In this final entry about downloading Anime, I will describe how I view the content I have downloaded.
First a warning: when I went seeking the guts of how this all works I tripped into a very scary world of bits and packets. This is a cursed realm akin to the realm of beans. It’s best not to travel to deeply into this realm unless you are network nerd. That said, here it goes:
Codecs and Containers
Media files are huge, so they must be compressed for convenient transmission over the Internet. A codec is used to (co)mpress and (dec)ompress or to (co)de and (dec)ode media files into or from smaller files. In other words a codec is use to encode video files and well as decode video files. Examples of codecs are Dvix, Xvid, MP3, RealAudio, and WMA. A container is needed to house video files along with their attachments like audio, subtitles, indices, and other junk. Common video containers used for anime are AVI and Matroska. There are many codecs out there that can be used to play files in their respective containers. Because the world of fansubbing is basically the “wild-wild-west”, a varied assortment of codecs are needed to play video files. Unfortunately, I have found that those codec packs that have proven to be safe, like the XP codec pack, do not have all the codecs needed. Sigh … I use the CCCP codec pack and pray that these folks aren’t malicious and that my internet security software and hardware adequately protect me.
Here are some links to more information about codec, containers, and compression algorithms. The comparison of containers is particularly helpful. Notice that Matroska is open source and very flexible.
From my experience, AVI and MKV (Matroska) are the most common anime file formats. Commonly Xvid and H264 (MPEG4) are the codecs needed to decode the files. As of now, AVI files are standard definition (480-lines or less), while the MKV files are usually 576-lines and higher — the highest I’ve played has been 1080-lines (1920×1080), but they are most commonly 720-lines (1280×720). The MKV container also allows for multiple soundtracks, 5.1 sound, multiple subtitle tracks, and DVD like menus — it’s quite nice. Lately, the H264 compression algorithm is being used more and more. Although it is highly efficient, it does require more processing power and RAM to decode and some media players handle this codec better than others. Many of the fansubbers now offer both AVI and MKV versions of series. The MKV files is usually the hi-def version and, in general, is about 25 – 50% larger than the AVI.
When you decide the world of downloads is for you, the first thing you want to do is severally cripple Window Media player so it isn’t your default media player and so it can’t disable all of the media files on you computer or network due to DRM enforcement (WMP can wreck your world if you are not careful T_T ). The next thing is a nice thing: you don’t have to install codecs for each player you have, rather all the players have equal access to the codecs on your computer and the players can figure out which codecs to use without consulting you. Meaning, that once you have installed a player and the codec pack, all you have to do is push play. NICE!!!
There are lots of free and cheap players out there that do an excellent job. These players also play music and DVDs, so you can turn any computer into an entertainment center without having to specifically buy an entertainment center computer. Most codec packs recommended by anime download sites include Window Classic Media Player (an ultra lean version of the Windows Media Player — all the good stuff without the added “value” of Microsoft) and zPlayer. The Classic media player is good for AVI files, but not so good for MKV. The zPlayer should used for Matroska files. The zPlayer, though, is not as user friendly as the Classic player. For a little bit of cash you can pay for a media player too. I use WinDVD, which also plays DVD’s and has some cool features that allow for clean screen captures and adding personal notations.
So there you have it. Now, what to do with all this info … hmm …