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In the spirit of the season, I have a holiday geek treat for you: The ability to freely play Avid MXF Media.

Update: Have you looked into the free Scratch Play? Mac and PC, and plays Avid MXF wrapped media a bit easier than the brute method listed below.

 

It’s all happened to us what time or another – we find our storage drives are overflowing with media goodness.  This limits the amount of media we can put on the drive for another project;  as well as decreasing the performance of said media drives.

Avid’s ability to track media is excellent, and this ability is partly responsible for it’s pseudo proprietary format – the Avid flavor of the MXF wrapper (a tweaked Op-Atom MXF, in case you were wondering).  This wrapper prevents most media players (Quicktime, VLC, for starters) from being able to play the media.  Avid’s tracking of the file during import also alters the file name to the point where sometimes you cannot identify the media by file name alone.  This means you have to open up Avid, and view each clip.  This is time consuming and quite frankly, a pain in the ars.

Sure, you can fork out a few bucks for codecs which allows these files be played (Calibrated Software, for example), but wouldn’t you like the ability  for *free*?

It turns out, the ability to view these files can be found at the core of several popular application that *prevents* you from doing so – VLC Media Player, Handbrake, and MPlayer.

The VLC Media Player is based off the open source, cross platform project known as FFmpeg.  This highly customizable code base is a step below a basic GUI, and has usually only found usage by coders.  However, with a few tweaks, it can play Avid MXF files, on your PC desktop.

The trick revolves around forcing FFmpeg to play the file.  See, most players, upon encountering a file they don’t immediately understand – simply abort the process.  FFmpeg has a switch (a command line argument) which forces the application to play the file.  Since Avid MXF is an MXF variant, the ability to read the MXF file is inherent to the application.

Things you’ll need:

This ZIP file containing:

  • – FFmpeg EXE file (ffplay.exe)
  • – Batch file, providing the command line switches to play the file (ffplay2.bat)
  • – DLL Driver (sdl.dll)

The batch file launches the FFmpeg application and forces the application to play the MXF file, while being told what codec the media file should be played back with. (DNxHD).

Assumptions:

A)  You’re running on a PC. (although, FFmpeg is cross platform, so you could write an equivalent on the Mac…)
B)  The file you wish to view is an Avid MXF file, using the DNxHD Codec (what Avid has used as standard for a few years now)
C)  There is no support for this trick.  In fact, I wish I could take credit for this.  This trick was shared with me by one hellova guy (Bob Kertez – bluescreen guru and great storyteller), who massaged the trick from Jamie Parry.

Directions:

  1. All the files contained within the ZIP file are placed into the c:\utilities folder  (easy to change as a command line switch in notepad.  You can also alter the  -X and -Y parameters to resize playback.)
  2. Right-click on an MXF file, choose Open with… and point it to ffplay2.bat.  To streamline things  further, click on Always Use This File or Default Program, and from then on, double clicking on an MXF file will play it immediately.

Watch your media come to life!

Ho Ho Ho and happy editing, err, cleaning!