Workspace - 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 for XP and Vista 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 all of these media formats, including digital music, video, CD, and DVD, while still being light on resources. I was impressed with what I found. Not only do these programs replace WMP, iTunes and WinAmp, but they also exceeded their functionality.

The products that I've reviewed here are 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.

Note: Some of these programs 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.

Discussion

The KM PlayerAfter careful review and consideration, The KM Player, now holds the "Best Pick" spot for this category. There are many reasons for this but the big ones include ease of use and installation, awesome playback, and no need for extra codec packs.

Originally the work of one programmer, the project is now owned by Pandora TV and continues to be developed. On a default install, it is configured to play almost any media file available without the need for additional codecs, making it easy to use for those with less experience. Yet if needed, it can be configured to selectively use any codecs you have installed yourself. This means that one can have full control over which codecs and filters The KM Player will use, thus preventing media playback from being messed up.

Among its other features, The KM Player can set multifarious audio and video effects, slow down or increase playback speed with regular tone, select parts of a video as favorites, do an exceptionally powerful A-B repeat, remap the keys of remote interface for HTPC including overlay screen controls, and change a skin dynamically depending on the type of media you wish to play. Plus it is completely customizable thanks to a wide selection of skins and color schemes.

In short, the configuration options of The KM Player are the most extensive I've ever seen. But keep in mind that many features means a larger program. Weighing in at over 14.9 MB, The KM Player is one of the larger downloads of the products reviewed here. By default, The KM Player installer adds PandoraTV Search Bar to your browser. Click "Decline" to continue with the install if you dislike the Search Bar.

***Users please be careful with the installation of KMPlayer if you have downloaded from other download sites and uncheck any items that are not bolded as they are crapware. Please download the player from the link given in the quick selection guide below.

 

Media Player Classic Home CinemaFor a long time, I have been a fan of Media Player Classic due to its ease of use, simple installation, and powerful features. Unfortunately, development on this particular project has stopped, but there is a great replacement: Media Player Classic Home Cinema.

Like its predecessor, it is an incredibly small program but has a vast feature set. Available only for Windows (NT - 7), MPC Home Cinema looks like the old Windows Media Player v6.4, but that's where the similarity ends. Under the hood, this program packs a lot of features, including codecs for viewing DVD discs, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG 4 and x.264 movie files, MP3 and Ogg files. It can also use the QuickTime and the RealPlayer architectures (if installed on the computer) to play their native files. To further extend its functionality while avoiding the installation of RealPlayer, WinAmp and Quicktime, you will have to download some codec packs. (We recommend ffdshow, Real Alternative, QuickTime Alternative and WinAmp Alternative packages). They will make sure there will be almost nothing you won't be able to play. MPC Home Cinema is the only product reviewed here that requires no installation on your PC. This means that it can be run from your USB flash drive as well as your hard drive. (Note: there is some dispute over the legality of Real Alternative and QuickTime Alternative codec packs. ffdshow is opensource, completely legal, and should cover almost all of your needs.)

MPC Home Cinema has many additional functions above and beyond the original MPC including: The option to remove Tearing, better support for Windows Vista and 7 (including a release for 64 bit platforms), support for EVR (Enhanced Video Renderer) and playback and recording of television if a supported TV tuner is installed.

 

VLC Media PlayerAnother excellent player is VLC Media Player. VLC is available for multiple OSs, including all versions of Windows (98 through Vista), Mac OS X, and many varieties of Linux. VLC can also be installed and run directly from a flash drive.

Most versions will support playback of most video files and DVD discs without the need to download external codec packs, including flv files, which MPC cannot natively play. VLC has another unique feature as well. There are 5 different DVD region codes. DVDs manufactured for one region will not play in players made for a different region. This applies to PC DVD drives as well... until now. VLC plays them all. There is no need for any shady (and possibly illegal DVD region spoofing programs). This is especially nice if you're an international traveler and want to watch a movie on your laptop outside of your country.

VLC also has the ability to convert videos to formats it supports and like KM Player, you can specify whether or not to use system codecs. VLC also has the ability to take screenshots of your video, even while during DVD playback, a real attractive feature.

 

KantarisKantaris is based partly on the code for VLC and I remember looking at it some time ago and thinking nice try but still needs some work. Things have moved on a lot since then though and this open source player is now well worth a look.

