VLC – Media Player review

free, open source alternative to Windows Media Player
Photo of VLC – Media Player

We have a lot to thank the open source software community for, including Linux, the GIMP and now VLC Media Player.

VideoLAN started as a student project at the École Centrale Paris, with the goal of developing a general-purpose media player that could handle audio, video and streamed content. The main result of this project so far is the VideoLAN Client (VLC) Media Player, currently in version 0.8.6.

Think of something like Windows Media Player and you’ll be part way to VLC. It can play most kinds of common audio such as OGG, MP3, WAV and WMA, and most kinds of video such as AVI, MPEG and WMV, but it goes further than that. Key among its advantages is that you don’t need a separate codec such as WinDVD or PowerDVD to play DVD movies and there are versions of VLC Media Player for most common computing platforms.

The program in its default form looks innocuous enough, like one of the mini skins for Windows Media Player; you just don’t get all the pop-ups saying it needs a codec for MP4, FLAC or Raw DV. These are also covered by default in the VLC player and new formats are being added all the time. The latest update added WMV9 and Flash video.

VLC Media Player has a range of skins of its own – all free to download, of course – so you can make it look like Windows Media Player, Vista or Mac OS X, or venture into something more freeform. The most obvious controls are for media transport – play, pause, rewind, etc. – but there are others, including a graphic equaliser, adjustment of video colours and options to take a snapshot of the screen and to turn a video into wallpaper.

Play a DVD movie and you have full control of its menu system in the normal way. You can run it full-screen, without the player’s menu or status strips at top or bottom. Video runs smoothly, even on a comparatively low-powered PC; we tested on an Athlon XP 2100+.

There are versions of the program for Windows, Mac, Linux, BeOS and BSD and all are released under the GNU General Public Licence. As such they cost you nothing for private use. You can also distribute the program freely (and help with the development, if you like), as long as you stick to the terms of the licence.

Company: VLC

VLC Media Player enables you to run DVD movies on your Windows-based PC. You don't need to buy a commercial codec, so save yourself £20-£30 and get a player that supports a wide range of other file formats, such as the lossless, open-source FLAC compressed audio, into the bargain. It's a bit of a no-brainer.