Best Free Media Player

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Introduction

Finding an all-in-one media player used to be impossible. In the past you needed to use several separate programs to play MP3 files, streaming media from Real, Mpeg files, Quicktime movies, CDs and DVD discs, but with the advent of Microsoft's Windows Media Player (WMP), all of these media types could be played in one player. Over a period of time, however, WMP has become bloated and isn't compatible with all of the available file formats. WinAmp, which began as an mp3 player, now plays almost everything, although it uses a lot of system resources and may contain adware if you aren't careful on the installation. iTunes has become more prevalent on many PCs due to the almost universal reach of the iPod, but it also uses a lot of resources and is processor intensive.

So I've done some major research to find alternative media players capable of playing multiple types of media files, including various digital audio and video formats, CDs, and DVDs. They are also easy to install and use and are light on system resources. Not only do these programs replace WMP, iTunes and WinAmp, but they also exceed their functionality.

Check out Tips and Warnings at the end of this article.

 

Rated Products

PotPlayer  

A powerful media player provides awesome video and audio quality, supports all modern formats and seamless media playback.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free
Very fast updates and fixes, supports almost all media formats, 1000 files seamless playback, supports GPU acceleration, built-in codecs, extensive configuration options, light on system resources and fast startup, auto resume for 200 files,configurable xml skin files.
No help files, default 'automatic' video renderer not the best.
Read full review...

VLC Media Player  

An excellent media player with a highly portable framework and works across different platforms.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free
Available on multiple platforms, media converter and streaming capabilities, excellent playback quality and stability, plays Internet radio and TV, great choice for DVD playback, GPU and DSP decoding, support for extensions.
Large download size, Uninstalling can be problematic as it integrates into WMP components, seeking real media files causes short time glitches, many options can be confusing to non-technical types.
Read full review...

KMPlayer  

Feature rich, easy to use, extremely customizable and available in multiple languages.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free
Play damaged AVI files, locked media files and compressed audio albums, Live URL broadcasting support, User friendly interface, Good picture quality and playback, Extensive configuration options, Apply user defined external filters apart from built-in, Plays almost all media files, Strong user base and active forum, Multi-language support.
Lacks a professional web representation, Slower than some media players like VLC, Contains Opencandy, Ask toolbar, Pandora TV Service.
Read full review...

SMPlayer  

A front-end for award winning MPlayer with extensive features and ease of use.


Our Rating: 
4.5
License: Free (Open source)
Great playback quality, Pleasant and colorful interface, Remembers playback position and customizations on close, Online subtitle search and YouTube browser, Light, portable and stable, Karaoke effects, Highly customizable, Shortcuts for nearly every function, Supports nearly every format.
Installer is bundled with OpenCandy. DVD menu's seems experimental, No icon library for supported file formats, No Win7 playback controls.
Read full review...

GOM Player  

Plays flv and other media files with internal codecs and its ability to play some broken media files.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
No extra codec packs are needed, capable of playing broken avi files.
Bundled with OpenCandy (see information link in review text). May not play DVD discs on some systems.
Read full review...

MPC-HC  

An incredibly small program packs a vast set of features and requires no installation on your PC.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Open source)
Very fast and lightest, no installation required, extremely easy to use, 64 bit versions available.
No support for syncing music, no picture quality controls.
Read full review...

SPlayer  

Provides great picture quality with some neat and creative optimization features.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Open source)
Smooth and excellent playback, many options to enhance display, H/W acceleration support, includes audio and video equalizer, low on system resources, played almost everything, best for non-techies.
Open Candy installation, didn’t get sound out of a video in rare situations, too simple, confusing and clunky interface, non-ethical marketing: compares various media players on their homepage, some Chinese left in main interface & only Chinese documentation available.
Read full review...

JetAudio Basic  

A very good, solid and feature packed media player for audio and video files.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Limited features)
Supports all major file formats, customizable interface, good subtitle rendering and video quality, floating bar mode, various extra tools packed inside, music management capabilities, auto-resume all files, internet broadcasting.
Big download, Interface not very user friendly, Registered encoders, decoders and filters on system, Need to tweak for hearing AC3/AAC sound(due to licencing restrictions; method given in full review), Offers 3rd party applications during installation (which you can choose to ignore).
Read full review...

Kantaris Media Player  

An intuitive all-in-one polished media player designed with style.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free (Open source)
Awesome interface, Colourful visualization effects, Plays video files inside RAR archives, Online subtitle matching, Organise video library in 3D, watch and play latest movies and songs from Apple movie trailers and Last.fm.
Not as configurable as some other players for those requiring advanced features, Shortcut keys incomplete.
Read full review...

UMPlayer  

A short addition to players using MPlayer as the core with integration of YouTube and Shoutcast.


