When it comes to media players, I usually avoid mainstream ones like Winamp or BSplayer. While both are at least decent, I hate most products that claim they’re the best in their field simply because of that claim. Sure, it may also be the fact that most great programs when fresh on the market become giants with feet of clay as they go mainstream, but that’s a completely different story, so let’s leave it for another time, all right?
Well, today the time has come for a program that’s both free and open source but, most important part of it all, it’s one of the best media players I have ever used. More than that, it’s also available on all major platforms – Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, so who can be that ignorant and not take VLC for at least a spin, if not turn it into their one and only media player?
VLC Media Player’s current version is 1.1.6, released not so long ago. I had 1.1.5 already installed, so all I had to do was upgrade my existing version – but this requires a few extra steps when compared to a fresh download and install, so there’s no need to worry if you don’t have this program already.
As I was saying earlier, VLC is open source, free and available on multiple platforms, so there should be no surprise when I say that this program works great with all popular Windows versions and even with some of those not that popular anymore, right?
The setup package of VLC Media Player 1.1.6 has 19.3 MB in size and requires no less than 78.2 MB of free disk space to be installed properly – at least that’s what I got, the value depends a little on the setup mode/features you choose to have. If we consider the fact that VLC also comes with its own codecs, about 80 MB of disk space isn’t such a high price to pay for having it, right? After all, installing it is as easy as 1-2-3, there’s no toolbar or spyware to be afraid of, so… the time has come to leave this part aside and taste the goodies, as usual!
By default, VLC Media Player looks pretty outdated, but its minimalist interface is also a strong point, not to mention the fact that you can download a 37 MB archive containing no less than 120 skins to use with it. Some of them look pretty good, so if you really care about the way your media player looks, you may want to try applying some skins to VLC (we’ll get to that part much later).
Depending on what you want to do with VLC, using it may be as easy as driving a buggy in the middle of the desert or… your worst nightmare. While all this program’s documentation is available online, I am sure you’ll enjoy the excellent multilanguage support offered right out of the box so, all in all, I can say that VLC Media Player’s interface is very good. Well, now’s the time for those… ehem, really frightening features!
VLC Media Player is… is… is… great, really. Some may say that they’ve seen programs with better capabilities when it comes to subtitles, others may say that support for GPU video decoding is still far from working as it should, while some people could even dare to claim that other players are easier to use… and they would be right, but we’re not going to talk about VLC’s drawbacks yet. What I want to point out now is that VLC Media Player is one program that gets the job done, almost any job you can throw at one media player, and then some – although it may not be the best one you can get for any of the tasks it can handle.
Now that all the above has been said, let’s move to probably the first thing you want to know when encountering a new media player – the list of supported file formats, of course. Well, the idea is that VLC Media Player supports any file format you can think of, as long as we’re talking about audio/video files – MP3, FLAC, APE, MKV, WV, AVI, MOV… and we could go on and on like this, but I am sure you got the idea – it’s easier to say what is not supported by VLC so, in case you’re only intending to watch Blu-ray discs using your media player software, I think you should stop reading this right now!
Moving on just a little bit from what I said above, I think it’s worth mentioning that VLC Media Player can also play DVD content straight from ISO images and, even more, various files from ZIP/RAR archives. Is this awesome, uber-awesome or just magnificent? Well, I think it’s just great, because sometimes the archives/ISO files containing DVD images won’t work exactly as they should…
… but when it comes to playing audio files, I think most reviews on the Internet are not being fair – VLC can be a great audio player – after all, all you need to do is set your volume, equalizer settings, add an entire folder to the playlist, push the Play button, minimize the program and forget about it, right? Well, at least that’s what I want from an audio player – nice skins and media management or CD ripping capabilities, when present, are just some extras, not some features I really can’t live without.
With VLC Media Player, playing is just a small part of the whole picture, since it can also capture video, stream it (yup, you can broadcast your music with VLC – how cool is that?), and the preferences at your disposal are at least impressive. Just… take a look at those screenshots and be sure that we’re barely scratching the surface here!
Every time I have to write something about programs like VLC, I feel really small for such a big task. There are plenty of things to say, yet the program at hand seems really basic and, worst of all, I feel guilty for taking away that precious time you can use to get to know that piece of code better, so I guess we’ll close this part here, but we’ll move to a few tips & tricks before the end; I can only hope you’ll find at least one of them to be useful…
Tips & Tricks
1. If you don’t want to add VLC items to Windows Explorer’s contextual menu, you can do something even smarter – add a shortcut to VLC to your desktop/the toolbar of your favorite file manager and drag files/folders over that icon to play them!
2. The volume bar goes all the way up to 200% – be very careful with that, since you may damage your audio hardware, your years, or even your relations with the neighbors!
3. Since I promised it earlier, here it is – to change the default skin, press Ctrl+P to bring up the Preferences window, check Use custom skin in the Look and feel section, then press that Choose… button to browse to the location of your skins, where you can figure out what to do by yourself… Nothing really hard, see?
VLC Media Player is present on all major platforms, works really well, uses a decent amount of resources (enabling some processing features may push it pretty high) and opens virtually any type of audio/video file you can think of. Oh, it’s also free AND open source!
Sometimes, VLC Media Player has problems with various movies, when playing ISOs of video CDs/DVDs, and even with files from archives. GPU decoding doesn’t work as it should and, at least as I write this, most 1080p MKV files don’t work well on my computer, while other players can handle such content without breaking a sweat, with really low CPU/GPU load. Oh, yeah, one more thing – some skins have problems. Big problems.
VLC Media Player may have its share of problems, but I’ve been using it for ages and it’s great to see such a program grow. Considering this, I can bet its current issues will be solved sooner or later and I am also aware of the fact that most of the average Joes/Janes using computers simply don’t care about most of these problems.
Conclusion? Our badge and a strong advice: if you don’t have this already, download it and take it for a spin, you won’t regret it!