Since August 24 2012, it is possible to buy a licence to hardware-decode MPEG-2 videos.

Here are my questions:

  1. Does it mean that, without this licence, the RPi cannot handle at all MPEG-2 video, or it will struggle to play it smoothly?
  2. In what form comes the licence? Is it a file to install in the ditribution? Or is it a hardware activation or something?

Thank you.

3 Answers 3


The license enables you to decode and encode (where applicable) the mentioned media types using the built in hardware encoders/decoders.

Hardware en/decoders are much faster and do not rely on the core CPU to process these files; rather the GPU is used to process the files. It talks directly to the Video Memory (decoding) or RAM (encoding) making it nice and smooth. You do not need this license and can use software versions. But it is really slow.

The license will be a file you place somewhere or a key you define as a global variable for the system. The en/decoder libraries will request these and pass them into the hardware where they will be resolved on that chip; if the key matches the serial number and is valid you will be allowed to use the exposed API (I can see this getting hacked very quickly).

Raspberry Pi did not include this to keep costs down. For us, a few quid is ok, but if they made a million units that is £3.6million extra they have to spend on something only a fraction of people will use.

  • 2
    We need to confirm how the licence is delivered and which pieces of software utilise it. Sep 18, 2012 at 14:09
  • Raspberry Pi said there is nothing that utilizing mpeg2, yet.(and kind of hints it's depending on the community ports to support this) As how it is delivered I will buy one later just for kicks and let you know.
    – Piotr Kula
    Sep 18, 2012 at 14:19
  • So you can buy a licence to do nothing? Sep 18, 2012 at 14:20
  • 1
    Yip.. and then wait till it does something :-)
    – Piotr Kula
    Sep 18, 2012 at 14:20
  • 2
    Sometimes you just have to laugh. Sep 18, 2012 at 14:22

The license enables playing MPEG2 content on the RPi with hardware acceleration. Without the license it will not play the file. The license is a key associated with the serial number of the RPi.

Hope this clears the doubt. More information available at Rpi site under Codec license

  • 10
    That's not entirely true. Without the licence, RPi can play MPEG2 files but only with software decoding. And it has not enough CPU power to play most of them smoothly. It you would have some low resolution and/or low bitrate video, it would work even without hardware acceleration. Sep 18, 2012 at 11:42
  • 1
    What is "it"? What software is accelerated using the licence? Sep 18, 2012 at 11:44
  • 1
    The license enables the mpeg2 stream to be decoded by the GPU instead of the ARM code. Its the same as the difference between using a soft floating point library and a dedicated floating point chip.
    – techeno
    Sep 20, 2012 at 11:52
  • 2
    @techeno Thank you for your answer. Could you please edit your answer specifying that the Raspberry Pi is still able to play MPEG2 streams via software decoding if the license is not present?
    – Avio
    Sep 28, 2012 at 8:49

One thing to note: In Australia and other parts of the world, Live TV is MPEG2. You won't be able to view Live TV on the Pi without either adding software codecs or buying a licence. (i.e. Video won't display; Audio will work as it's AC3). So if your country uses MPEG2 Video and you plan on watching Live Tv on the Pi, buy a licence with your Pi... dsicovered this too late and still waiting for my licence.

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