Tip: Use third-party media players to avoid video/audio playback problems

Earlier this year I posted an article about how users can download codecs to avoid video/audio playback problems. In the article I mentioned codecs are a handy way to solve the problem of not being able to play specific types of video/audio files but using codecs should be a “last resort” because there are third-party media players that come with codecs built-in; that can play almost all videos/audio files without you having to mess with potentially sensitive areas of your computer. So let’s talk media players.

What they are and what they do

It’s pretty simple. Windows has a built-in media player, Windows Media Player. For some things Windows Media Player works well; but for other things, ’cause of one reason or another, it fails. For example, Windows Media Player refuses to play FLV videos. Third-party media players aim to solve the issues with Windows Media Player while at the same time improving the user experience by adding more features and enhancing playback quality.

For the issue at hand – video/audio playback – third-party media players are ideal because they come with native support for most, if not all, media formats. This native support prevents issues that happen with Windows Media Player, such as the above mentioned inability to play FLV videos. On the other hand, using third-party media players over installing codecs means you must use that media player to play all your media files or else you may face that same playback issue.

In addition to being able to play most all media formats, third-party media players often have enhanced features not found in Windows Media Player.

Third-Party Media Players

The big dogs in this category are VLC and GOM Media Player. Other than those two, there are a dime a dozen media players out there. To name a few notable ones, there is KMPlayer, Media Player Classic, and BS.Player. Other less popular but still excellent players include SPlayer, UMPlayer, SMPlayer, and QQ Player.

Aside from BS.Player – which has a free and PRO version – all of the just-mentioned players are completely freeware; and most are open source.

It should be noted many of the above-mentioned players use MPlayer as their workhorse. MPlayer is considered to be the FFMPEG of media players — it is an open-source video player for Linux that has excellent codec support but is not very user-friendly. Hence, there are many media players that take MPlayer and spice it up with a better and more user-friendly interface.

Which one should I use?

Toss a nine sided coin to help you decide. Just kidding.

For the purposes of audio/video playback, all the media players mentioned above more or less do the same thing. I mean how many different ways can you play Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Personally speaking, I am partial to GOM Media Player. I used to be a VLC fan but it keeps wanting to cache my fonts every time I run it (which typically takes a few minutes) and it is just getting annoying. GOM Media Player just works. Media Player Classic and SPlayer are both billed as lighter on resources compared to the competition; SMPlayer has an interesting feature where it remembers the settings for each individual file – such as volume level, where you left off, etc. – making it very convenient when you are pause and resume playback; KMPlayer just launched their KM+ platform which aims to be your media hub using the cloud; UMPlayer is available on multiple platforms, not just Windows. Really you can pick any of the players and be happy with it. The only one I would caution about is BS.Player simply because free version of BS.Player cannot play DVDs — only the PRO version can.

Conclusion

The days of playback problems are gone. You no longer have an excuse for not being able to view your granny’s 85th birthday party home video. Either by installing codec packs or using third-party video players, you can now play any audio/video file you can dream of. (Keep the dreams clean.)

When it comes to installing codec packs vs installing third-party media players I, for one, will always recommend the latter over the former if possible. Third-party media players allow you to break the shackles of Windows Media Player and roam the media world freely. Still, though, both codec packs and third-party media players are viable options for playback issues.

Feel free to share in the comments below your thoughts regarding codec packs vs third-party media players and your choice of favorite codec pack or media player.

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30 comments

  1. leland

    I have used all the players mentioned in your article except for GOM Player until today that is. I was playing some files that had very bad artifacts in them from being so highly compressed. KMPlayer was doing a horrible job with the videos but GOM Player made them look quite nice. The keyboard shortcuts seem similar so the learning curve is minimal. Overall a great program.

    On another note I never had the issues with VLC like you did. That seems very strange.

    Lastly, I find the new look of KMPlayer nice but I find the components it brings with it seem unneeded except for those who want to stream directly from their computer. Then of course be careful not to install the Ask toolbar while installing…

  2. newJason

    I use Windows Media Player + Media Player Classic mainly. Problem is finding a .flv , .fl4, mp4 player that supports playlist options. I tried them all, but the best I have found is called – FLVPlayer4Free –
    It does wonderfully with complete and inclomplete (live-streams) flash files. And the playlist is great. (sorting is limited).

