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VLC Media Player

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videolan.org

How many times has this happened to you: you download a movie – say, from your favorite torrenting client, for example, or perhaps some other form of movie downloading site – and you get excited to watch the film that you’ve been interested in seeing for weeks or months. But then when you go to play the file on your computer’s factory media player (Windows Media or iTunes or something of the sort) you find that the file type cannot be recognized. Suddenly, what you thought was going to be a fun movie night has been all but ruined; that or you have to do some research and figure out how to convert the file, download a different version of it, etc., all of which can be a massive headache.

Whether you are much of a digital media pirate or not, there is a good chance that you have, at one point or another, run into some form of this conundrum. Why is this? Well, the easy explanation would be that your computer’s stock media player is not usually designed in a way that can handle the vast array of file types that are out there. Add to that the fact that new file types are being introduced all the time, whereas your media player is not equipped to adapt to this constant shift.

This is why it is crucial, especially if you are a film or TV buff, to have a media player that not only performs well and is easy to use but also can read and perform any file type that you throw at it. Unfortunately, iTunes and Windows Media Player are not going to cut it, at least not in every instance.

You need a media player that is as versatile and adaptable as the ongoing and constant changes in technology themselves. For this, I cannot recommend VLC Media Player enough. Whether you are looking for a dynamic and user-friendly way to watch movies and shows on your desktop computer or mobile device, VLC simplifies and streamlines the experience every step of the way.

History

VLC Media Player is but one piece of freeware developed by the Video Lan Project, which originated as a college project in 1996. The initialism, “VLC” stands for Video Lan Client, seeing as the media player was originally just a “client” program of the Video Lan Project; however, seeing as this is no longer the case, the initialism no longer holds up (even though the name has). The original purpose of VLC was to implement a client and a server in order to digitally stream content from satellite dishes across a college campus, using the university’s network. But it has gone far beyond these relatively humble aspirations today.

VLC was the brainchild of students at the Ecole Centrale Paris, it has since been taken over by contributors from all over the world, all while coordinated and implemented by the nonprofit organization, the Video Lan Project. The media player (and, in fact, all forms of software released by the Video Lan Project) is freeware – a rare instance of 100% open-sourced technology.

It was not until 2010 that people began working on mobile versions of the media player, and the first VLC Media Player app was released on the Google Play Store for Android users in 2011. Around the same time, however, a company called Applidium created a version of VLC for iOS with a full endorsement from the Video Land Project.

However, eventually, there was a licensing conflict between the Apple Apps Store policy and VLC developer, Remi Denis-Courmant, resulting in the app being withdrawn from the App Store for iOS. It wasn’t until 2013 that the VLC app was relicensed with a more universally acceptable licensing code, thanks to the advent of the Mozilla Public License option. VLC has been running strong on iOS ever since.

Design

If you have ever used VLC before (or perhaps used a computer of a friend who had VLC), there is a good chance that you will recognize the program’s famous orange traffic cone icon graphic. This design choice was inspired by the traffic cones that were collected by Ecole Centrale Paris’ networking students when the original iteration of VLC was created.

The traffic cone icon, however, even before learning of this, always made sense to me. Because if I was ever having trouble playing a media file, I always knew I could click on VLC and the issue would be paved over. The program truly does a great deal of work, so, even if just a coincidence, it would be hard to imagine a more fitting icon for the program.

As far as the design of the media player itself is concerned, I think that the best way to describe it would be straightforward. It is pretty barebones, with the actual media content running the show (as it should). Aside from a large screen window (which, of course, you can resize to your liking), you’ll find a few simple buttons to choose from, such as play, pause, skip, stop, fast forward, rewind, full screen, etc. Additionally, there is a conveniently located audio equalizer also in the taskbar, allowing for further customization than many other media players provide.

Speaking of customization, that is another thing that makes VLC Media Player so great. It is actually somewhat difficult to speak on design when it comes to this program, seeing as VLC offers hundreds upon hundreds of predesigned skins that allow you to make VLC entirely your own. Don’t like any of the skins that are offered on the Video Lan Project site? That’s okay, too, because VLC also offers you the ability to create customized skins. The design of VLC is what you make it, really. Well, unless you are running VLC on Mac OS; unfortunately, skins are not yet compatible with Mac.

Content

VLC Media Player, as I said before, plays literally just about any file type. Whether it is a downloaded file, a disc, a webcam, or a stream, VLC will find a way to power through and make it happen. Nearly every codec, too, will automatically play with no need for special codec packs or converters. From MP2, MP4, FLAC, and MP3 to MKV, H.264, and WMV. No matter what it is, VLC, again, has you covered.

Additionally, skins are not the only way that VLC Media Player can be customized. Video Lan Project also offers hundreds of media player extensions. Browse their impressive extension library in order to make VLC work for your unique needs, whatever they may be. Enjoy add-ons like subtitle loaders, history-based shuffle, quick save/load playlist generators, and even ways to stream live television in some countries. New plugins are being developed for VLC all the time – so the sky is truly the limit when it comes to what this media player can offer.

Desktop and Mobile Experience

In the 10+ years that I have been using it, I have never had any issues with VLC Media Player’s desktop program. I have not seen a single bug or glitch whatsoever. It always runs, uses minimal CPU space, and plays all files dependably to the highest resolution that they will allow.

As far as the mobile experience goes, however, I think that the app could use some work – at least if we’re talking the iOS version. On the Apple Apps Store, VLC for Mobile only has a rating of three stars, which I think is appropriate given the apps comparatively clunky and cumbersome design.

It is not nearly as user-friendly as the desktop program, nor is it customizable. It’s a one size fits all experience that could definitely benefit from some redesigns, I think, in order to make it a little more convenient. That being said, you still aren’t going to find a more versatile media player app out there for free.

Pricing and Plans

One of VLC’s greatest qualities is the fact that it is open-sourced and free for all to use. There are no tiered subscriptions or hidden fees to worry about. From the moment you download the media player, you can immediately enjoy all that VLC has to offer. That being said, the Video Lan Project does accept donations. So, if you find that you enjoy the software, I highly recommend pitching in a few bucks if you can afford it. Freeware of this caliber is rare, so it should certainly be incentivized where possible!

Suggestions that I have for VLC Media Player

My only real suggestion for VLC would be a reworking of the mobile app. I would like to see it more closely resemble the desktop program, as it is so easy to use. Other than that, though, keep on truckin’, VLC.

Likes & Hates:
Completely customizable interface
Plays every file type and codec
User-friendly, easy to use desktop experience
Free and open-sourced
The mobile app could be improved