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Windows Media Video
WMV Icon
Filename extension .wmv
Internet media type video/x-ms-wmv
Uniform Type Identifier
Developed by Microsoft
Type of format video file format

Windows Media Video (WMV) is a compressed video compression format for several proprietary codecs developed by Microsoft. The original video format, known as WMV, was originally designed for Internet streaming applications, as a competitor to RealVideo. The other formats, such as WMV Screen and WMV Image, cater for specialized content. Through standardization from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE),[1][2] WMV 9 has gained adoption for physical-delivery formats such as HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc.[3][4]



In 2003, Microsoft drafted a video codec specification based on its WMV 9 codec and submitted it to SMPTE for standardization. The standard was officially approved in March 2006 as SMPTE 421M, better known as VC-1, thus making the WMV 9 codec an open but still proprietary standard. Since then, VC-1 has become one of the three mandatory video codecs for the BD-ROM specifications.[3][4]

Container format

A WMV file is in most circumstances encapsulated in the Advanced Systems Format (ASF) container format.[5] The file extension .WMV typically describes ASF files that use Windows Media Video codecs. The audio codec used in conjunction with Windows Media Video is typically some version of Windows Media Audio, or in rarer cases, the deprecated Sipro audio codec. Microsoft recommends that ASF files containing non-Windows Media codecs use the generic .ASF file extension.

The ASF container can optionally support digital rights management using a combination of elliptic curve cryptography key exchange, DES block cipher, a custom block cipher, RC4 stream cipher and the SHA-1 hashing function.

Although WMV is generally packed into the ASF container format, it can also be put into the AVI or Matroska container format. The resulting files have the .AVI and .MKV file extensions, respectively. WMV can be stored in an AVI file when using the WMV 9 Video Compression Manager (VCM) codec implementation.[6][7] Another common way to store WMV in an AVI file is to use the VirtualDub encoder.

Video compression formats

Windows Media Video

Diagram illustrating the relative frame sizes of several common video resolutions targeted by Windows Media Video 9 Professional, starting with 480p.

Windows Media Video (WMV) is the most recognized video format within the WMV family. Usage of the term WMV often refers to the Microsoft Windows Media Video codec only. Its main competitors are MPEG-4 AVC, AVS, RealVideo, DivX, and Xvid. The first version of the codec, WMV 7, was introduced in 1999, and was built upon Microsoft's implementation of MPEG-4 Part 2.[8] Continued proprietary development led to newer versions of the codec, but the bit stream syntax was not frozen until WMV 9.[9] While all versions of WMV support variable bit rate, average bit rate, and constant bit rate, WMV 9 introduced several important features including native support for interlaced video, non-square pixels, and frame interpolation.[10] WMV 9 also introduced a new profile titled Windows Media Video 9 Professional,[11] which is activated automatically whenever the video resolution exceeds 300,000 pixels (e.g., 528x576, 640×480 or 768x432 and beyond) and the bitrate 1000 kbit/s[citation needed]. It is targeted towards high-definition video content, at resolutions such as 720p and 1080p.

The Simple and Main profile levels in WMV 9 are compliant with the same profile levels in the VC-1 specification.[12] The Advanced Profile in VC-1 is implemented in a new WMV codec called Windows Media Video 9 Advanced Profile. It improves compressions efficiency for interlaced content and is made transport-independent, making it able to be encapsulated in an MPEG transport stream or RTP packet format. The codec is not compatible with previous WMV 9 codecs, however.[13]

WMV is a mandatory video codec for PlaysForSure-certified online stores and devices, as well as Portable Media Center devices. The Microsoft Zune, Xbox 360, Windows Mobile-powered devices with Windows Media Player, as well as many uncertified devices, support the codec.[14] WMV HD mandates the use of WMV 9 for its certification program, at quality levels specified by Microsoft.[15] WMV used to be the only supported video codec for the Microsoft Silverlight platform, but H.264 codec is now also supported starting with version 3.[16]

Windows Media Video Screen

Windows Media Video Screen (WMV Screen) is a screencast codec. It can capture live screen content, or convert video from third-party screen-capture programs into WMV 9 Screen files. It works best when the source material is mainly static and contains a small color palette.[17] Depending on the complexity of the source material, the codec may switch between lossy and lossless encoding to enhance compression efficiency.[17]

One of the uses for the codec is computer step-by-step demonstration videos. The first version of the codec was WMV 7 Screen, The second and current version, WMV 9 Screen, supports VBR encoding in addition to CBR.[17]

Windows Media Video Image

Windows Media Video Image (WMV Image) is a video slideshow codec. The codec works by applying timing, panning and transition effects to a series of images during playback.[18] The codec achieves a higher compression ratio and image quality than WMV 9 for still images as files encoded with WMV Image store static images rather than full-motion video.