    Oh and for those media files that refuse to play on your installed players?
    Fear Not,
    Use MPlayer.
    Install it if needed, Then

    we will put a shortcut to Mplayer in the send to:context menu.
    You simply create a shortcut in your
    ?:\Documents and Settings\YourUSERname\SendTo\ folder.
    in that folder, Right Click, choose Create Shortcut here.
    Name the shortcut example – MPlayer
    Type the path to the executable example : “?:\Program Files\Mplayer\ MPLAYER.exe”
    make sure to use “double quotes”
    save it and tada!

    Now when you have a media file that will not play in any other player.
    Just Right Click the Media File, select Send To -> MPlayer

    oh and RealPlayer is nice to have if you like to download Flv videos.

  3. qq player

    Hello,,
    qq player is running all formats Video and Audio
    You can convert video and video compression
    And also extract audio from video
    Capture pictures from video
    Really worth trying ………….

  4. Mags

    @Jeanjean:

    Thx JeanJean, I wasn’t aware that there was an mpc-hc I’ll give it a try. But I’m still a fan of VLC now.

    @Darcy:

    I had a similar problem with Winamp wanting to play certain movie types, even though I had set it not to play videos. What I ended up doing was actually going through the whole list of what I wanted Winamp to play and unchecking the video files that still remained checked. For whatever reason, winamp didn’t class them as video files and had still remained checked. After I did that, problem was solved and winamp now only plays my music files and no video files.

  5. Jeanjean

    @ Mags
    Info :
    The actual Media Player Classic … “is based on the original “Media Player Classic” SourceForge project created by Gabest.
    After the original author stopped working on it the new versions came under the new project called Media Player Classic – Home Cinema (mpc-hc) also hosted at SourceForge.net”.
    http://mpc-hc.sourceforge.net/
    Portable & to download in 32 and 64 bits.
    The last version works perfect for me.

  6. Mags

    @Ashraf:

    I apologize for missing your comment re Windows Media Player Classic. I chalk it up to being late in the afternoon, after a busy day, and only skimming through your article and comments. I also see now that Jean Jean also mentioned it.

    This is a side note and not to do specifically with Players.

    I’m now wondering if the problems some people experience with SW is more of an issue with their pcs. This is something I’ve been wondering about for some time now. I’ve noticed the there are times where people seem to have troubles with certain programs where others do not.

    What I mean is that (in my experience, and I’m sure some others as well) is that some SW just doesn’t play nicely on my pc. For me I started to notice this with Paragon software. Their programs just don’t work on my desktop while others rave about how great they are.

    Anyway was just thinking that maybe VLC is another one of those SW that just doesn’t play nicely on certain pcs.

  7. Shraga

    Hi Ashraf,
    I think you should add a little info to your article : both GOM and KMPlayer are listed on the FFmpeg\Libav hall of shame for abusing the GPL. http://libav.org/shame.html
    As you correctly stated, most free player rely on FFmpeg/Libav, either directly or through Mplayer. Using only software that respects the GPL is important because code improvements made by these programs is given back to the community. GOM and KMPlayer also bundle adware, while VLC, MPC, SMPlayer and UMPlayer (which are all open-source) do not. SPlayer, by the way, is a fork of MPC. It’s open-source, and has a clean portable version, but the regular installer is also bundled with adware.
    Another small point : MPC has the advantage over VLC/SMPlayer/UMPlayer of offering both built-in codecs (based on FFmpeg) and support for codecs installed in the system.

  8. Darcy

    Biggest problem I ever had with VLC was it’s tendency to take total control of all the files formats on my computer. I preferred another player and only wanted to use VLC for the files it couldn’t handle but it would periodically reset all of the files to use itself only no matter how many times I configured it to not change those files.

