The free media player we use and recommend most often is Videolan’s popular VLC Media Player. All versions of Windows come with a built in media player WMP (Windows Media Player) which is capable of playing music and video files, CDs and DVD films etc.
Many people use it simply because it is there but is it actually the best media player? For playing music it is generally agreed to be a long way behind Winamp and iTunes in ease of use and functionality but what about playing video?
Problems With WMP For Videos – Like its rival iTunes, WMP has become increasingly bloated as each new version adds mostly unnecessary ‘features’. In our experience this makes it very slow to open and prone to problems.
It also relies far too heavily on external codecs (software that you must install) in order to play certain types of video files. Typical problems include WMP suddenly not being able to play certain files like music or DVD films.
The reliance on external codecs is particularly problematic – downloading a single codec from the internet is risky as it may be a virus carrier whereas codec ‘packages’ (bundles of hundreds of codecs) can prove a nightmare to install, configure and maintain.
VLC Media Player – There are lots of free media players which outperform WMP but we prefer the free VLC Media Player for many reasons:
- VLC is a smaller program than WMP so it is quicker to download and install and it opens more quickly than WMP.
- It has added features like fast forward/slow motion, opens in a maximized window by default and is easy to open in full screen.
- VLC has all the required codecs built into it – there is no need to download them separately.
- It also offers a standalone ‘portable’ version i.e. it does not even need to be installed which makes it far more stable than WMP.
- VLC is also available for Mac, Linux and other operating systems unlike WMP which is tied into Windows.
- VLC plays every type of file you are likely to come across with no problems – it just works.
How To Install VLC – Download VLC Media Player from Videolan here.
The first download (Installer Package) is the standard download for Windows which will install VLC onto your computer and offer to associate audio and video files with VLC i.e. in future if you try to open one of these files it will open in VLC automatically, not WMP or your previous media player. VLC will be installed on your computer and a shortcut to it placed on your desktop.
If you just want to test VLC (or do not want to associate it with media files by default) then we recommend downloading the third download (Zip Package) which is a standalone portable version. The portable version is not installed on your computer – once you have unzipped (extracted) the file you downloaded just go into the unzipped folder and double click the VLC.exe program file to open VLC. If you want to remove VLC just delete the unzipped folder.
Tip: To create a shortcut on your desktop to the VLC portable program just right click on the VLC.exe file and choose ‘Send To’ and choose ‘Desktop – create shortcut’.