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

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

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Have you ever downloaded a digital music file or video from the Internet and not been able to play it? If your media player throws up an error and refuses to play it, then all you may need to do is 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 top-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. Image © Mark Harris - Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The K-Lite Codec Pack which is compatible with Windows XP onwards is probably the most popular codec compilation available. This is for a few good reasons. Firstly, it has a user-friendly interface that makes installation easy. And secondly, it contains an impressive variety of codecs which are regularly updated.

There are four versions available to download (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. Great if you only want the bare minimum and 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 will play virtually 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 more 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 gives you, there are tools for creating your own encoded audio and video files too.
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Windows Essentials Codec Pack
Installer for Windows Essentials Codec Pack. Image © Mark Harris - Licensed to About.com, Inc.

UPDATE: Windows Essentials has been discontinued by Microsoft. 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 is a great free media player that is very capable and light-weight – determinately worth a try if you are looking for an alternative to Windows Media Player. More »

X Codec Pack
X Codec Pack screen in Media Player Classic. Image © 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 XP 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. More »