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: 4.5 (256 votes)

Comments

I had high hopes for Light Alloy (not yet reviewed here) and thought it might replace PotPlayer when I first installed it; great default skin and interface; easy to configure, lots of options, etc...but when comparing an assortment of videos in both players, LA didn't render the videos as well as PotPlayer; they seemed a bit grainier and some appeared to have sharper outlines. Also, I didn't see any option to show thumbnails in the timeline (or navigation/progress bar as PP calls it), which PotPlayer can do, and which is a valuable feature for any video player. No reason to change my default player; PotPlayer has the most options available and still rules. Would love to see more elaborate skins made for it, like those for AIMP3, which is my default audio player (it doesn't play videos)...no media player has better skins than AIMP3. If I had more time, I'd learn how to make them myself.

Incidentally, I didn't think Media Player Classic Home Cinema rendered videos as well as the other top ones listed when I tried it out, but that could be relative to my hardware and configurations, as it did get (surprising to me) 5 stars here.

And...since Microsoft is killing off IE and replacing it with Spartan (most likely a Chrome clone)...isn't it time to put the nail in the coffin on the Windows Media Player? I feel sorry for all those that are still using it.

The recommendation for Windows I make for friends is:

* Use VLC player for everyday use and normal videos
* Use Wondershare Player (free) for 4K or unusual video formats

4K videos are demanding during playback and Wondershare Player for Windows has better hardware acceleration :D

- Dean

Media Player Classic Home Cinema works well for "unusual" videos, like 4K or 120fps

Potplayer is somehow very slow in playing HD video. MPC is relatively much faster.

Link provided for the "KMP 3.0.1442R2 (No OpenCandy)" does not work.

Apprentice Video: Features: - in/out point looping - alpha channel preview - flat hierarchical searchable playlist - automatic playlist bookmarks - audio tempo scaling via a custom implementation of WSOLA algorithm - de-interlacing via ffmpeg YADIF filter - custom algorithm for automatic letterbox crop margin detection - no-thrills rendering of embedded plain-text and bitmap subtitles - rich rendering of embedded ASS/SSA subtitles - chapters support - OSX builds support Apple Remote: http://sourceforge.net/projects/apprenticevideo/

Hello.

What program/settings is the best option to play high quality avi or mkv videos on an old computer (with Windows)?
Now I'm using a old laptop. Potplayer, VLC or mediaplayer work well with movies up to 1000kbps.
But if I try to play anything aboce this or 720p all I get is image problems, interruptions, pixelation and desynchronization, no matter the settings I use (even with lav filters...)

Is there any program able to play 1080p movies in a old computer?
I don't mind not having special effects, perfect image... only need to get a lower resolution image without problems

It would be better if you could post the system specifications too. Do you have an external graphic card? In that case you may turn on DXVA acceleration by going to Preferences->Filter Control->Video Decoder->Built-in Codec/DXVA settings (bottom)->Use DXVA (enable checkbox) Try a different video renderer, Overlay Mixer is best suited for low-end systems, but there will be a drop in quality. Right click on Interface->Video->Video Renderer->Overlay Mixer. Finally you can try to reset video size, to force video to a lower quality. Go to Preferences->Video-Resize. For the Method dialog under Video Resizing, set it to 'Resize if input video size is larger than the specified size'. Now you can see here, that if you input a video size for instance a 720p video has a native resolution of 1280x720, the second factor represents the pixel height. Set this in 'Condition', so any video larger than 720p is set to 'Specified size'. Here's a list of common resolutions you can set to.

Hello and thank you for your advises.

I already tried the overlay mixer setting before, and in fact is the best option so far, though not enough for all videos.

I will also try the "reset video" option you suggested. ¿Are you sure that won't need even more resources to make an extra conversion?

It's my girlfriend's laptop, an old Samsung R20, Celeron M dual core 1.7Ghz.
with a Radeon Xpress 1300M.
The dxva setting doesn't make any difference. I guess this card is not powerful enough.

And I don't know why the task manager only shows one core even though the computer is supposed to have 2.

So far the best option I have found is SMPlayer. It allows to skip some frames to allow better synchronization. Does Potplayer (or the LAV filters) have this option too?

regards

How about XFPLAY? English version is here:

http://codecpack.co/download/Xfplay.html

Xfplay is a feature-rich mutimedia player that can deliver outstanding playback quality. Another benefit of Xfplay is that you will be able to easily stream and play movie files instantly from .torrent BitTorrent files as well as Magnet URI links without downloading them to your PC thereby saving space.

Update check for PotPlayer does not seem to be working. I have set the option for PotPlayer to "always" check for updates, and I have seen it work before, but since last 2-3 versions, it hasn't been working. Even the manual "Check for Updates" button does not work. Even when a new version is available, like the latest one, the "Check for Updates" button showed that no updates were available. The site showed the update in changelog though.. I downloaded the setup and installed the latest version. Another problem is that in the installation too, it's not shown which version you are installing. Only after installation, if you look in the "About" section, you know which version it is.
I just got the update, but seems like it's a bit late. :D http://i.imgur.com/CAB5xPj.png
That's quite late. Let's see next time.

You can get the latest version 1.6.49479 on the Global Potplayer site. Just google "Global Potplayer" .
However, I've tried this and was unable to get any audio. I played about with it for a bit but then uninstalled and reinstalled I.6.48576 which works perfectly.
Anyone else had the same problem?