    Yes I was setting VLC to know that it shouldn’t play those file types but it did anyway and I’d have to go back in and tell it to leave them alone, then change them back. That’s why GOM is now my player of choice.

  9. Haakon Aas

    Just a short comment…to many of the postings :-)
    IF you are ALL happy with the player(s) you use… use it (them) :-)))
    But, its not a bad idea to try some of the others once awhile.
    A lot of work is put into making them better (most of the popular ones).
    It mostly depend on what sort of files you want to play, but also how used you are to the players you use. (OR, it is to me… :-)
    Nowadays I mostly use VLC- but also have others installed – for “hard to play” files.
    I have never had any problems with having several installed.
    (maybe ALL are based on Mplayer…. as I use THAT too at times (with the Mega pack installed)

  10. njwood60

    How to stop the font cache issue in VLC
    Tools / preferences
    Click the “all” radio button under “show settings” bottom left
    Click Video / Subtitles OSD
    In the text rendering module drop down box choose “Dummy font renderer function”

    I suspect this has some bearing on how subtitles are rendered, but as I don’t play videos with subtitles I don’t need the functionality. Not sure how it behaves if you do have subtitles.

  11. Horrabin

    Curiously, once in a while I get a Netflix DVD that nothing but WMP will play. No unusual formats or anything, just none of the others will play them…….
    Otherwise I use MPC or VLC for video. I really like WMP’s UI for music but the playback is horrible on my 5.1 setup with Soundblaster X-Fi Extreme card. Vocals especially fade in & out and back & forth between the speakers, sometimes nearly a phase-shifter effect. All other other players render perfectly but I don’t like any of the library/playlist interfaces much. I’m using Winamp these days for audio playback but the interface is possibly the worst of the whole bunch.

  12. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Muzikgod: Not much of a music person myself so I have never really tried MediaMonkey. Maybe someone else can help you out there.

    @Frank D: You are welcome! For what it is worth, I almost installed Ask Toolbar too. The tricky installation took me by surprise.

    @Godel: Ummm, I don’t think so because I don’t run CCleaner that often but, hey, you never know it could be a possible explanation. I can’t imagine the font caching on every run is normal.

    And I don’t think those rumors are true simply because of globalization. Not only are people frequently moving from region to region, but so are computers.

    @Mags: I’m on Win7 and I have that font caching issues. It is annoying as ****.

    Oh and I did mention Media Player Classic in the article. :-)

  13. Mags

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned winamp. Mind you, I don’t use it to watch videos, just to listen to music, plus the version I use is an older one. I generally wait awhile before upgrading to newer versions. I’ve been using it for music since 1998.

    I don’t like WMP, never have, never will. Always kept giving me problems. However, again I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Windows Media Player Classic. Yes it does require codecs to be added from time to time, but it is a good player. But I haven’t used it for a few years now.

    I’m a fan of VLC player and I have never experienced any problems with it and like the fact that I don’t have to keep adding codecs.

    Having said that, I mainly use it on my desktop pc with Win 7. But I also have it on my XP laptop and it just doesn’t look or work the same as on my desktop, even though it is the same version. I don’t use it on my laptop very often, so haven’t experienced any problems up to this point.

    Therefore, I’m assuming that those experiencing problems may be using an older version of Windows.

  14. Godel

    @Ashraf Re: font cache problem, you’re not accidentally deleting the cache with something like CCleaner, are you?

    One advantage of VLC and MPC over Windows Media Player is that they ignore the region coding on DVD playback, at least on my older CD/DVD drive.

    I’ve heard rumors that the hardware manufacturers of more recent drives may have bowed to pressure and increased compliance with region coding. This might be a reason to keep my old optical drive the next tine I replace my computer, if true.

  15. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @ANil: Any specific reason why you prefer codecs over third-party players?

    @Jeanjean: Odd. Do you have codec packs installed? WMP won’t play FLVs for me, but I don’t have codec packs installed.

    @hatman: Yes. Careful of Ask Toolbar though. Be sure to “Decline” it.

    @mukhi: Thanks for the feedback!

