Where are the WVP2 codecs for QuickTime on a Mac?

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

It’s generally accepted that Macs are great computers for graphic design and audio-visual work – so why is it so hard to play Windows Media content on a Mac? I know that QuickTime is the centre of Apple’s audio-visual experience – so why should Apple support competing formats – but perhaps I should really ask why the various software companies have seen fit to introduce such a myriad of audio and video codecs? I’m a techie and I can only just keep up – think about the poor consumer who just wants to share some family videos with the grandparents!

The trouble is that Microsoft, as the developer of the most widely installed operating system on the planet (with a correspondingly huge number of multimedia file formats as described in Microsoft knowledge base article 316922), has seen fit to dump development of Windows Media products for other platforms. Quoting part of the Wikipedia article on Windows Media Player:

Version 9 was the final version of Windows Media Player to be released for Mac OS X before development was cancelled by Microsoft. WMP for Mac OS X received widespread criticism from Mac users due to poor performance and features. Developed by the Windows Media team at Microsoft instead of the Macintosh Business Unit and released in 2003, on release the application lacked many basic features that were found in other media players such as Apple’s iTunes and QuickTime Player. It also lacked support for many media formats that version 9 of the Windows counterpart supported on release 10 months earlier.

The Mac version supported only Windows Media encoded media (up to version 9) enclosed in the ASF format, lacking support for all other formats such as MP4, MPEG, and Microsoft’s own AVI format. On the user interface front, it did not prevent screensavers from running during playback, it did not support file drag-and-drop, nor did it support playlists. While Windows Media Player 9 had added support for some files that use the WMV9 codec (also known as the WMV3 codec), in other aspects it was seen as having degraded in features from previous versions.

On January 12, 2006 Microsoft announced it had ceased development of Windows Media Player for Mac.[4] Microsoft now distributes a third-party plugin called WMV Player (produced and maintained by Flip4Mac) which allows some forms of Windows Media to be played within Apple’s QuickTime player and other QuickTime-aware applications.[5] Mac users can also use the free software media player VLC, which is also able to play WMV-3 / WMV-9 / VC-1 Windows Media files.

It seems that the Flip4Mac WMV Player, which should provide the missing Windows Media support for Mac users (as endorsed by Microsoft) does not support all Windows Media codecs, namely it refuses to play content encoded with the Windows Media Video 9 Image v2 (WVP2) codec.

I can understand Microsoft’s position – after all they want to preserve their market share – so why doesn’t Apple make it easier for switchers with legacy video content? As the iLife applications are such a selling point for Apple, why not make it easier to convert from the Windows equivalents?

My problem is that, for the last few years, I’ve been creating home video content using Windows Movie Maker and Photo Story. They may not be the best video applications in the world but they are fine for movies of holidays and the kids and are included with Windows XP (well, Movie Maker is – Photo Story is a free add on). Nowadays, I have a Mac but I still want to play my old content.  The resulting WMV content from Movie Maker hasn’t caused too many problems as it uses the Windows Media Audio 9.1 and Windows Media Video 9 (WMV3) codecs and simply needs appropriate QuickTime components to be installed. Unfortunately the Photo Story output refuses to play the (WVP2) video track in either QuickTime (WMV Player) or Windows Media Player for Mac OS X and as far as I can tell there are no suitable codecs available.

In desperation, I went back to PhotoStory and tried to export in another format but there is no such option (it supports various screen sizes and frame rates but they all seem to be using the same codec).

One macKB thread suggests using Dr Div X to convert the file but the latest version of Dr DivX failed (on both Windows and Mac); similarly the DivX Converter didn’t work for me.

Eventually, I found a utility that could convert the file for me (Advanced X Video Converter) – it’s done a good job although whilst the quality is acceptable for my home movies there are some visible compression artifacts (I used the H264 video and 24bit audio codecs to convert to a .MOV file). In fairness, the compression artifacts may also be visible in the original WMV file and anyway they are hardly surprisingly as the video was created from compressed JPEG and MP3 files, which have then been compressed to WMV and once more to MOV so the quality is certain to have suffered along the way. What’s possibly of greater concern is the resulting increase in file size – up from 19.5MB to 431.4MB.

I’m glad I got there in the end – for a while it seemed that I would have to keep a Windows virtual machine just to play old home movies – and there I was, naively believing that converting to digital capture and storage would save me from issues with legacy formats.

10 thoughts on “Where are the WVP2 codecs for QuickTime on a Mac?

  1. It’s possible Microsoft doesn’t make it easy for others to gain the knowledge about their codec needed to decode it easily. And you can hardly blame *Apple* for not doing what *Microsoft* should have done in the first place. It’s Microsoft’s codec, after all.

  2. Actually, I was blaming Microsoft for discontinuing development of their media products on the Mac platform (and licensing those codecs for others to continue) but saying that if Apple wants people to switch (at the time I wrote this, two years ago now, they were running a big switch campaign) then they need to make life easy for consumers. After all, if third party developers can make it work, then I’m sure Apple, with all of its resources, can engineer the appropriate codecs for QuickTime.

    Ultimately, the answer is a big push to standardise on certain codecs – there are just too many out there. The good news is that H.264 seems to be becoming a de facto standard for many applications now.

  3. Oh I totally agree. I wasn’t disagreeing with anything you said – just commenting on it. : )

    As for why I’m commenting on an article this old: Your article happened to be included in a post in the comp.sys.mac.* Usenet newsgroup hierarchy as part of an answer to a post asking why someone’s Mac couldn’t play some new Windows media file.

  4. @monoclast – no worries – it’s difficult to tell on a blog comment or e-mail what tone either of us were using! Seriously, all feedback and discussion is welcomed here – and thanks for telling me that I’ve cropped up on a usenet group!

    Hope to see you around here again – most of what I write relates to my work, which tends to me Microsoft-focused but I use Macs at home (and a bit of Linux too!).


  5. Thank you so much for this rant article! I was in the exact situation, and you told me the correct program in order to convert my PhotoStory movies over to my Mac!! You’re awesome!! :D

  6. Mark, Thanks for the article. I’ve come across some videos that would not play on my Macbook Pro and they turned out to be the old PhotoStory videos you describe with the WVP2 codec.

    Do you know how I can convert them on my Mac in OSX 10.5.8? I don’t have a windows machine or Windows on my Mac.
    Mark T

  7. According to the Microsoft Photo Story FAQs ( found at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/photostory/faq.mspx ), one way to convert these files to a format your Mac can play is to use Windows Movie Maker to save them as a regular .WMV file.

    You might have to experiment with the output (export) settings to figure out one that preserves the original quality of your Stories.

    If your Mac has Perian ( http://www.perian.org ) or VLC ( videolan.org/VLC ), it should play the files Windows Movie Maker saves, no problems.

  8. Thanks for that GC… I don’t recall Movie Maker being a big deal but sadly, for PhotoStory, it didn’t seem to be as simple as saving a .WMV file and Perian wasn’t helping me when I wrote this post three years ago – maybe it now includes the necessary codecs.

  9. I found that uploading the old photo story 3 videos to youtube and then downloading the mp4’s gives pretty good results. The video quality suffers a little bit as does the sound quality but it does the job.

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