Since the codec relies on the decoder (player) to generate video frames in real-time, playing WMV Image files even at moderate resolutions (eg., 30 frames per second at 1024 × 768 resolution) requires heavy computer processing. The latest version of the codec, WMV 9.1 Image, used by Photo Story 3, features additional transformation effects, but is not compatible with the original WMV 9 Image codec.[18]

Hardware support for WMV Image is available from Portable Media Centers, Windows Mobile-powered devices with Windows Media Player 10 Mobile.[14]

Video quality

Microsoft claims that WMV 9 provides a compression ratio that is two times better than MPEG-4, and three times better than MPEG-2;[19] Microsoft also claims that WMV 9 is 15–50% better than WMV 8 in terms of compression efficiency.[19] One test report published in January 2005, however, showed that WMV 9 had worse compression efficiency than WMV 8.[20] Many 3rd party WMV compilers have had worse performance than Windows Movie Maker.


Screenshot of VLC Media Player which supports all Windows Media Video codecs.

Software that can play WMV files include Windows Media Player, ALLPlayer, The KMPlayer, PowerDVD, RealPlayer, MPlayer, VLC Media Player, Zoom Player and Media Player Classic. The Microsoft Zune media management software supports the WMV codec, but uses a Zune-specific variation of Windows Media DRM which is used by PlaysForSure. Many third-party players exist for various platforms such as Linux that use the FFmpeg implementation of the WMV codecs.

On the Macintosh platform, Microsoft released a PowerPC version of Windows Media Player for Mac OS X in 2003,[21] but further development of the software has ceased. Microsoft currently endorses the 3rd party Flip4Mac WMV, a QuickTime Component which allows Macintosh users to play WMV files in any player that uses the QuickTime framework.[22] The WMV installer is bundled with Microsoft Silverlight and can not be installed without installing MS Silverlight. According to the Flip4Mac website, WMV files with DRM encryption are not compatible with the component.

Decoders / Transcoders

Linux users can rely on FFmpeg based software like mplayer, mencoder.

For Mac users who wish to convert non-DRM WMV to MP4, iSquint is a freeware that will do the job.


Software that exports video in WMV format include Avid (PC Version), Windows Movie Maker, Windows Media Encoder, Microsoft Expression Encoder, Sorenson Squeeze,[23] Sony Vegas Pro,[24] Adobe Premiere Pro, Telestream Episode, Total video converter and Telestream FlipFactory.[23],[25]

Programs that encode using the WMV Image codec include Windows Media Encoder and Photo Story.

Digital rights management

While none of the WMV codecs themselves contain any digital rights management facilities, the ASF container format, in which a WMV stream may be encapsulated, can. Windows Media DRM, which can be used in conjunction with WMV, supports time-limited subscription video services such as those offered by CinemaNow.[26] Windows Media DRM, a component of PlaysForSure and Windows Media Connect, is supported on many modern portable video devices and streaming media clients such as the Xbox 360.


WMV has been the subject of numerous complaints from users and the press. Users dislike the digital rights management system which is sometimes attached to WMV files.[27] The loss of the ability to restore licenses for WMV files in the Windows Media Player 11 was not positively received.[27] In addition, the Microsoft Zune does not support the standard Windows Media DRM system, rendering protected WMV files unplayable.[28]


