What Codecs Are Loaded in Windows
Derek writes with two questions about codecs:
"1) Is there any utility or method of determining what Codecs are loaded to XP and whether they are the latest version or most suitable to use?
2) Is there a suggested set or suite to cover all situations? Either open source or commercial."
If there were a set of codecs that covered all situations and tool that actually made maintaining codecs on your system easy, I'd have far less to write about. Instead, there are a convoluted series of components that will help you make the most of a frustrating situation. Here is a set of solutions that will get you close to keeping everything up to date:
Which Codecs Are Installed in Windows?
DxDiag the DirectX Diagnostic Tool is a Windows system utility designed to tell you all the DirectX components and drivers installed on your system, as well as providing detailed DirectShow Filter (aka codec) information. It won't tell you if you have the latest version of a DirectShow filter, but it provides a detailed list of everything on your system. Below is a strategy that will get your To launch dxdiag, go to Start > Run (Windows key+R) then type dxdiag in the Run open dialog and click OK.
Click the save all information button to save your DxDiag scan as a text file. Open the text file to see all the codecs installed. Search for DirectShow Filters in the file to find the list.
Keeping Codecs Updated
Unfortunately, there is no tool that will tell you which Codecs have new versions out. Many media editing applications have automatic update reminders, but there are applications which don't. My personal hack for this is to use Secunia Personal Software Inspector, which tells me which apps on my system are not the latest version. The software won't catch everything, but it comes very close. All the media apps I use are tracked by Secunia PSI, which means I get notified when they update. I set a reminder in Outlook to run Secunia PSI weekly and then update based on its findings.
Finding the Ultimate Codec Pack
There is no codec pack that covers all situations. I know some people recommend the K-lite Codec pack, but I've frequently found conflicts with codecs in that pack. I have found the best success using the Codecs that ship with commercial software apps, like Sony Vegas, Pinnacle Studio, and Roxio Creator, and even Cyberlink's PowerDVD Ultra. Keeping QuickTime and the DivX codec up to date often cover most of the other issues that arise. Nothing covers all situations. FFDShow (the version from AfterDawn.com) is the codec pack I use for oddball files, but still end up installing other codecs. The tricky part is making sure you don't end up with conflicts, which is a slippery slope.