Video for Windows

Video for Windows (VfW) is a multimedia framework developed by Microsoft that allows Windows to play and encode digital video.

Media Player v5.1 (Microsoft)
Screenshot of Media Player, one of the components of Video for Windows


Video for Windows was first introduced in November 1992. It was developed as a reaction to Apple Computer's QuickTime technology, which added digital video to the Macintosh platform. Costing around $200,[1] the product included editing and encoding programs for use with video input boards. A runtime version for viewing videos only was also made available as a free add-on to Windows 3.1 and Windows 3.11; it then became an integral component of Windows 95 and later.

Like QuickTime, Video for Windows had three key aspects: Audio Video Interleave (AVI), a container file format designed to store digital video; an application programming interface (API) that allowed software developers to play or manipulate digital video in their own applications; a suite of software for playing and editing digital video. VfW software suite consisted of:

The original version had a number of limitations, including a maximum resolution of 320 pixels by 240 pixels and a maximum framerate of 30 frames per second.

Video for Windows was mostly replaced by the July 1996 release of ActiveMovie, later known as DirectShow. It was first released as a beta version along with the second beta of Internet Explorer 3.[2] ActiveMovie was released as a free download, either standalone or bundled with Internet Explorer. ActiveMovie, however, did not support video capture. Video for Windows was still used for video capture until the release of Windows Driver Model capture drivers, which only started to become popular in 2000.

Video for Windows became an issue in a lawsuit Apple filed in December 1994 against San Francisco Canyon Company and in 1995 against Microsoft and Intel alleging theft of several thousand lines of QuickTime source code to improve the performance of Video for Windows.[3][4][5][6] This lawsuit was ultimately settled in 1997, when Apple agreed to make Internet Explorer the default browser over Netscape; in exchange, Microsoft agreed to continue developing Microsoft Office and other software for Mac OS for the next 5 years, and purchase $150 million of non-voting Apple stock.[7][8]

In March 1997, Microsoft announced that ActiveMovie would become part of the DirectX 5,[9] and around July started referring to it as DirectShow.[10]

Version history

Release date Version Description
November 1992 Video for Windows 1.0 First public release. Including Microsoft RLE and Video1 codecs.
? Video for Windows 1.1 Added Cinepak codec. Five updates were released for this version: 1.1a through 1.1e, with the last one (published in March 1995) being the last version for Windows 3.1x. 1.1d included Indeo 3.2 codec (which Apple alleged to have infringed on the source code from Apple's QuickTime for Windows).
September 1994 Video for Windows NT Bundled with Windows NT 3.5 and later
August 1995 Video for Windows 95 Bundled with Windows 95
July 1996 ActiveMovie 1.0 The successor of Video for Windows. Added support for MPEG-1 and QuickTime file formats.
March 1997 DirectShow 1.0 The successor of Active Movie

See also


  1. ^ "PC Plus". Future Publishing. May 1993: 61.
  2. ^ "Microsoft Delivers ActiveMovie for Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0". News Center. Microsoft. July 16, 1996. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  3. ^ Markoff, John (February 10, 1995). "Intel and Microsoft Added to Apple Lawsuit". The New York Times. The New York Times Company.
  4. ^ Duncan, Geoff (February 13, 1995). "Apple Sues Intel, Microsoft - Again". TidBITS. TidBITS Publishing.
  5. ^ Mace, Michael (9 February 1995). "An Open Letter to the Computing Community". Apple Inc. Michigan State University. Archived from the original on 5 June 2001. Retrieved 5 June 2001.
  6. ^ Mace, Michael. "Second open letter from Apple". Apple Inc. Michigan State University. Archived from the original on 12 October 2000.
  7. ^ Kawamoto, Dawn; Heskett, Ben; Ricciuti, Mike (August 6, 1997). "MS to invest $150 million in Apple". CNET News. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 30 May 2012.
  8. ^ "Preferred Stock Purchase Agreement". FindLaw. August 5, 1997. Archived from the original on August 11, 2002.
  9. ^ "Microsoft Unveils First Unified Multimedia API Strategy". News Center. Microsoft. March 31, 1997. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  10. ^ "Microsoft and Progressive Networks Collaborate on Streaming Media". News Center. Microsoft. July 21, 1997. Retrieved 17 November 2014.

ActiveMovie was the immediate ancestor of Windows Media Player 6.x, and was a streaming media technology now known as DirectShow, developed by Microsoft to replace Video for Windows. ActiveMovie allows users to view media streams, whether distributed via the Internet, an intranet or CD-ROMs.

