Windows users have a lot of good video players to choose from, and the title of "best" is hotly contested. For its great performance, high number of features, and ability to play just about anything, we recommend KMPlayer for all your video playing needs.
Update: You guys were overwhelmingly in support of other programs besides SMPlayer for the title of best video player on Windows, and we heard you. We've updated this post to reflect this, as well as include some of the other choices you guys love.
Platform: Windows Price: Free Download Page
- Plays and streams just about any video format under the sun
- Can play incomplete or damaged AVI files (by skipping the damaged frames)
- Very fast and lightweight
- Can remember where you left off in a video
- Keyboard shortcuts for just about anything, including seek, volume, zoom, brightness, contrast and even subtitle resyncing
- Robust subtitle support, including SAA and ASS support as well as embedded subtitles in MKV, OGM, MP4, MOV and 3GP files
- Fully skinnable, can choose different skins for different types of files, make the window transparent and more
- Video filters, like deinterlacing, postprocessing, de-noise and more for customised playback
- Audio equaliser and video equaliser, that lets you adjust the brightness, contrast, hue and more of the video
KMPlayer, like many of our App Directory picks, shines in its sheer number of settings. You can tweak just about everything of your video, from simple brightness and contrast to deinterlacing, postprocessing and de-nose to get the best video playback possible. No matter what quality of file you're stuck with, you can probably make it better with KMPlayer.
On top of all that, it's fast, lightweight, and can play any video format you throw at it, including damaged files. It's got loads of keyboard shortcuts and mouse controls, and while it's very advanced, its interface is more than easy enough to use for less tech-savvy people (as long as they don't venture into the preferences).
As with most advanced programs, KMPlayer's biggest strength is also one of its biggest weaknesses. It has a ton of different settings, which unfortunately makes wading through the checkbox-laden settings menu kind of a pain. Even if you're rather tech-savvy, it could take you awhile to find the setting you're looking for. While that's never fun, though, it does mean you can tweak every aspect of the player to work how you want, so it's a small price to pay. We kind of also wish it could save those settings on a per-video basis like SMPlayer.
Some users have experienced some bugginess in KMPlayer, though this seems to vary from person to person. In addition, its installation of the Ask Toolbar (which I tried to avoid and somehow still installed) is pretty reprehensible, but again — uninstalling it is a small price to pay for one of the most configurable programs out there.
KMPLayer isn't perfect, but we've yet to find a video player that is. It will play a lot of files, but if it ever doesn't, we recommend having a backup video player on hand (no matter what you use as your primary player). Here are a few of your options.
The most obvious competitor to KMPlayer is VLC, which many of you probably use as your main player. Both are pretty close in terms of quality, but KMPlayer's nicer interface, lighter weight, and tons of advanced features all bring it a step up above VLC in our eyes. In addition, if you have an older computer and you're playing high definition video content, you may want to try them side-by-side: while KMPlayer was lighter weight in our tests, VLC does have built-in hardware acceleration features that may play high-def videos a little smoother.
Media Player Classic is another choice on Windows, which, coupled with a codec pack like K-Lite or Win7codecs, can play just about any video under the sun. Its biggest advantage is its hardware acceleration, which is great for older computers if you want to play high-def video. It also has a neat "remove screen tearing" feature. That said, VLC has experimental hardware acceleration as well, though, so unless VLC is giving you playback issues, you're probably better off using it instead. Use Media Player Classic if none of the others work well enough for you.
Other lesser-known videos include SMPlayer, which lets you set your settings on a per-video basis, and PotPlayer, which is by the same original developer as KMPlayer, but is young and not quite as feature-rich. Many people also like Gom Player, which has quite a few advanced features but not quite as many as KMPlayer (though if you're having stability issues with KMPlayer, Gom is a good alternative to try).
Again, there is no perfect video player out there that works for everyone. Like music players, everyone has their favorite video player and you guys are pobably pretty loyal to yours. It's mostly personal preference, so if you have a player you think is best, let us know why in the comments (without putting down other people's choices).
Lifehacker's App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories. This week, we're focusing on video players.