Project: Watch video on your PC
Why you'd attempt it: More flexibility than a standalone media player
Difficulty factor: Simple to Medium
An MPEG-2 codec is pre-installed with MCE versions of Windows 7 and Vista so, unlike Windows XP, you don’t need to install separate DVD playback software to watch DVDs and free-to-air TV. You'll find that different MPEG-2 codecs offer different results depending on your graphics card and other variables. If you want to experiment with other MPEG-2 codecs, such as those from NVIDIA and PowerDVD, the Media Centre Decoder utility makes it easy to switch between them.
You can add a folder containing your DVDs collection to MCE by dipping into Settings, Media Libraries and Movies. MCE’s Movie Library doesn’t always display your DVD collection by default, but you can fix this by editing the registry. You can also install plug-ins such as My Movies for Windows Media Center to download cover art and other metadata.
If you’re downloading video files from the internet, you’ll soon discover that MCE doesn’t play formats such as MKV. Third-party media players such as VLC are Swiss army knife media players, but they’re not as easy to control from the couch.
Shark007’s Codec Packs are considered some of the best one-stop-shop codec packs for MCE, with versions available for Windows 7 and Vista/XP. Format support includes DivX, Xvid, MKV, QuickTime, RealMedia and MPEG-2 as well as DirectVobSub for handling subtitles and AC3Filter for playing AC3 and DTS soundtracks.
Shark007’s Codec Packs come with a settings application that makes it easy to specify different splitters and decoders for specific file types - letting you experiment until you find which is best for your set-up (but you probably won’t need to change the default settings). If you’re using the the Media Centre Decoder utility, you’ll want to revert to your default settings before installing Shark007’s Codec Pack.