You have complete control over how your operating system deals with files, so it's up to you to determine how Vista will open MP4 files. By default, Vista's built-in media player -- Windows Media Player -- can't handle MP4s, but you can fix that or add another program that can handle MP4s. You can further configure Vista to know how to process MP4s by setting a default program, but the important thing is to have some video software.
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Download a codec to play MP4 files with Windows Media Player, Vista's built-in media program. Video codecs are pieces of software that tell your computer how to process the information in a video file. MP4 video is highly compressed, so media programs like Windows Media Player need additional files to play these files correctly. Microsoft recommends two codec packs -- Ligos LSX-MPEG Player at ligos.com or EnvivioTV at envivio.com/products -- but you can download any "MP4 codec" to add support to Media Player. Download the codec program and install it by following the on-screen instructions, then reboot your computer.
Click "Start" and "Computer" to open a file browser. Browse to a folder where you have some MP4 videos. Right-click on a single video and look for "Play with Windows Media Player". The MP4 video will now open in Media Player without difficulty, and the newly-installed codec will decompress the video and let you see it. If you don't have an option to "Play with Windows Media Player" click "Open with" and then choose Windows Media Player from the list.
Right-click on any MP4 file in "Computer" and choose "Open with" then click on "Choose default program". Windows displays a list of all programs that can play MP4 files. This list may be quite short, depending on how many different video programs you've installed. Choose "Windows Media Player" from the list and click the checkbox beside "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file". This sets Media Player as the default program to open MP4 files.
Download a different video player if you don't like the quality of MP4 playback in Windows Media Player. The Internet is teeming with free video software, some of which is designed for MP4s. If you own an iPod you'll already have iTunes on your computer, which is the program that MP4 video was designed for. You can download iTunes for free from Apple at apple.com/itunes. Or browse the Video Player software library at CNET to find a program that is right for you at download.CNET.com/windows/video-players
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