Your computer is a powerful entertainment device, but if you're regularly watching movies and TV shows using it, you need the right video player. The ideal candidate would be fast, lightweight, flexible, and able to handle obscure codecs and odd file formats. This week we're looking at five of the best desktop video players, based on your nominations.
Daum PotPlayer is our current App Directory pick as the best video player for Windows, and it's clear from the nominations that a good number of you agree with us. PotPlayer is lightweight, free and plays just about every file format, codec, media container and type of file with ease. In addition to broad format support, PotPlayer also gives you a wealth of features and controls to get your video playback looking just the way you want. It includes filters for noise reduction, deinterlacing, brightness, contrast and hue. You also get audio controls and lots of skins to customise the UI.
If you don't want all of those features and settings, then PotPlayer might feel like overkill. However, that degree of power for the low price of absolutely free is very welcome. The software can remember where you left off when you stop watching a video, and if you have a naming convention for TV shows, it will even pick up the next episode when one is finished.
GOM Player (Windows)
GOM Player (Gretech Online Movie Player) is a Windows-only, free (and ad-supported) media player that has comprehensive file type and video format support. One of GOM Player's claims to fame is that if the player can't figure out how to play the video file you're trying to open, it will search for the required components to play it on its own, without you having to intervene. It's also great at playing broken media files and partial downloads. It supports a skinnable, customisable interface that lets you change the UI to suit your own needs, and it offers some other useful advanced features (such as built-in screen and audio capture and the ability to add video effects).
GOM Player's ad-supported nature has miffed some users, but many don't seem to mind. After you close a GOM Player window or exit the application, a splash screen will hit you with ads before you close it. There are ways around it (available all over the web), but as a result, some anti-malware apps have been known to flag it as a potentially unwanted program. Those of you who praised the app highlighted its keyboard and mouse shortcuts, and noted that the default app settings work really well for most users.
MPC-HC (Media Player Classic - Home Cinema) has been around for a long time, born out of the stalled development status of the original MPC back in 2006. MPC-HC has largely fixed the bugs and issues with the original player, and added a stack of useful features in the process. MPC-HC is Windows only, and remarkably lightweight — in fact, in many cases, you can be up and playing video with MPC-HC before other slower media players even load. MPC-HC includes key commands to eliminate screen tearing when watching video, extensive video format and codec support, and there's even a 64-bit version available. It's completely free and open-source (under the GNU GPL licence), and it's also available at a portable app.
MPC-HC isn't totally perfect — the fact that it's so lightweight means it's also lacking in some of the features that advanced users may seek out, but it can be extended with plug-ins and external packs. Its fast performance and minimal interface are great if you don't want to do a lot of tweaking.
XBMC is more than just a media centre application, although it's definitely our favourite one of those as the core our favourite media centre builds. It's also a highly configurable player that you can use on a desktop or laptop to get a real media centre experience. While it's obviously great on a big screen connected to an HTPC, it works just as well on your desktop connected to a large external display, or on your laptop's 15" display while you're on a train or plane.
XBMC is open source, available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and a number of other platforms. XBMC can play just about anything without worrying about file format, encoding, codecs or even subtitles — if they're in the same place as your video, XBMC can handle it for you. XBMC can also retrieve useful information from the web for you, including movie and TV show information, ratings and episode order. It also handles music and streaming video beautifully, and is ridiculously customisable thanks to its wide variety of third-party plugins.
VLC (Windows/OS X/Linux)
Ah VLC. VLC is a portable, open-source (GNU LGPL licensed), cross-platform, free media player. It earned its stripes a long time ago as one of the first "play anything" media players. It has always had a reputation for making the process painless, being fast and flexible, and packing just enough features to keep viewers happy while simultaneously giving advanced users the control they wanted over their videos and movies. It sports a number of optional third-party plugins to extend its features, and supports skins and themes. There's a build for it for just about every desktop OS and flavour of *nix you can think of, making it an excellent all-around player for any device or platform.
VLC isn't perfect: its UI has become a bit cumbersome over the years. Some of the other players in the roundup are faster and more lightweight or offer more advanced features. However, as a cross-platform choice it remains hard to beat.
Have something to say about one of these players? Want to make the case for your personal favourite, even if it wasn't included in the list? Tell us (and tell us why) in the comments.