XDCAM is a broadcast CODEC based (mostly) on MPEG2. Playing back these files usually requires either professional editing software or Sony’s own bespoke software solution but there are now two free options to enable playback in Windows.
The Sony professional software is very good & has extensive options for media management and some file conversion. There is also an older free version but Sony steer you towards the paid for application which costs just £12.95 at the time of writing.
Free XDCAM playback options
VLC is a free, open source software player available for Windows, Mac and Linux from VideoLan. VLC will play XDCAM files and works well.
Microsoft recently introduced a free MPEG-2 Video Extension – a plug-in for the default Windows video player. This plug-in allows playback of XDCAM files inside the standard Windows video player.
The video quality is the same as VLC. However, the main benefit of the Microsoft extension is that it’s available via the Windows Store. Some users, especially on corporate networks, are not permitted to install 3rd party software such as VLC for security reasons. Some newer Windows tablets and laptops ship with ‘Windows 10 S’. A streamlined version of Windows which ONLY allows Windows Store applications to be installed. The plug-in also works with Windows Mobile – we haven’t tested this but it may be helpful to some users.
Installation of the Windows MPEG-2 Video Extension is invoked when you try to play an XDCAM in Windows 10. A dialogue box appears to let you know the extension is required and is available for free. Accept the plug-in and you’ll get the download automatically from the Windows Store.
Limitations of VLC and the MPEG-2 Video Extension
Both free playback options will allow you to watch native XDCAM video files on a computer. However, there are some features of XDCAM which may not be supported in those players.
Earlier XDCAM cameras used the FAT32 file system which limited individual files to 4GB. To overcome this issue long files would be split (spanned) over several 4GB or smaller files. The official Sony application and professional video editing software understands this and will treat spanned clips properly as large single files. VLC and the WIndows MPEG-2 Video Extension will not do this.
XDCAM is capable of multichannel audio – with 4 or 8 tracks available. The free options will not let you select audio tracks during playback.
You won’t get any timecode support, nor will you be able to see any camera metadata. So for logging clips properly you’re better off with the Sony software.
XDCAM is a family of professional product lines developed by Sony. We’ve tested XDCAM-EX which is one of the most common types. You may find that other versions of XDCAM are not supported by anything other than the professional solutions.