Originally announced in March 1996, the first version was released in May 1996 bundled with the beta version of Internet Explorer 3.0.When ActiveMovie was installed an option was added to the Start Menu to launch the ActiveMovie Control. This allowed users to play multimedia files and thus was a rudimentary media player.

In March 1997, Microsoft announced that ActiveMovie was going to become part of the DirectX set of technologies, and by July it was being referred to as DirectShow.Version 5.2 of Windows Media Player would remove the ActiveMovie Control icon from the Start Menu upon installation. Microsoft provided instructions for reinstalling the icon on its website.

Audio Video Interleave

Audio Video Interleave (also Audio Video Interleaved), known by its initials AVI, is a multimedia container format introduced by Microsoft in November 1992 as part of its Video for Windows software. AVI files can contain both audio and video data in a file container that allows synchronous audio-with-video playback. Like the DVD video format, AVI files support multiple streaming audio and video, although these features are seldom used. Most AVI files also use the file format extensions developed by the Matrox OpenDML group in February 1996. These files are supported by Microsoft, and are unofficially called "AVI 2.0".


Cinepak is a lossy video codec developed by Peter Barrett at SuperMac Technologies, and released in 1991 with the Video Spigot, and then in 1992 as part of Apple Computer's QuickTime video suite. One of the first video compression tools to achieve full motion video on CD-ROM, it was designed to encode 320×240 resolution video at 1× (150 kbyte/s) CD-ROM transfer rates. The original name of this codec was Compact Video, which is why its FourCC identifier is CVID. The codec was ported to the Microsoft Windows platform in 1993. It was also used on first-generation and some second-generation CD-ROM game consoles, such as the Atari Jaguar CD, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, and 3DO. libavcodec includes a Cinepak decoder and an encoder, both licensed under the terms of the LGPL.


DirectShow (sometimes abbreviated as DS or DShow), codename Quartz, is a multimedia framework and API produced by Microsoft for software developers to perform various operations with media files or streams. It is the replacement for Microsoft's earlier Video for Windows technology. Based on the Microsoft Windows Component Object Model (COM) framework, DirectShow provides a common interface for media across various programming languages, and is an extensible, filter-based framework that can render or record media files on demand at the request of the user or developer. The DirectShow development tools and documentation were originally distributed as part of the DirectX SDK. Currently, they are distributed as part of the Windows SDK (formerly known as the Platform SDK).Microsoft plans to completely replace DirectShow gradually with Media Foundation in future Windows versions. One reason cited by Microsoft is to provide "much more robust support for content protection systems" (see digital rights management). Microsoft's MSFT Becky Weiss also confirms that "you'll notice that working with the Media Foundation requires you to work at a slightly lower level than working with DirectShow would have. And there are still DirectShow features that aren't (yet) in Media Foundation". As described in the Media Foundation article, Windows Vista and Windows 7 applications use Media Foundation instead of DirectShow for several media related tasks.


FFV1, which stands for "FF video codec 1", is a lossless intra-frame video codec. It can use either variable length coding or arithmetic coding for entropy coding. The encoder and decoder are part of the free, open-source library libavcodec in the project FFmpeg since June 2003. FFV1 is also included in ffdshow and LAV Filters, which makes the video codec available to Microsoft Windows applications that support system-wide codecs over Video for Windows (VfW) or DirectShow.

FFV1 is particularly popular for its performance regarding speed and size, compared to other lossless preservation codecs, such as M-JPEG2000.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) lists FFV1 under the codec-family index "31" in their combined list of video codec references.


ffdshow is an open source unmaintained codec mainly used for decoding of video in the MPEG-4 ASP (e.g. encoded with DivX or Xvid) and H.264/MPEG-4 AVC video formats, but it supports numerous other video and audio formats as well. It is free software released under GNU General Public License 2.0, runs on Windows, and is implemented as a Video for Windows (VFW) codec and a DirectShow filter.


GSpot is a Windows-based freeware program designed to identify the codecs used in video files. In addition, the application checks if the required DirectShow filters or Video for Windows codecs are installed and configured for proper playback. While originally created to support AVI, it was expanded to include full support for Ogg and limited support for other commercial container formats, including versions of MPEG, QuickTime, and Windows Media Video. It is still used and is listed by on as one of the few FOURCC identifiers.


