Five Best Desktop Video Players

Five Best Desktop Video Players

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.

PotPlayer (Windows)

Five Best Desktop Video Players

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)

Five Best Desktop Video Players

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 (Windows)

Five Best Desktop Video Players

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 (Windows/Mac/Linux)

Five Best Desktop Video Players

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)

Five Best Desktop Video Players

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.

The honourable mentions this week go out to three well-regarded video players:KMPlayer (Windows), MPlayerX (Mac OS X), and SMPlayer (Windows/Linux).

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.


    • VLC still breaks often and takes forever to come out with updates, containing new codecs tweaks needed to properly play files created by the latest encoder versions. In the past this has caused problems and their slow pace only makes these kind of problems appear time after time.

      One thing which also annoys me is the magnitude of seeking problems it tends to have with some files. For example when playing a 5GB FLAC file the other night I could not seek past around the 3rd song the file contained and often had the file seeking back to the start. All besides the position of the seek bar being nowhere near in line where it should be, I could be at the end of the bar and only be up to 6 minutes in through a 4 hour file, or be at the middle of the bar and have the playback skip back to the start (foobar2000 had no problems)… I have also seen numerous similar problems with videos where the seekbar may, for instance, be at the end but the video keeps playing back.

      It’s problems like these that make me stay right the hell away from VLC. Though for your average person only watching those xvid .avi files they torrent it has no problems. VLC is a great media playing for parents!

      Refer to my below message for my pick and additional explanation. (currently awaiting moderation due to usage of links)

      • I agree, VLC is not the best, fastest, most robust or most expansive with support. But, it is a single download, no config required and works on every device I own from Raspberry Pi’s to iPhones (Mobile App) to MacBooks to PCs to crappy XUbuntu netbooks.

        I much prefer to have good applications that work across all platforms as opposed to having 1 perfect for this platform, 1 ok for this and 1 pretty good with that.

        It’s why I use Geany instead of Textwrangler and Context, VLC instead of QuickTime+Perian and XBMC and Firefox instead of Safari, IE or Chrome (Although not using Chrome is just a personal choice)

  • What players support Blu-Ray playback, and to what degree? VLC, for example, doesn’t handle menus for Blu-Ray discs, so you have to dig through the file system to find the video file to playback in VLC (can be an issues when watching TV shows on Blu-Ray, as the file names don’t necessarily represent the episode number, or order).

    Right now I’m stuck using the horrible and bloated PowerDVD for Blu-Ray playback. Please, please, please, let there be something better out there.

  • MPC-HC with all of the appropriate codec packs, to me, is without a doubt the best player. Besides from the great simplicity and ease of use with so many great hotkeys. When setup right, it can stay a step above the rest with things such as high quality scaling and compatibility with most of the latest A/V advancements.

    Now of course I am not just talking about MPC-HC standalone here but MPC-HC configured with an appropriate codec pack. My current favourite which does everything I mentioned without any hassle is Kawaii Codec Pack. This one’s put together by the guys who often pioneer the use of standard such as hi10p video online. Check it out here

    For reference to the ability of KCP which includes madvR see:

    Also if you simply press Ctrl+J in MPC-HC you get a bunch of useful statistics that can be used in conjunction with your madVR settings to ‘tune’ your player for the best output your computer can handle.

    • Completely agreed, MPC-HC is by far superior. Recently our wireless media center was having trouble playing a 1080p + DTS audio movie, we were getting skips every 5-10 seconds and the audio was misaligned. Unfortunately my housemate is a dead set VLC fan and swears by it.

      But alas, we switched to MPC-HC and had no problems whatsoever, it may have an ugly interface that you can’t see when you’re watching movies, but it’s definitely the Toyota of media players, reliable as anything!

      • I thought bad of the interface as well when I first got it as well. But since then it has grown on me. The non intrusive simplicity is great, it provides all of the functionality you need, with no more effort than any other player, while not taking up too much screen space and avoiding having a bright standoutish skin, which distracts you from your video.

        Then in full screen mode, as you say, you of course don’t even need to look at it. Even when you accidentally bump your mouse by a millimeter, it only appears when you move your mouse down to the bottom of the screen, as it should! Plus getting to know those shortcuts should mean that you can swap between, chapters, shows, audio tracks, subtitles, play/pause and seek without touching your mouse or seeing a single interface either.

        If you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of this. 😀

  • Media player classic all the way. Nothing else needed for quick playback.

    XBMC is in another league…its for HTPC’s, you wouldn’t use it for quick playback.

    No idea what the others are, they look bloated / nasty.

  • Nice app review. As for me, I’m using Elmedia Player, which supports aspect ratio change and playback speed adjustment and features on-screen display for different events, like pausing, flipping, rotating videos, etc

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