Products that try to be all things to all people are typically mediocre at everything. The free and open-source VLC — the VideLAN player — comes closer to pulling it off than any software on the market, paid or free.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with this cross-platform video-playback software; mostly the former, and the latter only occasionally. I love the way it handles nearly every format, including HEVC; that it allows dragging and dropping subtitles; that it can capture from video cameras; and that it can play network streams (hence its name); and more.
But I hate the way it misfires, depending on the version, on certain AVIs, FLVs, and MPEG files. Even more, I hate the way in which it misfires — requiring more than ordinary effort to close. I was hoping version 2.2 would put all that in the past. I'm happy with the improvements, but a bit disappointed in the continuing substandard error checking.
VLC is a cross-platform app, and it delivers a host of features not found in Windows Media Player (WMP) or the QuickTime player. Most of these come under the heading of network streaming and playback filters: VLC will slow or speed up more types of video than WMP, it allows you to apply motion and spatial blur, filter out colors, sharpen, distort, and more. Some of the filters, such as psychedelic and water, are fun, but ultimately useless. Overall, VLC has so many features, it's impossible to review or describe all of them.
Back to that format support. About the only thing VLC doesn't profess to play back is a copy-protected Blu-ray disc. And decoding is done internally. That is, the codecs are integrated into the player, so you don't need to download and install a bunch of DirectShow filters as you must to with WMP to broaden that player's codec support.
Added in version 2.1
I last reviewed version 2.0, but I've continued using it through version 2.1 and the release candidate for 2.2. Most of the changes for 2.1 were rewrites of audio codecs and internals, as well as the some new hardware acceleration and support for the latest versions of Android and iOS. From my perspective, all that happened was that the program stopped playing some older WMV files with MPEG-4 video and WMA audio.
Though a release candidate (RC2) has been out for a couple of months now, VLC 2.2 was only released officially today. Version 2.2 is described as a major release, and as far as the work that has been done on the inside, it is. The changes that the majority of users will notice are welcome, but relatively minor.
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