Public Name FourCC Description
Microsoft MPEG-4 version 1 MPG4 Video for Windows-based codec. Non-standard MPEG-4 codec incompatible with the later standardized version of MPEG-4 Part 2.
Microsoft MPEG-4 version 2 MP42 VfW-based codec. Non-compliant with finalized MPEG-4 part 2 standard.
Microsoft MPEG-4 version 3 MP43 VfW-based codec. Non-compliant with finalized MPEG-4 part 2 standard. Eventually locked for encoding only with ASF files (build 3688 and earlier could also encode to AVI).[29]
Microsoft ISO MPEG-4 version 1 MP4S DirectX Media Objects (DMO)-based codec. MPEG-4 Simple Profile compliant.
Microsoft ISO MPEG-4 version 1.1 M4S2 MPEG-4 Advanced Simple Profile compliant.[30]
Windows Media Video 7 WMV1 DMO-based codec.
Windows Media Screen 7 MSS1 DMO-based codec. Optimized for low-bitrate sequential screen captures or screencasts. Deprecated in favor of Windows Media 9 Screen codec.
Windows Media Video 8 WMV2 DMO-based codec.
Windows Media Video 9 WMV3 DMO-based codec. Video for Windows (VfW/VCM) version also available. [2]
Windows Media Video 9 Screen MSS2 DMO-based codec. Optimized for low-bitrate sequential screen captures or screencasts.
Windows Media Video 9.1 Image WMVP DMO-based codec. Optimized for encoding video from sequential bitmap images. Used, for instance, by Photo Story.
Windows Media Video 9.1 Image V2 WVP2 DMO-based codec. Optimized for encoding video from sequential bitmap images. Used, for instance, by Photo Story.
Windows Media Video 9 Advanced Profile WMVA DMO-based codec. Deprecated as non-VC-1-compliant.
Windows Media Video 9 Advanced Profile WVC1 DMO-based codec. VC-1 compliant format.

See also

  • Codec – The technical term for compressor and decompressor
  • VC-1 – The SMPTE codec standard based on WMV 9 that supports additional broadcast industry requirements
  • WMV HD – The marketing name for high definition videos encoded using WMV 9 codecs
  • Windows Media DRM – A digital rights management component of Windows Media that controls how content can be used
  • Windows Media Audio – An audio file format and codec developed by Microsoft
  • JPEG XR / HD Photo – An image file format and codec developed by Microsoft
  • Windows Movie Maker – A video editing tool included with the Microsoft Windows operating system
  • MPlayer – A third-party, open source, cross-platform media player capable of playing many WMV files using FFmpeg
  • FFmpeg – A third-party cross-platform free software codec library which partially implements WMV decoding and VC-1 decoding among other formats
  • WMV Player – A third-party, commercial codec which allows viewing of WMV files in QuickTime for Mac OS X
  • Flip4Mac – QuickTime component to play and encode Windows Media files in QuickTime
  • Lossy data compression – Data compression with loss of information
  • Lossless data compression – Data compression without loss of information
  • Comparison of video codecs


  1. ^ SMPTE VC-1 Receiving Industrywide Support
  2. ^ Microsoft VC-1 Codec Now a Standard
  3. ^ a b Blu-ray Disc BD-ROM Specification Adds Microsoft's VC-1 Advanced Video Codec
  4. ^ a b Microsoft Technology Brings HD DVD to the Mainstream
  5. ^ MSDN: The Difference Between ASF and WMV/WMA Files
  6. ^ Microsoft Corporation (2003-07-07) Windows Media Video 9 VCM, Retrieved on 2009-08-07
  7. ^ Windows Media Video 9 Series Codecs: Windows Media Video 9 VCM
  8. ^ MPEG-4 makes the scene
  9. ^ Windows Media Audio & Video 9 Series
  10. ^ Microsoft Windows Media - Demos Video Quality
  11. ^ Windows Media 9 Series Beta Reviewer's Guide
  12. ^ Using the Advanced Settings of the Windows Media Video 9 Advanced Profile Codec
  13. ^ Best Practices for Windows Media Encoding
  14. ^ a b Windows Media Player Mobile FAQ
  15. ^ WMV HD DVD Encoding Profile Guidelines
  16. ^ Microsoft Silverlight Developer Server Audio Video Streaming FAQ
  17. ^ a b c Windows Media Video 9 Series Codecs: Windows Media Video 9 Screen
  18. ^ a b Windows Media Video 9 Series Codecs: Windows Media Video 9 Image Version 2
  19. ^ a b Windows Media Video 9 Series Codecs: Advanced Profile
  20. ^ Subjective quality of internet video codecs - Phase 2 evaluations using SAMVIQ
  21. ^ Windows Media Player 9 for Mac OS X
  22. ^ Important information for Windows Media Player for Mac users
  23. ^ a b Sorenson Media
  24. ^ Sony Creative Software - Vegas Pro 8 - Technical Specifications
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ PlaysForSure: CinemaNow
  27. ^ a b Microsoft Media Player shreds your rights
  28. ^ Zune won't play MS DRM infected files
  29. ^ VirtualDub VirtualDub documentation: codecs, Retrieved on 2009-11-28
  30. ^ MPEG4 Part 2 Video Decoder MSDN documentation: Profiles and Levels, Retrieved on 2009-11-28

External links

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