Watching video on your computer sounds easier than it is sometimes. There are so many options to perform so many functions, and it can all get a little confusing after a while. To help guide you through the slew of options, here are the best desktop media players I use for a variety of needs…
1. Best All-Purpose Video Player: VLC Media Player (Free)
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VLC Media Player isn’t the lightest video player around – the interface is clunky, and it can move like molasses or get otherwise glitchy sometimes. Still, there’s no better player for watching every video in every format on every OS. VideoLAN, the company that makes VLC, is a non-profit, so they don’t spend as much money on marketing as other desktop media players. Still, the dedicated user-base of this open-source multimedia player (myself included) hail it above all else for its extensive codec library.
I’ve used VLC for over a decade now, and it’s rare that I find a video format it isn’t capable of playing. Pirates and video editors are especially aware of how much of a pain it can be working with a variety of video codecs, and even if you have a different media player you prefer for normal usage, VLC is handy to keep around for those times you come across a video you’re not capable of playing. Plus it’s free and doesn’t occupy much space on your hard drive.
2. Best Media Player for Tweakers: PotPlayer (Free)
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Daum PotPlayer has just enough features to separate it from the rest of the VLC clones around the web. Most of it are the bells and whistles VLC trimmed down to stay slim, but PotPlayer manages to stay slim as well. These features include the ability to tweak your video to look absolutely pixel-perfect on whatever monitor (or monitors) you’re playing it on. Videophiles will drool over the overlays, filters, and adjustments you can perform to the brightness, hue, noise reduction and more. It’s the desktop equivalent to adjusting your TV antenna.
The downside is PotPlayer is only available for Windows. It’s not surprising that it’s not on Apple since most tweakers hate iFruit, but there’s no reason Linux users should be left out. Despite their market segregation, PotPlayer is a great choice for anyone looking to replicate the experience of setting up an HDTV.
3. Best Media Player/Editor: Vegas Pro ($400)
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Both audio and video pros hail Avid as the holy grail of professional editing software makers. This is because it mimics the analog editing experience taught by the major studios that produced all the great mass media we consume. Sony, however, provides all the same options in their editing solutions, but packages them in a much friendlier user interface (UI). Basically, they reinvented the wheel, and it’s much more efficient now.
With Sony’s Vegas Pro software, you cut, paste, edit, and record a Hollywood-style film of your own with a few flicks of the wrist. This isn’t the type of program you’d use to watch a movie with your girlfriend or some video clip you got emailed, but it’s a great place to slice and dice those movies, overdubbing them, changing the soundtrack, or playing Bob Ross all over it.
4. Best Nostalgic Media Player – MPC–HC (Free)
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Back in the day, Windows Media Player was basically your only option to watch movies on your computer (although RealPlayer and Quicktime did their best to keep up with their proprietary file formats). Then the tech community met the regulatory and legal communities – soon Microsoft was sued, and development all those basic features of Windows were either abandoned (Media Player) or sold separately at ridiculous prices (Office). For all its flaws, Media Player Classic is still one of those nostalgic players that’s worth keeping around.
Thankfully, the original MPC development team branched off from Microsoft to develop MPC-HC (Media Player Classic – Home Cinema). Not only does it maintain that classic Windows look, in its stripped-down form, it’s one of the fastest-loading video players around. What it lacks in functionality can be included via additional add-ons and if you’re introducing your older parents, an inmate who missed the last 20 years of software innovation, or a geeky kid and a scientist to a computer, MPC-HC is the way to go.
5. Best Multimedia Player: Winamp (Free)
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No, you didn’t fall into a time warp back to 1999, Winamp is still whipping the llama’s butt, whether you’ve been paying attention or not. With customizable skins, intuitive playlists, and a variety of plug-ins (including some of the best visual equalizers ever made), Winamp had better features a decade ago than most players do today. Nullsoft understood utility, but struggled to maintain relevancy as its user-base hide in the shadows of iTunes after being beaten back by the MPAA.
Despite its shortcomings, Winamp is still the best choice for collecting and watching a variety of media. You can even stream video and audio feeds from around the globe, adjust file metadata, and manage playlists across a variety of channels. Keep on that llama, guys. We still love you.
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