Watching movies and TV shows on your computer is easy, but if you do a lot of downloading or ripping, you need a video player that’s lightweight, can handle virtually anything you throw at it, whether it has subtitles, was encoded a long time ago with some obscure codec, or came in a strange file format. This week we’re looking at five of the best desktop video players, based on your nominations.
Earlier in the week we asked you for your favorite desktop video players; the ones that can play anything, handle subtitles or other attached files, are lightweight and have interfaces that get out of the way of the video you’re watching, and load and play your video quickly. You responded with tons of nominations, way more than we can feature, but we’re back to highlight the five that rose to the top. Here they are, in no particular order:
Daum PotPlayer is our current pick for the best video player for Windows, and it’s clear from the nominations round that a good number of you agree with us. PotPlayer is Windows only, but it’s lightweight, free, and plays just about every file format, codec, media container, or type of file you throw its direction 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 like, or appropriate for the type of screen you’re watching your movies or TV shows on. It packs filters for noise reduction, deinterlacing, brightness, contrast, hue, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You also get audio controls, tons of skins to customize the UI, and more.
PotPlayer isn’t perfect obviously—if you don’t want all of those features and settings, it may all just be fluff to you. However, that degree of power for the low low price of absolutely free is a boon. PotPlayer is Windows only, which leaves Mac and Linux users out of the party, which is a bummer as well. Those of you who nominated it (including our own Whitson Gordon), noted that it 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. Read more about PotPlayer (and its other features) in its nomination thread here. You can download it here.
GOM Player (Windows)
GOM Player (Gretech Online Movie Player) is a Windows-only, free (and ad-supported) media player that packs comprehensive file type and video format support right out of the box. One of GOM Player’s claims to fame is that if for some reason the player can’t figure out how to play the video file you’re trying to open, it’ll go searching for the required components to play it on its own, without you having to sort it out or try a different player. It’s also great at playing broken media files and partial downloads without dying. It too supports a skinnable, customizable interface that lets you change the UI to suit your own needs, and it sports some other useful advanced features (built-in screen and audio capture, video effects, and more.
GOM Player’s ad-supported nature has miffed some users, but others 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), and some anti-malware apps have been known to flag it as a potentially unwanted program. Nothing serious, but worth keeping in mind. Those of you who praised the app however highlighted its keyboard and mouse shortcuts, and noted that the app is configured so well by default that you can fire it up and use it right away, without needing a ton of other features in the way. Read more about it in its nomination thread here and here.
MPC-HC (Media Player Classic – Home Cinema) has been around for a good long time, born out of the stalled development status of the original MPC back in 2006. MPC-HC is a community effort that’s largely fixed the bugs and issues with the original player, and added a ton 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 bother loading. MPC-HC includes key commands to eliminate screen tearing when watching video, tons of video format and codec support (and can, most often, play anything you send its way without the need for additional codec packs), and there’s even a 64-bit version available. It’s completely free and open-source (or rather, GNU GPL licensed), 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 want in their preferred video player, but that’s nothing that can’t be extended with plug-ins and external packs. Those of you who praised MPC-HC had tons to say about it, many of you offering video proof that it’s better and faster than other players. Some common pluses involved its speed, the ability to handle media containers that other players just can’t, a super minimal interface, and way more. You can read all about it —and more—in its nomination thread here.
XBMC (Windows/OS X/Linux)
XBMC is more than just a media center application (although it’s definitely our favorite one of those, and the application at the heart of our favorite media center builds) – it’s also a highly configurable player that you can use on a desktop or laptop to get a real media center experience on screens large and small. 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, OSX, Linux, and a number of other platforms. XBMC can seriously play just about anything under the sun 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, like movie and TV show information, ratings, episode order, and more, and it’ll show all of it to you as you browse and select what you want to watch. It also handles music and streaming video beautifully, and is ridiculously customizable thanks to its wide variety of third-party plugins.
Granted, XBMC is less of a “player” than it is a whole media center suite, but you gave it the nominations required to earn a place in the top five. It’s not perfect—if you’re just looking to watch one thing or fire up a quick movie or download, you could pick lighter-weight applications or tools to do it. XBMC isn’t the speediest app in the bunch, and it definitely makes itself at home on your system, but most of that is in order to deliver you it’s incredible feature set. Those of you who nominated it praised its versatility and playback performance. Check out its nominations thread here.
VLC (Windows/OS X/Linux)
Ah VLC. VLC is a portable, open-source (or strictly, GNU LGPL licensed), cross-platform, free media player. It earned its reputation a long time ago as being one of the first “play anything” media players to really take the web by storm. It’s never been the only one, but it always had a reputation for making the process painless, being fast and flexible, and packing just enough features to make users 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, supports skins and themes, and as its reputation implies, it really does play just about anything you try to put through it. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a build for it for just about every desktop OS and flavor of *nix you can think of, making it an excellent all-around player for any device or platform.
VLC isn’t perfect, none of the players here are—its UI has gotten a bit cumbersome over the years, and as an application it’s definitely fallen victim to its share of bloat. Some of the other players in the roundup are faster and more lightweight, while others offer more advanced features. Still, none of that matters if the player doesn’t work on the platform you need to use it on, or if it has trouble with the video you want to watch. Those of you who praised VLC and nominated it pointed that out, and rallied behind it partially because it can play almost anything on almost anything. Cross platform, free, portable, it’s an all around great player. Read more in its nominations thread here.
Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all out vote to determine the Lifehacker community favorite:
The honorable mentions this week go out to three great alternative players who were tied for sixth in the nominations round, KMPlayer (Windows), MPlayerX (OS X), and SMPlayer (Windows/Linux). Each of the three have their own pros and cons, and more importantly their own devout fan followings.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!