Our Rating: 
3.5
License: Free (Open source)
Sleek Interface, light on resources,Plays any kind of media file, Automatic subtitle download from opensubtitles.org, Built-in support for YouTube and Shoutcast,Record files and reads damaged files,Plays online TV and Radio.
Problems with HD media playback (.h264 mkv files), quite a few bugs: setting equalizer and certain menu's pauses video for a moment, files with asian characters doesn't play , associates media files aggresively,Time incorrect sometimes,Help file needs improvement.
Read full review...

Products to be Reviewed

RealPlayer | Light Alloy | QQPlayerMPlayer WW | VSO Media Player | DivX Plus Player | DA Player | Zoom Player Free | FreeSmith Video Player | ALShow | ALLPlayer | AK-Player

 

Tested & Not Recommended

  • Splash Lite: The Bad: Capture frame, Playback resume and Basic video controls & audio controls only available in the PRO version. Splash Lite just feels like an advertising for its commercial version. No support for URL playback. Doesn't play many files properly. The Good: HD videos playback quality is good, certain broken files plays well.
  • Toolwiz Player: The Bad: Nearly everything. No seeking, no right click context menu, a waste of time! The Good: Plays certain files!
 

Tips and Warnings

  • Codecs: Some programs reviewed in this article may require additional codecs for expanded functionality. For more information about codecs, including what they do, legal issues and download links, see this article Understanding Codecs.
  • Use Codec Packs At Your Own Risk (especially Mega Codec packs). They are capable of producing software incompatibilities, system crashes and sometimes doesn't let your new media player to play your files properly. In case you want to use one, I recommend using lightweight ones (CCCP, Windows essentials). Read Why Codec Packs Are Bad, Codec Packs Are Evil, Microsoft's Caution.
  • Fake Players: Download media players from reliable resources such as the "Get It" links suggested in our reviews. Many websites are offering fake versions of the player.
  • Video Renderers: This option is useful especially for PotPlayer and KMPlayer. They include a number of renderers and switching between these renderers may give you better image quality.
    • Personally I find that EVR and VMR9 renderless works great for most systems especially for Vista/Win7 (Microsoft.Net 3 framework should be pre-installed in XP to use them).
    • For older systems Overlay Mixer might give better performance and clarity. You need to have Haali Media Splitter installed to use Haali Video Renderer. It doesn't work for old video cards though.
    • MadVR (Madshi) is a newly released renderer and to use this renderer you should install MadVR filters first and have a fairly powerful GPU.
  • Stay Updated: Get beta and stable updates of your favourite media player through e-mail using Altert me! tool at Videohelp.

 

Related Products and Links

 

Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor George.J., a software engineer just graduated and working in Software Development and Testing unit. Reviewing software and writing articles are one of my passions. Registered site visitors can contact me here.

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Average: 4.4 (258 votes)

Comments

On the two front-runners, VLC and PotPlayer. I certainly agree they are the best, by a wide margin. Sadly, on pure image quality, there is no clear winner though, if you're the kind of person who endlessly tweaks his/her tv for the perfect picture that is.
PotPlayer has the cleaner image- less visual hash, but VLC is sharper, and its highlights retain more detail, aren't blown out. Don't take my word for it: take screenshots from both players and zoom in.
But of course for convenience, it's PotPlayer by a mile. If PP's sharpness is good enough, don't even look at VLC, because it's a nightmare of nerdiness, a real clunker, as gimpy as Gimp. The idiots [sorry, it's accurate!] spent all their time coding elaborate esoteric, utterly useless features [want to add waving animation effects? hook it up to room lights!? add motion blur effects? -VLC is your player!].
One wishes PotPlayer coders would add a stronger sharpness filter, and put it in their control panel pop-up, but if they haven't by now, they never will [I wrote them long ago, and got the standard NIH response (Not Invented Here)]. By the way, WarpSharp is ****, and VLC's debanding filter, film grain filter, and HiQ denoise filter are all totally bogus too*. (Really- A:B screenshots showed zero effects! Coders are strange people.)
To summarize, if your source material is fairly sharp and/or you're not fussy about that last inch of quality, stick with PotPlayer. But if sharpness (and highlight detail) turn your crank, settle for VLC.
*VLC's jump forward/back (>, < arrows) are broken. You'll have to d/l a copy of Torrent Video Player to get that feature working. A kast word on VLC- despite announced updates, and d/l sites that show newer versions, it hasn't changed in many years- the image quality is absolutely identical, and the interface too.

Editor, the Kantaris Sourceforge download page is now stating this program has malware

This type of information is of no use to us unless you state: Which security program raised this alert? What was the exact text of the alert message including the 'malware' description? Note also that our product details already contain an installer warning because as with many other programs this one did contain adware when it was last reviewed. This is not malware. MC - Site Manager.

I simply clicked the TechSupportAlert review page for Kantaris media player, author GeorgeJ
GeorgeJ provides the download link, a sourceforge webpage
When you go to that webpage, right next to the download link, is this message in a red textbox:
"Warning ! Malware detected. Download at your own risk !

Only a brave person in 2017, would click on that download link !

