a wide selection of media files. 

The current download supports Windows systems up through Windows 8.

The Media Player Codec Pack is a good choice for casual and advanced users alike. It supports almost every compression and file type you're likely to find in modern video and audio files. You can opt to use the "Easy Installation" or the "Expert Installation," which adds advanced settings for a high-end user.

The Media Player Codec Pack is available for Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, 2008, XP, 2003 and 2000.

Windows Essentials Codec Pack
Installer for Windows Essentials Codec Pack. Mark Harris 

UPDATE: Windows Essentials Codec Pack has been discontinued by Microsoft and is no longer available for download. This information is being retained for archive purposes.

The Windows Essentials Codec Pack is another stellar compilation (for XP or later) that provides you with a large library of codecs to play almost all audio and video files that you download from the Web.

This pack contains a selection of filters to enhance the quality of audio and video playback. The HomeCinema version of Media Player Classic is also included in this compilation. This free media player that is capable and lightweight and worth a try if you are looking for an alternative to Windows Media Player.