Using a Virtual Machine for Controlled Codec Installations

Sometimes you just have to install a proprietary codec.

It is something that we try to avoid, but the installation of a proprietary codec is sometimes the only way to play a video. Luckily these cases are reducing, as more and more manufacturers understand the importance of true integration, and use standards within their video infrastructure.

Amped FIVE’s powerful Video Engine Manager assists greatly here as you can chose either the in-built video decoding engines, or utilize others installed on your system such as Directshow or Video For Windows. Even QuickTime can be used, but let’s not go too deep into that one at the moment as using QT in Windows has hit a bit of a sticking point!

When does a codec need to be installed? Well, it all starts with your video file, and when you drop it into FIVE, you may see something like this…

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As regular readers and users of FIVE will know, after clicking YES, the Convert DVR box will appear, and you can attempt to re-wrap or transcode the video file to support playback. In this case, though, no decoding is possible.

At this point then we need to understand a little more about the file.

With no file loaded into FIVE, you still have access to the Advanced File Info. (The disk and question mark icon in the top shortcut bar). When this is selected, as there is no file open in FIVE, it will automatically open Windows Explorer, allowing you to chose a file to investigate. Image 009

The MediaInfo report immediately gives us the information we require.

In order for me to decode this video, I need the Geovision Advanced MPEG-4 Codec that has a 4CC of GM40.

Here comes the interesting part… The more codecs I install in my system, the higher the chance of a codec conflict. When this happens, producing system instability with multimedia, finding the culprit can be a time-consuming task.

After years of battling with poorly written codecs and install packs that overwrite previously working codecs, I have a simple rule. Never install CCTV Codecs into my main system.

How do I proceed then? I use a Virtual Machine (VM).

You can read a bit more on using a virtual computer from an old personal blog post of mine, Making the most of Virtualization.

FIVE’s simple and clean installation, along with dongle licensing, means that you can install FIVE on a Virtual Machine, as long as the machine can ‘see’ the USB dongle.

Within the settings of Virtualbox, I have enabled USB and also added in the USB device of the dongle to ensure that my VM of Windows 7 can see it. Image 001

From within the VM, I need to take control of the dongle by selecting it. As a result, while the Virtual has control, I can no longer use it from within my main PC (The Host).

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I can now run Amped FIVE in my VM. Image 003

We know from our data analysis that we need the Geovision Advanced MPEG-4 Codec. After tracking down the most updated list of Geovision codecs, it’s time to install.

There are various methods to install individual ones manually, and many warnings for using codec packs where you can’t see what’s being installed. For this exercise, though, I have simply used the Codec registration application to register all the codecs in the system. As you can see, there were quite a few!

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After dropping my previously unplayable video into FIVE, it is detected automatically and now uses the Video For Windows Engine to decode the file. It also decodes the text stream and places that as a time overlay on the video.

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You may be wondering how to get files from your host into a VM. Most applications now support shared clipboards and drag and drop.

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You now have a number of options. You could deal with the video within the VM, or you could transcode the video and copy it to your Host PC for further use.

A handy function to set up within your VM’s is a Shared Folder, so when you export a file or report, it goes directly to your Host.

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I analyzed my video; I extracted my images, I then created a video for demonstrative use. I finally completed my report. I saved them all to a directory within my Shared Folders.

After shutting down this VM, my dongle is released back to the host so I can use FIVE as normal. All my completed video, images, and report are in my Shared Folder.

Once a VM is set up, you can open them quickly and work safely within FIVE across multiple environments.

A final note…

Many people have small (low disk space) Virtual Machines dedicated to a specific codec pack or manufacturers installation. This means that there are no conflicts. VM’s can be stored on a server and used when necessary.  By installing Amped FIVE on your VM’s, as well as your main PC, you can continue to work the way you want to. Safe in the knowledge that your main PC is clean from different codecs and packages that could cause problems when installed together.