What do the MPEG-2 and VC-1 decoder options get you on the Raspberry Pi?


Last week the Raspberry Pi foundation announced you could purchase MPEG-2 and VC-1 decoders for the Raspberry Pi. The MPEG-2 option costs £2.40 and the VC-1 codec costs £1.20, you buy the options from the Raspberry Pi store and then they mail you the codes.

The codes that the Raspberry Pi foundation email must be added to a file called config.txt which is located on the boot partition of the Pi’s SD card. You open the file and add the lines to the file. You must do this for each image you have built for the Raspberry Pi and the code is linked to the serial number of your Raspberry Pi.

So what do you get when your purchase the MPEG-2 decoder and what does the VC-1 decoder do?

I copied a few files from my Media Center system to an external hard drive (to I could rule out any network issues). I used the latest version of Raspbmc and the recordings were taken from a Windows 7 machine with DVB-T2 card. I also tested WMV (Windows Media Video) files and a un-encrypted DVD file.

I tested the formats one at a time with a combination decoder licences installed, here are my results:


Format With out decoders With MPEG-2 With VC-1 Only
Windows Recorded TV SD Recording (WTV) Audio Only Video and Audio Audio Only
Windows Recorded TV HD (WTV) Audio Only Video and Audio* Audio Only
Windows Media Video (WMV) Will not play Will not play Video and Audio
DVD** Audio Only Video and Audio Audio Only


* BBC One HD recordings would load but not play correctly, Channel 4 HD worked fine.

** Un-encrypted DVD

So if you want to use a Raspberry Pi to watch Windows Media Center recordings you will need the MPEG-2 decoder but unless you want to watch WMV files you don’t need the VC-1 option. If you want to watch DVD files all you need is the MPEG-2 decoder.

I will be bringing my Raspberry Pi to our user group in September if you want to have a go with it in person. Over the weekend I recorded a video testing some of the formats which I have embedded.

About the author Ian Dixon:
Ian Dixon is a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), founder of TheDigitalLifestyle.com tech site and producer of the weekly The Digital Lifestyle Show podcast. Ian has been writing and talking about Windows for over 10 years and has over 20 years in IT as an IT Manager. Ian thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook and over 4 million views on his YouTube channel.
  • Steve Pearce
    Must say I’ve had success playing HD recordings from the BBC (albeit one I recorded a few months ago – naughty, naughty), but I had to overclock the CPU and GPU slightly to make it run smoothly. I guess the differences in bitrates, plus the variation in the audo codecs and channels used, may cause ones milage to vary.

    I, for one, have been over the moon with what a lovely little MythTV frontend my Raspberry Pi has now become. Hats off to the RPF for listening to their customers and to the developers of platforms like Raspbmc for putting in the time to make it all happen

    • john
      Steve, can you tell me how are you playing your myth recordings, do you actually have Myth-frontend running on your pi?

      If the full myth-frontend can run on a pi & play mpeg2 and h264 from hardware it would be a sea change in myth-land.

  • Errol
    How did you get wmv to play? I’m trying to get the old Microsoft standard file robotica_1080.wmv to play. No joy. It’s WMV3/WMPv9(VC1-1 Simple/Main) but it wont play…
    • http://thedigitallifestyle.com Ian Dixon
      I streaming it over the network, it one of the sample WMV files that ships with Windows 7. I also had the VC-1 option installed.
      • Errol
        Ahh ok. The wildlife.wmv file is encoded differently and does play very nicely. It is WVC1/VC1 Adv(WMP11). Thank you for the help! :)
        • http://thedigitallifestyle.com Ian Dixon
          Glad I can help. I think there is not much that content using vc-1 anymore anyway
  • Ekstrom
    Are you able to fast forward? That doesn´t work for me
    • http://thedigitallifestyle.com Ian Dixon
      not tested that, will give it a try today
  • James
    Did the testing above use an actual DVD disc or was it a .vob file taken from one?

    And would the MPEG-2 codec allow the playback of any physical DVDs on a distro like openelec?


    • http://thedigitallifestyle.com Ian Dixon
      I copy a DVD folder to the hard drive and played the vob file
      • James
        Thanks. Would you (or somebody else) be able to test an actual DVD? I’m using my Pi as a media PC and its the one point where it falls down at the moment.
  • John
    Any particular reason for going unencrypted for the dvd?

    Convenience, or will the pi not handle the decode (seems unlikely if the MPEG is offloaded)

    • http://thedigitallifestyle.com Ian Dixon
      I didn’t have a DVD around to try. I will try putting a USB DVD drive on the Pi and see if it will play the DVD
  • http://[email protected] Scott.Bouch
    The table you provided is very interesting… Thanks for publishing it.

    This may be a stupid question, but can you install both codecs at once to conveniently cover all eventualities?

    If I was to use Raspbmc for media, I want to be in a position where I can play anything with convenience, and not have to change codecs each time I want to play a different file type.

    Also, I will be interested to see your results with a DVD player.

    Thanks, Scott.

  • Matthew Moore
    Curious with Raspberry PI could you get the record tv screen and other options as i want to use it as WMC ? I would be doing it over network. Does that work ? Do you have a tutorial how to get it all working ?
    • http://thedigitallifestyle.com Ian Dixon
      I will work on a tutorial video in the next few weeks
  • Lou
    Do you know whether the media center dvr-ms format works with either codec?
  • http://twitter.com/gwpurnell gwpurnell
    How did you add the licenses? Did you add them to the config.txt file manually or did you use the Raspbmc Settings application?
    • http://thedigitallifestyle.com Ian Dixon
      I manually edited config.txt but that was before Raspmbc added the settings option
      • http://twitter.com/gwpurnell gwpurnell
        Thanks for your response. I edited the config.txt file too but couldn’t get a WMV file to play last night (my first attempt and it was very late at night). I suspect it was just a momentary glitch and I’ll try again this evening.
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