The ability to play video is one of the most utilized features in today’s media enthused world; therefore, you would think people would pay more attention to the quality of their video player. However, the sad fact is that the majority of people usually use Windows Media Player or iTunes to handle their video playing needs. You’ll notice that I don’t mention either in this article because there are some great free video players out there with many more features than Windows Media Player and iTunes, and make for a much more pleasing viewing experience. This article looks at these best free video players for Windows.
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Program Name: VLC Media Player
Developer: VideoLAN Team
Download Size: 22MB
Version Reviewed: 2.0.4
Requires: Windows XP/Vista/Win7/Win8
Works on Mac OS X 10.5+ and Linux, as well
- Plays most, if not all, video formats including but not limited to MKV(excellent for anime junkies like myself), AVI, FLV, MOV, WMV, and MP4
- Simple, easy to navigate interface
- Provides several video modification features, such as the ability to force the aspect ratio of the video in order to get rid of black bands and post processing options
- Has advanced subtitle options: switch embedded subtitles, add subtitles
- Allows user to jump to labelled segments of videos where applicable
- Several available effects and filters
- Ability to record media being played
- Allows for creation of media library
- Allows for customization of interface
- Can play online streaming videos
- Sometimes presents the message “Rebuilding font cache” when you run VLC, forcing you to wait until the cache is rebuilt before you can use the program
- Being prompted to update the program whenever you open it is a bit annoying
- Cannot play SWF files
VLC Media Player is an easy-to-use video player which uses up minimal system resources (comparatively speaking) to play video while still offering a wide variety of options to adjust viewing to your preferences. One especially handy feature is the ability to take snapshots of videos. VLC is probably the most capable video player in terms of functionality out there at the moment, which is why it was chosen as #1.
VLC presents the user with several options for opening files, such as opening an individual file, opening an entire folder, opening a disc, and opening a network stream (from a URL). These are quite common features which can be found in all of the other video players we mention in this article, but the VLC team goes a step further and allows you to play video from a webcam or play what you see on your desktop. Yes, that means you can playback actions as they happen on your desktop (i.e. screen capture)!
There is also an included record function which allows the user to record media being played back. This is especially handy for the screen capture feature or when streaming online videos, and it delivers this functionality without out any annoying messages appearing during playback which are present with many other programs that offer this feature.
Although simple and easy to use, VLC has some very advanced filters and effects — such as image sharpening — which would appeal to the more advanced user. Also notable is the ability to switch audio tracks and subtitles, when applicable. It is also possible to create a media library (sorry iTunes and Windows Media Player), and there are several channels where content such as comedy and educational videos can be accessed. Another feature which separates VLC from the other programs is the ability to adjust the controls interface to the user’s liking. For example, you can move around buttons such as the pause, play ,and fast forward to wherever suits you best.
Although VLC’s simplicity adds to its appeal, after seeing the beauty of KMPlayer, the aesthetics of VLC may be lacking for some. Although VLC’s strength does not come in the form of its beauty, the lack thereof is noticeable. Also using Windows’ native ‘Play All’ feature from a folder of numbered items does not work correctly a lot of the time — the items don’t play in the correct order, which is not the case with other programs.
Overall, though, despite its drawbacks, VLC is the best.
Program Name: Zoom Player Max
Developer: Inmatrix LTD
Download Size: 12.3MB
Version Reviewed: 8.5
Requires: Windows XP/Vista/Win7
Quite frankly, Zoom Player Max is a brilliant video player and it was a close race between this and VLC Media Player for the position of best video player. Indeed, Zoom Player Max handles a wide variety of video formats comfortably and is very light on system resources (comparatively speaking). The interface of Zoom Media Player is very much like VLC Media Player, refreshingly simple and very straightforward to use. Zoom Player max offers many of the same options as VLC Media Player; however, the most notable exceptions are the lack of many of the post processing options VLC offers and the inability to take snapshots. Also lacking is the customisability in terms of button positioning which VLC offers and the recording capabilities of VLC.
Despite the absences of some functionality that VLC has, Zoom Media Player is a strong competitor and will satisfy the video playing needs of the majority of users since not everyone has a need for advanced options. It is a create fallback if you ever get fed up with VLC’s “Rebuilding Font Cache” messages.
Program Name: The KMPlayer
Developer: KMP Media Co. Ltd.
Download Size: 24.3MB
Version Reviewed: 220.127.116.11.9
Requires: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/Win7 (32-bit only)
Like VLC and Zoom Player Max, KMPlayer has the ability to play most, if not all, video formats. KMPlayer also shares some other functionality such as ability to recover video being played, ability to play streaming video, etc. But, by and large, KMPlayer not as good as VLC Media Player in terms of functionality. However, KMPlayer is the clear winner in terms of beauty of the GUI; it is quite simply gorgeous! Of note is the available 3D viewing option which is a valued feature as there are increasing numbers of devices supporting 3D video viewing on the market.
Another amazing feature of KMPlayer is the ability to create a media library which can be synced to and from any folder of your choice. KMPlayer has the ability to take snapshots and to change skins. It also possesses advanced subtitle options similar to those of VLC media player. Coming soon is a service store which will allow for the download of various types of multi-media. Based on the GUI and service store alone you may be thinking that this program should be number 1 on the list and not just an honorable mention, however, there is one very critical factor which prevents KMPlayer from being better.
As you can see this is quite the capable program, however the factor that sets the previous two players apart from KMPlayer is stability. When trying to play videos, the KMPlayer tends to freeze up at times which can be quite annoying. Also, when trying to select individual videos for playback, the player often freezes. Sometimes simplicity is better, but for those that appreciate the eye candy, KMPlayer is for you.
Program Name: Best Media Player
Download Size: 5.35MB
Version Reviewed: 1.1
Requires: Windows 98/ME/XP/Vista/Win7
Much like KMPlayer, this is a very capable medial player with the ability to carry out the same major functions of the previously mentioned media players — Best Media Player can play pretty much every video format available. It demonstrates its capability to play a large amount of video formats quite comfortably. However, stability is again an issue just like with KMPlayer!
During my tests, Best Media Player used up a lot of system resources resulting in frequent freezing. Another issue was the changing of the color scheme in Windows 7 to basic whenever a video was played. It also offers a noticeably lesser amount of options for altering playback to the preference of the user, as opposed to the other video players I have mentioned.
Still, despite these drawbacks, it is a decent program to use and thus deserves some recognition.