Confusion in the Living Room: Playing Streamed Videos, Part 2 of 2

Streaming videos from your network storage device to devices in your home entertainment center can sometimes cause more rants than raves.

Try firing up a living room device like an Xbox 360, navigating to an .MKV video file on your D-Link ShareCenter network storage device, and selecting it for playback. Your gaming console might see the file, but there’s no way it’s going to stream.

And thus emerges the grand dilemma: Your video file might be encoded using a particular codec or a compression format that your playback device is supposed to natively support. But if your encoded video has been slapped into a container that your playback device cannot support, like in my example above, you aren’t going to be watching much of anything.

Understanding video containers and codecs

To better understand the nuances of containers and codecs, imagine a giant virtual box. That’s a container, and these containers — differentiated by file extensions such as AVI, MKV, MOV, and others — all support different kinds of video compression, audio track layers, and other features such as video subtitles. Your video, its accompanying audio, and these miscellaneous bonus features all live within container files.

However, the video and audio themselves are compressed and created using codecs: DivX, h264, x264, MPEG-4, and WMV, to name a few. These codecs differ greatly in their ability to balance quality against file sizes, so much so that even your desktop or laptop system might not support some of the more advanced video codecs without a third-party decoder.

So what’s a person to do in the event that the codec and container combo used on a certain video doesn’t play on your living room setup? If you’re skilled, you can try re-encoding the file with a different codec (or outputting it into a container that your playback device supports). That’s not the easiest solution for novice users, but don’t fret: You can also convert videos on the fly to create a stream that your playback device can receive. It’s an easy, free solution that just might turn your otherwise black screen into vibrant video playback. Tune in next week to learn how it’s done!

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