Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Blocking unsigned codecs

Windows Media Player has decided that it won’t install a codec for me because it hasn’t been digitally signed. Well gee, thanks, because I really wasn’t keen on watching that file I’d spent two hours downloading.
Okay, to be more specific, I downloaded Revenge of the COMMoNISTS, which is a video shot at the Creative Commons 2nd birthday party. The video uses a proprietary audio codec for the sound which I didn’t have installed, so when I played it, Windows Media Player phoned home to, and downloaded the codec. However, this codec wasn’t digitally signed, and as far as I can tell as of Windows XP SP2 unsigned codecs won’t be installed automatically.
Now this would be fair enough if I could then choose to ignore the warning and install it anyway – the file was downloaded from Microsoft’s own web site and was made by a large, reputable, multi-national electronics company, so I don’t imagine it was going to be virus- or spyware-infested. But the dialog simply told me it had been blocked, and that was the end of it. It didn’t even tell me what codec this was, so I couldn’t have gone to download it myself.
In the end, I downloaded Privoxy, a proxy server with filtering capabilities, to capture the URL that Windows Media Player was downloading from and then download it manually from this URL and install it myself, after which the video played with no problems. But I really shouldn’t have had to do that.
With drivers, if the driver is unsigned then Windows gives you a big warning but still lets you continue and install it. It’s the same with downloads in IE, although that’s probably because the vast majority of files you can download from the internet are not yet digitally signed anyway. But why can’t this be applied to codecs as well? Heck, if Microsoft are that worried that I might mess my system up by installing a rogue codec, have Windows Media Player create a Restore Point so that I can run System Restore if need be.


  1. OK – Creative Commons… Proprietary Format… Windows Media Player… Multi-National? Shouldn’t they be releasing Ogg Theoras and you be using VLC?

  2. They should be using Ogg Theora, yes, although this wasn’t released by Creative Commons, rather it was someone watching their presentations who had a video camera.
    As for me, I suppose I should be using VLC but it still leaves some things to be desired, such as its inflexible full-screen support and poor DVD rendering in comparison with the proprietary DRM-infested ones. I did try it in Media Player Classic but it too couldn’t decode it, nor could it tell me what codec I needed.

  3. Thanks for the heads up on issues with the format. The video came from a Panasonic Dsnap digi camera and I actually used the second highest quality setting because the 30fps setting I can’t even get to play on Linux. I guess I need to sit down and figure a way to convert these asfs to something friendlier, but I’m not big on ogg because I don’t want to exclude Windows Media people.

  4. Not sure what container format you were having trouble with so this may not apply in this instance. But you may find this useful now and then anyway..
    Gspot Codec Information app, you open a video file in it and it tells you exactly the codecs that the file uses. Also useful if you end up with more than one decoder for certains things (say multiple mpeg4 decoders) and you can’t fathom which one is getting priority.

  5. GSpot was going to be my recommendation also.
    But also…don’t use Media Player…it’s awful.
    I use ZoomPlayer but I find Media Player Classic acceptable also.