The VideoLAN VLC media player caught my eye as a cross platform alternative to Winamp way back in 2004. Why use Winamp on Windows based machines and something different on Linux when VideoLan works on both? VLC struggled in some areas on some operating systems back in 2004 and is now the first choice for every operating system.
Download VLC from www.videolan.org/vlc/. The current Windows download is 17 megabyte.
This review is updated to VLC 1.0.5. I used VideoLan starting with release 0.7.2 in July 2004. From about 0.8.6 onward VLC worked with almost every video format I tried. The few errors were with new formats and VLC eventually caught up. The VLC developers appear to require six months to develop a decoder for a brand new format.
VideoLan is open source, which means you can check to see if it contains spyware. There are lots of people in the open source movement who check and double check open source software for potential problems. Winamp and Microsoft's media Player are not open source. You cannot easily check either for spyware.
VideoLan uses a GPL licence making VideoLan free to download and free to move from machine to machine as you upgrade. There are no painful Microsoft style licence problems when you make a minor change to your hardware or move to a new machine.
CODECs are required to decode audio and video files. VideoLan ignores existing available CODECs and uses pure VideoLan code to decode all audio and video files. I am happy that someone does this so that we are not held ransom by CODEC developers. Unfortunately that means you have to wait for VideoLan to catch up if you receive a file in a brand new format.
You cannot use regular CODECs when a new format arrives, instead you have to wait for the VideoLan equivalent. VideoLan does not yet have the popularity to get people working on every new format the instant the format arrives. VideoLan could use a facility to work with existing CODECs until VideoLan develops their equivalent, the same as Gimp accepting Photoshop plugins.
Back in 2006 I tested the latest WinAmp against the latest VLC using a range of videos including a video that did not work in VLC. Winamp worked with the videos that worked in VLC and failed with the video that failed in VLC. Back then the hugely popular Winamp had already lost the technology race against VLC.
Winamp ripped CDs to MP3 but only if you paid for the pro version. Winamp's standard ripping interface looked to be less useful than the alternatives so there was no way I am going to pay for the Pro version. Nero software burns better and Nero was supplied with all the burners I purchased. ImgBurn now does all the burning I need better than the Pro version of Winamp.
Winamp started disappearing from all my machines after the 2006 test.
Windows Media Player
Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9.00.00.3250 was installed back in 2006 but I did not use it because it made random unrequested use of the Internet. I tried it with the Internet is disconnected and it hung for a while looking for something, which might be the Internet, then it started playing in slow motion then it jumped between slow motion and stuck on one frame then it gave up. In a rare case of trying to trust Microsoft, I connected to the Internet and clicked Windows Media Player automatic update and was told by Microsoft that my error ridden existing Windows Media Player is all that there is, is the latest version.
Today Windows Media Player is one of the first items I rip out of Windows, straight after Outlook Express.
I cannot see any advantage of Xine over VideoLan that I would use. The Xine developers were working on a Windows version of Xine and the Windows version is competing head to head based on minor differences in the user interface plus the range of decoders they support. I have not found a case where Xine will handle something not handled by VLC.
Media Player Classic
Back in 2006 Media Player Classic was free, worked on Windows and worked with the latest CODECs. MPC pushes Winamp out of consideration. Today VLC pushes MPC out the door.
I used Cyberlink PowerDVD version 5.0 to play some files as PowerDVD was supplied with one of the DVD drives in my computer. PowerDVD did not play any of my then new test files. The next version, cersion 7 cost US$37.95 which was US$37.95 more than VideoLan. With VLC and ImgBurn, I no longer look for upgrades to PowerDVD.
Ulead DVD Player
Ulead DVD Player 1.1 arrived with some hardware and did not play any of the new test files. At the time the latest version of Ulead DVD Player cost US$29.95 which is US$29.95 more than VideoLan and not necessarily as up to date.
VideoLan had an old Skins interface that was a pain to use in Windows. Release 0.7.2 brought the Skins 2 interface with has working Windows docking and auto alignment. I started using VideoLan VLC more frequently on Windows with Skins 2.
Problem with Playback
Just when I though VLC 0.8.6 was headed to the top of the media playback tree, I found a killer problem. When playing back music, VideoLan went quiet whenever I clicked anything else that is processor intensive. None of the other media players had the problem. If VideoLan was the only media player with the problem, out of five or more media players on my computer, then it must be a VideoLan problem. The problem disappeared a few updates later.
There is a separate Windows problem with playback where Windows stops while reading optical media. Both Windows XP and Windows 2000 suffer from the same incredibly stupid Microsoft approach to reading optical media. If you have the slightest problem with gaps and dropouts when playing CDs or DVDs, copy the CDs and DVDs to disk then play from disk.
VideoLan is a great idea because it is independent of almost everything else. VideoLAN VLC is now the best choice on all your computers including the ones using Windows.