But I soldiered on, and the next sourceforge webpage has the message
"Are you really sure you want to download potential malware? Here is the direct link"

I then checked VirusTotal, and the kantaris setup program scores 7/61
I clicked 'reanalyse' and the latest VirusTotal score was 7/59, all red flags stating "OpenCandy"

Sorry, but I have provided more than enough information to suggest people be wary

Well now that we have the information we can comment. OpenCandy is not malware. It is adware and that is why the installer warning is included with the product details. We even have a dedicated information page for this. MC - Site Manager.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/controversial-advertising-progra...
Incidentally, the version provided from our link is clean.
https://www.virustotal.com/en/file/86a3a5ed1f1fb79f4b195fc4e2bb3dd5b9424...
If you use an ad-blocker it will mostly hide alternative download links that may contain unwanted extras.

Thanks for clarifying

The recommended Media Player list above, should specifically state Kantaris Media Player 'Lite'

MPC-BE is another alternative, and it plays my smartphone video most reliably
I have previously used both VLC player and Pot Player

best ordering in the internet. bravo guys. potplayer rulz.

George.J: Thanks for your good work. I like PotPlayer very much, especially the easy to use key controls for playback. But you say under Pros & Cons that 'default 'automatic' video renderer not the best.' For the benefit of those of us who aren't super video geeks, it would be helpful to know what is the best renderer to use?

I'm currently using the instructions from the SVP Wiki [Smooth Video Project] to configure video playback on PotPlayer. I'd appreciate input from those with some video expertise as to whether that is a good way to go? Here's the link to the PotPlayer configuration page on their Wiki, which is more than 2 years old so the configuration pages don't match exactly with the current version:
https://www.svp-team.com/wiki/SVP:Daum_PotPlayer

PotPlayer has had a major update with v1.7 being rolled out. The interface and logo has now changed.  

Strange.. the update is being offered via the internal update in the player... but the new version does not show up on the official site. And on another PotPlayer site, the 1.7 version is still being said as beta.

I performed the internal update on my laptop, and I am fine with the new look.. the icons etc are a little bigger now. I understand why some people might not be too happy with it.

Update: The new version is available for download from the PotPlayer site. The new version just does not show up in the Update section of the site. I downloaded the installer and updated PotPlayer on my desktop too.

Any idea when the new stable version will be out? I had a look at the beta page, and it seems like many people are not happy with the new skin, and demanding the old one.

I've been using PotPlayer happily for a couple of years, thanks to TechSupportAlert.
But today it wouldn't work. And when I reinstall with the latest version 64-bit, I get error messages that it couldn't find one of the .dll files.

What was the name of the .dll file?

I had to re-install it to get the exact wording: "Cannot find or init PotPlayer64.dll".
This seems really weird, since:
* this error message comes up during installation
* one would expect that file to be part of the installation process.
That's why I just shrugged and uninstalled it. I'm not going to even attempt to fix it or tweak it. I'm using VideoLAN VLC now.
One good thing about PotPlayer: it uninstalls cleanly. There are no remnants left in the Registry or on the hard drive.

Yet I tried it on my home computer, and it works perfectly. One of life's many mysteries...

Seems like a privilege issue. Right click on the setup and run it as administrator. That would most certainly solve the problem. Also I believe that the system that were having a problem is of 64bit type, since you have downloaded 64bit version of PotPlayer.

Thanks, George, for your help. It works perfectly now.

I've been using K-lite Mega codec pack with MPC x64 for years with absolutely NO problems. Why the fear of Mega codec packs?

I have tried almost all of them and, right now, the best is the absent.
Though it is very minimalistic, as player has no rival. Open source with extended help and constant update.
It plays all you can hit it with and no other is as fast by far.
Try mpv player at http://www.mpv.io
There is a project called Bomi Player based on mpv for those who want a more graphic GUI. https://bomi-player.github.io/

"... Soda player:

Key features:
- Can play local, web and Bittorrent video files in all formats instantly.
- Embeds its own optimized VPN that is used to protect your privacy when playing non-local files.
- The app will automatically find subtitles in many languages for whatever you are playing (we’re very proud of our matching algorithm, from our tests it works better than current subtitles tools out there).
- Best part for the end, ALL of the above works on Chromecast and Airplay, just one-click away! ...":

https://www.sodaplayer.com/

AVPlayer supports playing multiple videos simultaneously: http://www.awesomevideoplayer.com/

Some media players have the ability to boost the audio volume through the computer's built in speaker above the 100% maximum level which the computer's settings would normally allow. I believe that VLC is one of those which can do this.
Of all of the players on this list (and also of any other free media players which you may know of ) which ones can increase the speaker volume above the normal maximum level, and how much percentage wise does each player claim that it can increase the volume? I have read for instance, that VLC may be able to boost the maximum volume setting by either 200%, or possibly as much as 400%.

Pot Player can do it too but you have to configure it in Settings.

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