The only thing cooler than free media players might be the free codecs that improve playback quality or enable more file types. There are so many to choose from that it's often hard to know which is best, especially when there's more than one or two choices, like for MP3s: LAME, FLAC, AC3, and so on. JockerSoft's CodecInstaller is a free tool that scans your system, identifies your media players, and suggests codecs for them that can expand or improve their capabilities.
CodecInstaller's compact, vertically oriented interface has three main controls, each self-explanatory: Installed Codecs, Analyze File, and Install Codecs. A Configuration button let us change the interface language and schedule updates. We pressed Installed Codecs, and instantly CodecInstaller produced a tabbed dialog displaying our system's Video, Audio, Other, and General codecs -- lots of them. We could click Update to refresh the list or Settings to set Minimum merit and allow the program to show filters not detected by DirectShow. Selecting any codec and right-clicking it produced a menu accessing the codec's Details and Priorities and Mappings (requires Microsoft Visual C++ 2005) and letting us Remove the codec or copy it to the clipboard. We clicked Analyze File and browsed to the folder containing one of our video codecs. The program displayed a list of possible formats, but which one would work? CodecInstaller provides the answer with a Render button that tests whether DirectShow can render the file. Whether CodecInstaller finds any missing or updated codecs for your software, you can install a variety of codecs using the program's Install Codecs tool, which displays a list of common codecs like AAC, Ogg Vorbis, DivX, and even Windows Media.
One of the hardest jobs in codec maintenance is finding the darn things in your system. CodecInstaller takes care of that by finding them all and displaying not only their location but also version, company, and more. Copying a codec's location, searching for it, and browsing to its folder in CodecInstaller helped us quickly analyze and update our most-used codecs. It'll be ready when you need a new codec to play a file, too.