What did I just say?
From the second-last paragraph of yesterday’s Windows Vista post:
(Of course, I’m sure I’ll discover some additional niggles as soon as I post this.)
This evening, I discovered one. I actually managed to solve it fairly straightforwardly, but the trial and error process involved certainly took long enough.
Basically, today I discovered that, in the Windows Media Player (and Windows Media Center) video decoders that ship with Windows Vista, there is no support for hardware accelerated playback. I know, I know, pick up your jaws from the floor - I didn’t believe it either at first. It’s true, though - everything runs in software, something which can quickly be confirmed by hitting the PrintScreen button while a video is being played and seeing whether or not it copies to the clipboard. (If you get nothing but black where the video should be, the overlay is being used and hardware acceleration is working properly. If you get a screen capture from the video, then it’s playing in software mode.) People were aware of this problem as early as late 2006, and the problem goes unfixed to this day. In other words, say goodbye to the performance boosts, improved image quality and motion adaptive deinterlacing that today’s modern video cards offer.
Maybe it’s intentional. Programs which do properly use the overlay for their video playback, such as PowerDVD, must disable the fancy translucency effects of Vista’s Aero interface for the duration of the video’s playback (hardly the worst thing in the world, but there you go), so maybe Microsoft figured users would prefer having to watch substandard video to seeing their taskbar go opaque when they sit down to watch Man & Guns: The Movie. That’s the only possible explanation I can think of (unless, of course, you think it’s all a big conspiracy between Teh Evil Conglomerate$ to make you buy a copy of PowerDVD), because it’s a major oversight and it means that Windows Media Player is really not an option for me when it comes to video playback.
Luckily, there are alternatives. I already mentioned PowerDVD, although it does have a rather clunky interface that doesn’t exactly make it ideal when you just want to grab an .avi and get going. Another option, and the one that I am using right now, is Media Player Classic, a freeware program patterned after Microsoft’s own Media Player 6 (a much less bloated and more streamlined piece of software than the monstrosity currently in circulation), which offers something that the official Media Player simply doesn’t have: control. The makers of this small piece of free software have thoughtfully included an options screen which allows you to specify how you want your video to be displayed. In my case, that meant unchecking “VMR9 (renderless)” (the option used by the official Vista Media Player) and selecting “Overlay Mixer”.
Result: hardware acceleration is up and running and my videos now look every bit as good as they did in Windows XP.
It’s the little things like this that generally make me so wary of upgrading to newer versions of software. If you’re going to remove functionality in a new iteration of a program, surely it makes sense to give the user the option to re-enable it? Hide it away in some obscure sub-menu if you have to, but don’t saddle me with inferior quality without a valid reason. It’s not as if overlay support is impossible in Vista: PowerDVD and Media Player Classic prove that it’s as easy as pie. I’d really like to hear Microsoft’s explanation for this one.