Name That CODEC

It happens pretty frequently that someone in the legal staff will encounter issues when attempting to play an audio or video file.  They will come to me asking why the file won’t play.  If they are trying to use Windows Media Player, the error message will usually be:


I will try to attempt an explanation on what a CODEC is and why they need it but their eyes quickly gloss over.  They don’t really care what it is, they just know that it isn’t playing and they want you to fix it.

So what exactly is a CODEC?

A CODEC is a file that codes or decodes audio and video files such as MP3, WMA, WAV, etc.  In other words, the file format needs this CODEC file to translate the transmission of audio or video.  Yeah, I know, I can’t say for sure that I still understand it or can dummy it down to explain it to my attorney.

So how to you know what CODECs are needed?

I usually try to play the file on different computers.  When I am able to get the file to play, I then compare the CODECs.  For Windows Media Player, you can do this by going to the “About Windows Media Player” and click on the link for Technical Support Information:


Then you will scroll down to the list of audio and video CODECs on the file:


So now you can print this out and take it with you to the computer that does not have the CODEC.

Another nifty thing you can do to identify the CODEC if you have TrialDirector is to run a command at your command prompt:

“C:\Program Files (x86)\inData Corporation\TrialDirector 6\TrialDirector6.exe” graphedit

This command will open up a window then you drag your file into the window:


So what if you can’t play the file to compare the CODECS?  How can you identify the missing CODEC?

If you can’t play the file anywhere in your office then you will need to download a third party software to find out what’s missing.  There is a freeware called GSpot that can help with this.   GSpot is a Windows-based freeware program designed to identify the codecs.  Of course, as always, be careful when you download any freeware programs.

Another alternative to using Windows Media Player is using a program called VLC which is a media player that is a free and open-source, portable and cross-platform media player.  Many times VLC will play files that Windows Media Player will not.

If you have worked in litigation support any length of time, you already know that sometimes you need to find more than one software or solution to programs we encounter in the legal world.  Many times it isn’t a quick and easy solution and in a world of digital audio and video files, it can be challenging.  Networking with other litigation support professionals is important as well.  If you have any solutions that work for you, please share in the comments.



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