You did not understand my post it seems. I know how to get the latest version from the PotPlayer site. I have the English site bookmarked, and it has the latest version 1.6.49479, and I have downloaded and installed it. However, my point was that there is inbuilt update check built in PotPlayer, which is not working. As for your problem, it seems to be a local issue. The latest version is working well enough for me.
Yup seems to be true. Probably the team has to work better with English version setup.

Thank you. I just tried it and like it so far. It only misses DXVA support for my taste. And it is available for Linux. And maybe later being able to lower the subtitle font size (the show more characters of subtitle text on screen per line, like The KMPlayer does).

ExMplayer: Features: - 3D video playback support - Volume booster - Seekview - Audio extractor - Audio converter - Media cutter - 10 band audio equalizer - video equalizer - Winamp dsp plugins support - 8 Audio effect filters - 17 Video effect filters - Configurable keyboard shortcuts and mouse: http://exmplayer.sourceforge.net/index.html

Thanks for sharing Panzer. I liked the look of this as a lightweight MPlayer front-end. The program itself is quick to start and file-load times and subsequent resource usage are pretty good too.

The audio extractor is a nice touch and something I could see myself using quite a lot if it were better implemented... at the moment it's just a bolt-on tool (you load the video separately rather than extract from the one you're watching and it lacks the ability to select just a section of video from which to rip audio). Winamp DSP is always useful to me but Exm crashes every time I try to point it to a DSP folder.

For me it could do with the option of a more minimal interface (hide-able controls and menus etc) and the integrated social sharing buttons aren't something that appeals to me. Given that it's still pretty new though and still in beta, I'll probably keep an eye out to see how it develops.

Maybe you are interested in becoming an editor for this category. George doesn't have time to review all new entries ...

Hi Panzer, yes I know George has taken on a few pages here.

I'm not sure I'd do a great job of reviewing and free time is an issue here as well but I do like to add comments about my personal experience with the software I try, in case it's useful to anyone.

I'd be more than happy to hand over the article to one of the regular members here, and you should be perfect to do the job. It'd take me some time to review this category again, because of other articles that I've offered to review, so please contact MC and I'll wait till he gives me some info about it.
"... in case it's useful to anyone ..." I am sure it is.

A word of warning regarding RealPlayer. If you already have RealPlayer (or acccidentally installed RealPlayer, like this dummy did), you're gonna have a real arse-pain of a time getting all of the excess junk removed. RealAlternative will not be able to install the core components, even after uninstalling RealPlayer first. The uninstallation still leaves a lot of crap in the OS and various applications. Some of the crap still functions (or tries to, and instead hangs the OS/App). You'll have to do a lot of manual weeding to get most of the crap out, but even then, it won't be 100% clean. I ended up formatting my HDD and reinstalling my entire OS and Apps/Data. TWICE. Sigh, I should've set a restore point and/or made a mirror copy of the clean install of the OS and my core set of applications FIRST!

Btw, I've had to also manually delete the Registry portion of the hard drive, as it appears that a lot of RealPlayer reg keys was also left behind as well. Which somehow proved persistent EVEN after formatting and reinstalling the OS/Apps. YMMV, I had a SSDD (solid state disk drive), so don't know if that had anything to do with that particular problem or not. I at same time also deleted the hidden system reserved partition created by Win7, so don't know which did the trick. I certainly did NOT want to have to reinstall 3 times...

You can download free Revo-unstaller and will remove all files from a program, including Real Player or Real Player Cloud, whatever you use. Once you download, open program and you will sell all the programs you have. Choose the program you want to un-intall, sometimes the program has its own un-installer, use. Then once that is done, down below you will see a scan botton, you want to make sure it on ADVANCE, press. This will find all the other files attached to the program. Sometimes it will require a reboot. I always empty my recycle bin and then reboot. Enjoy

People should only use the advanced features or Revo or any other uninstaller of this type if they have sufficient knowledge of Windows. Deleting items at random without understanding what else they might be associated with can damage your system. MC - Site Manager.
Do you mean Real Player Cloud? That's its new name. Are you sure you downloaded it from the home site?

Yeah, that's what I downloaded from the home site. The home site does not give you any choice but to download only RPC. Couldn't even find any links to download any older versions (EDIT: Without "Cloud".) at the time (late Feb/early Mar). Haven't been to the website since then.

I forgot that I already had Real Alt Lite installed and downloaded the "real" Real Player (Cloud). Only remembered AFTER I installed, and from that point that's when I had all that problems with the imbedded stuffs. Ended up flushing whole hard drive twice with second time being a full formatting of ENTIRE hard drive including registry/system partitions.

Really ticked off to point that I don't think I'll ever use Real OR Quicktime anymore. Used QT Alt Lite, but the updater slipped in a full install package of highly persistent apple bloatwares. Flush/Reinstall time again. If you gotta use QT, I'd suggest disabling or don't even install the Apple Application Support and manually update as needed by uninstalling and using the latest QT Alt installer. If there's any newer updates. Haven't seen any new versions since 2010. Been using Format Factory to convert the rare QT movies I get stuck with. Looks like I'll be using FF to convert any Real Player specific formats too. ...if I ever real-ly needed it in first place. Looks like ffdshow pretty much has it all covered anyway. Isn't that's whats usually bundled with MPC HC?

PS: The links for QT and RP Alts goes to QT Alt 3.2.2 (last update 2009) and RP Alt 2.0.2 (last @ 2010). However, clicking on QTA Lite download link bounces you forward to QT Alt Lite 4.1.0, last updated Dec 2010. Which is still kinda old too. Reading the reviews there suggests that there may be some issues with even that one and the newer medias that are based on even newer versions of real QT.

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