    @Frank D: GOM Media Player is actually a bit tricky about Ask Toolbar. You see with GOM you have to “Decline” the Ask Toolbar. It isn’t like other software where you un-check the option. The window where you see the two check boxes is the installer for Ask Toolbar — you have to hit the “Decline” button in the bottom-right to not install it.

    @radek: I don’t remember removing any VLC-trache… Bleh!

    @Jim: Interesting. I hadn’t heard of it. Thanks!

    @Zapped Sparky: I don’t know why but the font cache happens to me on every darn load of VLC now. Yeah it can play everything but if I have to wait a few mins every run for it to cache fonts… that’s just over the top.

    @tony: Broken file? Do you mean corrupted files?

    @BLACKBIRD: Ah, forgot about Gizmo’s. Thanks!

  16. tony

    hi Frank D,
    older version of GOM is excellent with my aging XP. It can play broken video clip (better than VLC) even splitted
    clip and no Ask tool bar or advertise. KMPlayer has excellent video quality buy can’t play broken file.
    May try Daum Potplayer recommended by Jim later

  17. Zapped Sparky

    I used Windows Media Player for about a month before the “cannot play file-missing codec” nonsense was threatening my sanity. Installing various codec packs worked only for short periods, so I gave up on it (and yes, I used revo to clear them out before installing another).

    I’ve used VLC ever since, I haven’t come across a file it hasn’t been able to play, so I recommend it. That said, I too am getting annoyed by the building font cache thing. It used to just happen on the first start-up (after installing a new version) but it’s becoming more frequent. My first response to seeing the little message has become “oh, ffsake just play the damn vid” :)

    I’ll give GOM a try.

  18. radek

    VLC starts long time only for the first time, and another run is okey–as long as you don’t remove every VLC-trache stored in c:\Users\YOUR_NAME\AppData\Roaming\vlc . Bad is it’s unable play .midi files. Pro is it doesn’t require any codec/s. What about the built-in “Windows Media Player”? sure shot–>WMP sucks. — since the built-in WMP was changing content (!) of .mp3 without any notice (what else..) two words are enough. Actually every Micro-soft (e.g.Office..) do it so, too.

  19. Frank D

    I downloaded and installed the GOM player. It offered the Ask toolbar which I unchecked. However it installed the Ask toolbar ANYWAY! When I tried to use the GOM player (with the Ask toolbar uninstalled via RevoUninstaller) GOM wouldn’t work, and crashed. This happened with two separate installations (and uninstallations). So I would say thumbs down to GOM player.

  20. mukhi

    IMHO:

    # WMP and MPC can do very good as long as you have “stable” version of some good codec package like K-lite. then it does handle even MTS, M2TS formats in win7. for HD video, xp sucks and you need powerDVD and related players to render them properly. WMP/VLC, etc fail in xp for HD videos (w/ high bitrate). MPC portable version exists!
    WARNING: never install multiple codec packages! it can mess up.
    # VLC is very good but fails in rendering some files and sometimes forms ghost in the video. Not good for HD audio. VLC portable version exists!
    # KMP is excellent for HD videos. failed rarely on me.
    # splayer is another nice choice for HD videos. portable version exists!
    # smplayer, gom player, UMP and BSP are good as well.
    # i don’t like QT and real players.

    my vote goes for MPC with K-lite std package (basic and advanced also available).

  21. Jeanjean

    I usually use WMP 11 on XP sp3. Like others, only when something is plugged into a USB key, I have a message saying that drivers are obsolete (just close it or disconnect the key) .
    I have no problem with it to play FLV files.
    I use also Media Player Classic, because I don’t see sometimes (?) the video on my TV with WMP (I can hear however the audio).

    The Divx Player Plus is very very slow to start on my machine.

    I’ve also several players in a portable version for testing :
    – I had bugs with VLC, SmPlayer and DAplayer (which is the most beautiful in my opinion);
    – the free FLV-player of Sothink is not bad, but don’t read subtitles ;

  22. ANil

    I prefer to use Windows Media player over third party media players. I have VLC installed as a backup and installed codec pack from shark007 to improve Windows Media player. Things are just fine so far.