Indeo Video (commonly known now simply as "Indeo") is a family of audio and video formats and codecs designed for real-time video playback on desktop CPUs first released in 1992. While its original version was related to Intel's DVI video stream format, a hardware-only codec for the compression of television-quality video onto compact discs, Indeo was distinguished by being one of the first codecs allowing full-speed video playback without using hardware acceleration. Also unlike Cinepak and TrueMotion S, the compression used the same Y'CbCr 4:2:0 colorspace as the ITU's H.261 and ISO's MPEG-1.

Indeo use was free of charge to allow for broadest usage.

MSU Lossless Video Codec

The MSU Lossless Video Codec is a video codec developed by the Graphics & Media Lab Video Group of Moscow State University. It was designed to provide space-effective lossless video compression. As of 2007 MSU had the second best compression ratio when compared to many other lossless video codecs, with the better result shown by YULS codec.

Media Foundation

Media Foundation (MF) is a COM-based multimedia framework pipeline and infrastructure platform for digital media in Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. It is the intended replacement for Microsoft DirectShow, Windows Media SDK, DirectX Media Objects (DMOs) and all other so-called "legacy" multimedia APIs such as Audio Compression Manager (ACM) and Video for Windows (VfW). The existing DirectShow technology is intended to be replaced by Media Foundation step-by-step, starting with a few features. For some time there will be a co-existence of Media Foundation and DirectShow. Media Foundation will not be available for previous Windows versions, including Windows XP.

The first release, present in Windows Vista, focuses on audio and video playback quality, high-definition content (i.e. HDTV), content protection and a more unified approach for digital data access control for digital rights management (DRM) and its interoperability. It integrates DXVA 2.0 for offloading more of the video processing pipeline to hardware, for better performance. Videos are processed in the colorspace they were encoded in, and are handed off to the hardware, which composes the image in its native colorspace. This prevents intermediate colorspace conversions to improve performance. MF includes a new video renderer, called Enhanced Video Renderer (EVR), which is the next iteration of VMR 7 and 9. EVR has better support for playback timing and synchronization. It uses the Multimedia Class Scheduler Service (MMCSS), a new service that prioritizes real time multimedia processing, to reserve the resources required for the playback, without any tearing or glitches.

The second release included in Windows 7 introduces expanded media format support and DXVA HD for acceleration of HD content if WDDM 1.1 drivers are used.

Microsoft Video 1

Microsoft Video 1 or MS-CRAM is an early lossy video compression and decompression algorithm (codec) that was released with version 1.0 of Microsoft's Video for Windows in November 1992. It is based on MotiVE, a vector quantization codec which Microsoft licensed from Media Vision. In 1993, Media Vision marketed the Pro Movie Spectrum, an ISA board that captured video in both raw and MSV1 formats (the MSV1 processing was done in hardware on the board).

QuickTime File Format

QuickTime File Format (QTFF) is a computer file format used natively by the QuickTime framework.

San Francisco Canyon Company

San Francisco Canyon Company was a software developer company that was contracted by Apple Computer in 1992 to port the QuickTime technology to Microsoft Windows. They made their first release of QuickTime for Windows in November 1992.

In July 1993, Intel contracted the San Francisco Canyon Company to improve the performance of Microsoft's Video for Windows technology on Intel processors. By the end of 1993, Intel and Microsoft had combined their efforts to improve Video for Windows by creating a joint technology called Display Control Interface that was included in version 1.1d of Video for Windows. As with WinG, the main problem this technology fixed was that Windows 3.x video drivers implemented all GDI routines including for drawing bitmaps in the video drivers themselves, and performance of these routines varied across drivers.

The lawsuit "Apple Computer v. San Francisco Canyon Co.", filed on December 6, 1994, alleged that the San Francisco Canyon Company used some of the code developed under contract to Apple in their additions to Video for Windows. Apple expanded the lawsuit to include Intel and Microsoft on February 10, 1995, alleging that Microsoft and Intel knowingly used the software company to aid them in stealing several thousand lines of Apple's QuickTime code in their effort to improve the performance of Video for Windows.

On March 3, 1995, a Federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that prohibited Microsoft from distributing its current version of Video for Windows. Microsoft subsequently released version 1.1e of Video for Windows, which removed all of the code contributed by the San Francisco Canyon Company, stating in the release notes "does not include the low-level driver code that was licensed from Intel Corporation".

