Playing proprietary videos with Windows 7

There's a murder at a local restaurant. During the investigation you discover there a digital video surveillance system. The restaurant installed the surveillance system in 2003, and it's been recording since. You recover the video footage by working with the restaurant owner to burn a CD from the video system. The owner tells you that the CD contains the video file and the proprietary software player that plays the video. When you try to view the video on your new computer you get an error message when you try to install the player. Why?

Your new computer is running Windows 7. The proprietary video player on the CD was created in 2002 prior to being installed at the restaurant. Windows 7 didn't exist in 2002. Thus, the video player software was not developed or tested for newer versions of Windows.

With Windows XP becoming extinct we decided to take a closer look at Windows 7 and proprietary video players. We tested 33 proprietary video players for installation and video playback under Windows 7. We also evaluated the ability and reliability of screen recording, a step necessary to proceed with a full analysis of the video.

We were able to install and run 31 of the 33 proprietary video players on Windows 7 without even putting on our thinking caps.

Great news. But that left some players requiring more than just click and play.

Here’s an example. When installing the Image Vault Player v8.6.0 on Windows 7 we got the following error message:

The version of this file is not compatible with the version of Windows you're running. Check your computer's system information to see whether you need an x86 (32-bit) or x64 (64-bit) version of the program, and then contact the software publisher.

What to do? (Hint: We didn't check our computer's system information or contact the software publisher.)

Go XP Mode

Windows XP Mode is Windows 7's answer to making older applications compatible.  Windows XP Mode is new. It's based upon Microsoft’s Virtual PC technology. Windows XP Mode is essentially a copy of Windows XP 32-bit running on a virtual computer within Windows 7.

A legacy software application installed to Windows 7 in Windows XP Mode is available to run from the Desktop or Start Menu as if it is a Windows 7 application. The leggacy application looks and acts just like it is a Windows 7 application, but behind the scenes it is hosted in a virtual machine. This is done automatically by Windows 7 without anyone creating, maintaining, or starting up a virtual environment. (For the record, Windows XP Mode is not the only way to create a Virtual PC. You could use Windows Virtual PC, VMWare Player or Oracle VirtualBox.)

Run as administrator

Here’s another situation. When we tested the Sungjin video player it installed fine under Windows 7 but gave an error when we attempted to open the video to play it

The video could not be opened as a limited user. We ran the player using Run as administrator.

In Windows XP and prior versions of Windows all users were, by default, administrators on the system. This gave them the power to do anything they needed to do to their computer.  This also gave many software applications and web sites the power to do anything they wanted to do to the system including installing malware such as Trojan horses and viruses.  (Oops!)

To keep these problems at bay Microsoft recommended that Windows XP users create non-administrator accounts for their daily usage and use administrator accounts with discretion. Unfortunately, many software applications still required access to the administrator resources and would not run properly, which meant everyone just ran as administrator disregarding Microsoft's recomendations. The security vulnerability remained at large.

Windows 7 has a new security model called User Access Control where applications are not allowed to run with administrator privileges. In order for the user to run a software application that requires administrative privileges, such as our legacy proprietary video player application, Windows 7 provides a Run as administrator capability.  As with any program that attempts to access privileged resources, the user is prompted for administrator account credentials.

Windows XP Mode and Run as Administrator resolved the installation and playing issues with the Image Vault Player and the Sungjin video players.  In the case of two other players the roadblock occurred when attempting to screen record the videos.

Old screen-recording tricks die hard

If you know anything about screen recording -- the process of capturing the video from the screen as it plays in the proprietary player -- you know it's important for performing a thorough forensic video analysis. And you likely know there are some tricks to ensuring good results with some players. The tricks aim to prevent black screen recordings where you record the video and when you play it back all you see is blank video.

In the Windows XP world, the two tricks of disabeling hardware acceleration and locking the video card overlay surfaces would clear up the issue. Both of these force the proprietary video player to perform software rendering, which then allows the screen recorder to capture the video, rather than just a blank view.

The March Networks DVRPlayer v4.1 and McdPlayer (by an unknown manufacturer) are examples of players that install and run fine under Windows 7 but when screen recorded the result is a black screen. These players write directly to the video card, which makes it difficult for screen capture applications to capture their output.

Windows XP allows the user to disable writes directly to the video card, forcing applications to use software rendering, but most Windows 7 drivers do not support this feature. The workaround is Windows XP Mode. Windows XP Mode does not support hardware acceleration, thus, players are forced into software rendering mode and the screen recorder application is able to capture. Fortunately, both of these players support software rendering and were therefore screen-recordable with Windows XP Mode. If they didn't we might have been stuck. None of the 33 players we tested fell under this condition but there could be a player out there that isn't screen-recordable with Windows XP Mode.

If all else fails get a newer player

One obvious remedy is to use a newer version of the player software. A new version of the player released after the advent of Windows 7 should work.

An example is the Intellex Player version 2.2. We successfully installed this player on Windows 7, but it crashed when we tried to run it. We found the Intellex Player version 3.1. It installed and played video fine under Windows 7, and we were able to screen record the video with no problems.

Manufacturer websites and are good sources for downloading an up-to-date player.

Overall, things look promising for proprietary players and Windows 7. There are still some headaches, as there are with many things in transition. But there are some good solutions as well.

NOTE: We ran all tests using Windows 7 Professional 64 bit on a Dell Precision T3400 with 4GB of RAM and tested screen recording using StarWitness FreezeFrame.

1 Response to "Playing proprietary videos with Windows 7"

maneesh Says:

One of the most useful tips that I got from a friend was to install a restaurant camera. He recommended a webcam software called GotoCamera This is how it works - Set up a webcam near to your cash counter or any part of your restaurant which you wish to monitor, download the GotoCamera software. The set-up instructions are pretty simple and easy to follow. The best part is that you can access it from your smart phone so that you can remotely monitor your camera's recordings when you are away from your restaurant.

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