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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Comments

Tip for PotPlayer users: PotPlayer always remembers the previous settings, even when you install a new version on top of the old version. To get the settings of the newest version, go to Preferences->Click Initialize button [left-bottom]. To save your previous config (or make a new one) make use of Presets available from Preferences->Configuration[left tab]

Excellent article! I have been following the "best free media player" article for quite a while now and it an excellent resource, especially for staying out of trouble with bundled garbage like Open Candy, Ask toolbars, etc.
My experience with VLC media player is less than 5 stars. Its lack of an easily accessible control panel to adjust such functions as video quality, etc (like other players have) made me less than a fan of it. I find that the instructions for many things are either not available or difficult to understand.
Pot Player often crashes for no reason.
I typically use Media Player Classic for ordinary playback, and I like the shortcut keys and easy pan/size.
I also like GOM Player for its easily accessible control panel.

Thanks for your kind words... There's a button on your VLC interface, "Show extended settings", that works as the Control Panel, to adjust various effects. Reset PotPlayer preferences if it's crashing for you. Go to Preferences->Click Initialize on the bottom left and then OK. If that doesn't work re-download a newer version.

VLC 2.1.3 on win7 64bit
Crashes every time i start a video, but not for audio files.

Please post your event details (type Event Manager after clicking Start button) and any message (exception codes etc) that you get on crashing. Does it crash every time you play the same video? Try playing different videos of various formats (like mkv, avi, flv etc) and see if you encounter any crashes. Re-download the setup again and re-install (after uninstalling previous version).

http://freetexthost.com/luofesg1uc

I didn't use setup, i used the 7z files for both win32 and win64 and that was after my VLC portable from Portableapps.com started crashing.

I'm fairly sure that it has to do with my preferences, but 2.1.2 worked and 2.1.3 crashes and that's not supposed to happen with any preference that the software offers.

From your text file, it seems that your video filter settings is what's crashing the player. Try resetting VLC settings using this guide: https://wiki.videolan.org/VSG:ResetPrefs/

I thought as much, the problem is that i like my settings and they work fine with 2.1.2, so why would they crash 2.1.3?

Settings that you can change from within VLC should not make VLC crash, even after an update. Updating should not make it less reliable, but it did.

I like VLC and i've been using it for years, but this time they made a bid mistake.

The download link for PotPlayer doesn't appear to be working. I get the following error message: Oops! Google Chrome could not connect to www.dvbsupport.net Try reloading the page.

Same thing happens on firefox.

Try using the download link given in the Quick Selection Guide.

I was using that link!

Stoppress: I've just tried it again and this time it worked - the website must have been down temporarily.

Any suggestions? I have a large music library and smaller video/film library (mainly flv, avi and mp4). I have used WMP and Winamp mainly but tried Potplayer, VLC, Foobar, Songbird and some others.

I want the cd/song info lookup function to be accurate and a powerful library function. Gracenote seems to be easiest and most accurate so Winamp has been preferred BUT it doesn't play mp4 videos without hassle. I use VLC for videos but it doesn't really have a searchable library function (playlist is not really a library function).

Is there a media player that uses Gracenote and has a library function so I have one media player?

What you're looking for is a dedicated music player/organizer and I'd recommend you MusicBee MusicBee has a powerful library function and cd/song info lookup function. GraceNote has also been provided as artwork/lyrics/tags function but you've to manually enable it by going to Edit->Preferences->Tags(2)->Auto-Tagging and click on "..." corresponding to lyrics/artwork/tags. I believe the individual tag setup provided by MusicBee is as follows: Lyrics: LyricWiki, LYRDB, Chartlyrics, Lololyrics, GraceNote Artwork: Google, Fanart, Discogs, Last.fm, GraceNote Tags: MusicBrainz, FreeDB, Discogs, Last.fm, GraceNote I always use a separate Video Player (like PotPlayer) and Music Player/Organizer (MusicBee) on my system.
"... 3nity Media Player is a highly portable multimedia player (2/44 on Virus Total). It's based on MPUI (It has all features of original MPUI and more) ...": http://3nitysoftware.com/3nityMediaPlayer.html "... Baka MPlayer (0/45 on Virus Total) is a free and open source, mpv based multimedia player that plays most multimedia files such as avi and mkv (Matroska) using internal codecs (codecs do not need to be installed on your PC). It's also fully compatible with playing 10-bit (Hi10P) encoded content. It's simple design reflects the idea for an uncluttered, simple, and enjoyable environment for watching anime. It's also portable and has built in voice command support (in beta) ...": http://bakamplayer.u8sand.net/index.php System Requirements: .NET Framework 3.5, Windows Vista SP2 or newer "... CMPlayer is based on the Media Player Classic (MPC) project ...": http://sourceforge.net/projects/cmplayer/ "... CS Player is a small but powerful media player application. Using the application is much easier than working with Media Player Classic, but it allows you to use almost all features from MPC ..." (still in beta): http://sourceforge.net/projects/csplayer/?source=recommended
Since the last two PotPlayer update, I have been facing an issue. I am talking about the update versions, which are released regularly, apart from the main version. Since the last two updates, including the very recent one from today, when I select a subtitle for a video from a folder, PotPlayer crashes. I have to uninstall and reinstall the main PotPlayer version, which is 1.5.40688 at present, and then it works fine.

For what it's worth I can't seem to duplicate the problem here.

I'm running PotPlayer (portable) 1.5.43511 beta x86 and it works fine whether I open a film with subs (srt) already in the folder or whether I open the film and then open the subs from another location.

Are you using srt or another format?

The issue seems to have been taken care of in the latest update version 1.5.43968 beta.
Good to know it's been resolved. With the update cycle rate of PotPlayer and beta versions, it's bound to have few problems between 2 stable releases. Although like sicknero I cannot duplicate the same problem too with the latest beta. Probably it's already fixed.
I thought it had been fixed, but the problem is still occurring. Not with every file though, only with a few now. Like, for one avi file, it didn't occur, but for other avi file, it did. Didn't occur for another mp4 file.
Maybe, resetting the config in the preferences section could help. Go to Preferences->Initiliaze
Thanks GJ. That did help, and now it behaves normally. But, help me understand it. I uninstalled PotPlayer many times in the past few days... trying each minor update, and then uninstalling PotPlayer altogether, when it didn't work, and then reinstalling the major version. I also deleted the left over folders. But, it means, that the settings were still saved somewhere?
Likely in the registry?
Yup the settings will be saved in the registry unless you decide to store it as .ini files (portable) by going to Preferences->General->Store settings to .ini files. This is done to save the trouble of configuring the settings all over again in case of a re-install.
Thanks GJ. Well, ideally when the program is uninstalled, the registry entries should be removed too. Sigh.
I am using srt. I used 43511 and the latest too, but it crashes :/.

SMPlayer is bundled with OpenCandy now.

Thank you. The product details have now been updated. MC - Site Manager.

Re: GOM player, I installed and picked up OpenCandy on MalWareBytes. Please check out and update. Thanks.

Many thanks for letting us know. The review content has now been updated to reflect the inclusion of OpenCandy in GOM Player. MC - Site Manager.
I can confirm that GOM Player version 2.2.53.5169 does have the OpenCandy EULA tacked on to the end of the GOM player EULA. I did not complete the install as I just was checking to see if they have added OpenCandy to their install. I am sure the editor will update when he has a chance.

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