Later testimony in the United States v. Microsoft Corp. case revealed that, at the time, Apple was threatening Microsoft with a multibillion-dollar lawsuit over the allegedly stolen code, and in return Bill Gates was threatening with the cancellation of Office for the Mac. In August 1997, Apple and Microsoft announced a settlement deal. Apple would drop all current lawsuits, including all lingering issues from the "Look & Feel" lawsuit and the "QuickTime source code" lawsuit, and agree to make Internet Explorer the default browser on the Macintosh unless the user explicitly chose the bundled Netscape browser. In return, Microsoft agreed to continue developing Office, Internet Explorer, and various developer tools and software for the Mac for the next 5 years, and purchase $150 million of non-voting Apple stock. The companies also agreed to mutual collaboration on Java technologies, and to cross-license all existing patents, and patents obtained during the five-year deal, with one another.

Tomcat Alley

Tomcat Alley is an interactive movie FMV video game developed by The Code Monkeys for Sega CD. It was the first Sega CD game to feature extensive full screen, full motion video. It was later released, with higher quality video, for Windows-based PCs. A 32X version was also in development, but never released.


Video4Linux, V4L for short, is a collection of device drivers and an API for supporting realtime video capture on Linux systems. It supports many USB webcams, TV tuners, and related devices, standardizing their output, so programmers can easily add video support to their applications. MythTV, tvtime and TVHeadend are typical applications that use the V4L framework.

Video4Linux was named after Video for Windows (which is sometimes abbreviated "V4W"), but is not technically related to it.While Video4Linux is only available on Linux, there is a compatibility layer available for FreeBSD called Video4BSD. This provides a way for many programs that depend on V4L to also compile and run on the FreeBSD operating system.

Windows 3.1x

Windows 3.1x is a series of 16-bit operating environments produced by Microsoft for use on personal computers. The series began with Windows 3.1, which was first sold during April 1992 as a successor to Windows 3.0. Subsequent versions were released between 1992 and 1993 until the series was superseded by the Windows 9x series starting in 1995 with Windows 95. During its lifespan, Windows 3.1 introduced several enhancements to the still MS-DOS-based platform, including improved system stability, expanded support for multimedia, TrueType fonts, and workgroup networking.

Windows 3.1 was originally released on April 6, 1992; official support for Windows 3.1 ended on December 31, 2001, and OEM licensing for Windows for Workgroups 3.11 on embedded systems continued to be available until November 1, 2008.

Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player (WMP) is a media player and media library application developed by Microsoft that is used for playing audio, video and viewing images on personal computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system, as well as on Pocket PC and Windows Mobile-based devices. Editions of Windows Media Player were also released for classic Mac OS, Mac OS X and Solaris but development of these has since been discontinued.

In addition to being a media player, Windows Media Player includes the ability to rip music from and copy music to compact discs, burn recordable discs in Audio CD format or as data discs with playlists such as an MP3 CD, synchronize content with a digital audio player (MP3 player) or other mobile devices, and enable users to purchase or rent music from a number of online music stores.

Windows Media Player replaced an earlier application called Media Player, adding features beyond simple video or audio playback.

Windows Media Player 11 is available for Windows XP and included in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. The default file formats are Windows Media Video (WMV), Windows Media Audio (WMA), and Advanced Systems Format (ASF), and its own XML based playlist format called Windows Playlist (WPL). The player is also able to utilize a digital rights management service in the form of Windows Media DRM.

Windows Media Player 12 is the most recent version of Windows Media Player. It was released on October 22, 2009 along with Windows 7 and has not been made available for previous versions of Windows or has it been updated since for Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. These later versions of Windows instead use Groove Music (for audio) and Microsoft Movies & TV (for video) as the default playback applications for most media; Windows Media Player is still included as a Windows component. Windows RT does not run Windows Media Player.

Windows Media Video

Windows Media Video (WMV) is a series of video codecs and their corresponding video coding formats developed by Microsoft. It is part of the Windows Media framework. WMV consists of three distinct codecs: The original video compression technology known as WMV, was originally designed for Internet streaming applications, as a competitor to RealVideo. The other compression technologies, WMV Screen and WMV Image, cater for specialized content. After standardization by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), WMV version 9 was adapted for physical-delivery formats such as HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc and became known as VC-1. Microsoft also developed a digital container format called Advanced Systems Format to store video encoded by Windows Media Video.

Data access
Administration and
Component model
Device drivers
Software factories
Text and multilingual

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.