The latest version has a unique feature which detects the character encoding of subtitles by analyzing the text. This is aimed mainly at languages with what we would call non-standard characters, like Chinese, but will appeal to a lot of users on this basis alone. Kantaris connects to an online subtitle database to find subtitles that are a perfect fit to the played media.

Kantaris plays most file formats without additional codecs and will also play RAR-archives without the need to extract them first. Last.fm and Apple movie trailers are incorporated, and DVDs and CDs are also supported. Lastly, if you like visualizations, Kantaris has some of the best I've seen. Advisory: Kantaris is now bundled with OpenCandy. See here for more information.

 

GOM PlayerAnother good alternative is GOM Player. Available only for Windows (98Se through Vista), it also will play most media files, including flv files with its own internal codecs. If, however, you come across a file it cannot play, it will direct you to the appropriate open-source codec to install.

The program is a little quirky, though. I tried to play a DVD disc on two different PCs using GOM... On one it would not play it at all (and this was a machine I've been able to play DVD discs on before), while on the other PC it played it fine. One very noteworthy feature of the GOM player is its ability to play broken media files.

According to subscriber Ash, "GOM Player's claim that it can play broken avi files is very true. We have a file sharing network on campus which uses DC++. Usually avi files which are being downloaded stop partway due to too much traffic. GOM Player was able to play every one of those files on my system up to the point where they stopped downloading.

Related Products and Links
Quick Selection Guide

KM Player    Rating 10 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   Modern looking interface, capable of playing most media without additional codecs, extremely customizable.
Cons   Larger download size, many options can be confusing to non-technical types.
Developer Home Page   http://www.kmplayer.com/forums/index.php
Download link   http://www.kmplayer.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19734
File Size   14.9 MB   Version 3.0.0.1440 License Type Open Source Freeware (includes program code)   Installation Requirements Windows 98 - 7 (64 bit)
Portable version available   Portable version available

Media Player Classic Home Cinema    Rating 9 of 10

Pros   No installation required, extremely easy to use, extremely small memory footprint for the features it offers, 64 bit versions available.
Cons   No support for syncing music, no picture quality controls.
Developer Home Page   http://mpc-hc.sourceforge.net/
Download link   http://mpc-hc.sourceforge.net/download-media-player-classic-hc.html
File Size   4.89 MB   Version v 1.5.0.2827 License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements Windows XP - 7 (32-bit and 64-bit)
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available   Portable version available Portable version available
Info   Additional software to enhance Media Player Classic can be found here:
1. ffdshow: http://www.free-codecs.com/download/FFDShow.htm
2. Real Alternative: http://www.free-codecs.com/download/Real_Alternative.htm
3. QuickTime Alternative: http://www.free-codecs.com/download/QuickTime_Alternative.htm
4. WinAmp Alternative: http://www.softpedia.com/progDownload/Winamp-Alternative-Download-23376.html

VLC Media Player    Rating 9 of 10

Pros   Available on multiple platforms, can read DVD's from all regions.
Cons   Large download size, many options can be confusing to non-technical types.
Developer Home Page   http://www.videolan.org/
Download link   http://www.videolan.org/vlc
File Size   20 MB   Version 1.1.9 License Type Open Source Freeware (includes program code)   Installation RequirementsWindows 98 - 7 , OS X, Various Linux distros
Portable version available   Portable version available

Kantaris    Rating 8 of 10

Pros   Supports DVDs, CDs and plays most file types without needing additional codecs.
Cons   Not as configurable as some other players for those requiring advanced features. Bundled with OpenCandy, see here for more information.
Developer Home Page   http://www.kantaris.org/    
Download link   http://kantaris.org/downloads/ 
File Size   14.4MB   Version 0.7.0  License Type Open Source Freeware (includes program code)   Installation Requirements Windows 2K/XP/Vista/7

GOM Player    Rating 7 of 10

Pros   No extra codec packs are needed, capable of playing broken avi files
Cons   May not play DVD discs on some systems
Developer Home Page   http://www.gomlab.com/eng/
Download link   http://www.gomlab.com/eng/GMP_download.html
File Size   7.21 MB   Version 2.1.28.5039 License Type Open Source Freeware (includes program code)   Installation Requirements Windows 98SE - 7
Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor George.j

Tags

best free media player, multimedia player, video player, computer video player, PC player

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