Updated: August 30, 2009
Tina Turner did not know that when she wrote this song she was prophesying the future, as she was singing about a mighty little media player that would come to life almost two decades later.
VideoLAN (VLC), a player started as a student project and turned into one of the best, most popular media players worldwide, has recently had a birthday - turned 1.0. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to write about it and just show you how great it is. So, join me for a spin. If, after reading this article, you are not convinced you should be using VLC, then I have failed as a human being.
VLC plays an infinite number of file formats
VLC is no stranger at Dedoimedo's. I have praised VLC's stunning codecs capabilities on many an occasion: it featured in my sweet collection of Windows programs two years ago; then it was a star again in my recently published mega-article on best Linux software and yet again in the A-Z Windows guide. And it's a regular guest in almost every Linux distro review.
What makes VLC really unique is that it will play virtually anything - music, video, RealMedia, QuickTime, Flash, you name it. If VLC cannot play, the file is probably not a media file.
Apart from being just a media player, it can also do some really fancy stuff, like play incomplete movies, which makes it very useful for previewing downloads before they are fully finished. For example, in eMule, go to your Temp folder, select any which .part file currently being downloaded and open it with VLC player. It can also open .ISO files and stream live casts over a large range of protocols.
Another excellent feature is the DirectX Wallpaper: the ability to stream video directly onto the desktop in Windows. Do forgive me for blurring the taskbar, will you ...
VLC can stream live to monitors or High-Definition TV, preview MPEG Transport Streams while they are being digitized by HDV cameras via FireWire, record the desktop, take screenshots of played video media. And more, so much more.
Region-free DVD player
VideoLAN smartly ignores the soul-enslaving encoding on DVDs and plays them just like any other file, without restrictions. If you've ever wondered about taking your computer with you across the world and fiddling with regional DVD settings, of which there's a limited number on Windows, you need no longer fear.
When it comes to subtitles, VideoLAN is the application you want. It will automatically detect and load the subtitles. For more details, you may want to read my subtitles article.
VLC also allows you to manipulate media files on the fly. You can change the color balance, rotate the video, sharpen the picture, crop the output, add an embedded watermark-style logo, and even produce output video as ASCII art.
Here's an example, from yet another excellent Turkish sci-fi movie, A.R.O.G., the sequel to fantastic G.O.R.A. movie. If you even remotely like the sci-fi genre, these two movies are an absolute must!
If you want to catalog your media files, VLC is the right tool for the job, again. It allows you to edit the metadata of your files, including the standard fields as well as customs extras, if you're interested.
In case you need to edit your media files, the Codec Details tab will provide a wealth of information on the audio, video and subtitle streams you're currently playing, helping you identify the formats used.
If you want to enjoy VLC on the move, fine, no problems there. It runs on all operating systems, including the major three, and is also available as a portable application for Windows.
This means you need not compromise, as you can take VLC anywhere you go.
The default VLC look is quite pleasing. It's calm, soft and practical.
Still, if you like tweaking, you can mod VLC to look like anything you want. Here's a pair of crazy skins I found on the official site:
You may also go for more moderate looks, like Media Player Classic and Windows Media Player. For example, VLC on MacPup features VLC skinned as WMP 11.
To wrap this lovely tutorial, here's a short gallery of a few select movies played in a VLC on different machines - Windows, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and others. Here's VLC playing the sweet Big Bucks Bunny movie, created entirely with Blender software:
Frankie, the protagonist of Yo Frankie! game, up to some serious mischief:
Arif, taking on a dinosaur ...
With close to 15 million downloads in less than a month since the 1.0 release, VLC definitely shows its immense growing popularity. What more, its earlier versions have been downloaded in excess of 100 million times.
VLC has everything you way need or want from a media player. It will play just about anything. Additionally, it is stable, robust, modular, portable, and skinnable. With the built-in update function, it's a breeze to maintain and always keep top-notch. In four words: a perfect media player.
So go out there, grab it and enjoy the best media software available. You will never again need hunt for codecs or wonder how you may get that tricky little format to play. Whether it has once been encoded on a dusty VHS tape, whether it's an encrypted DVD with Icelandic fonts or raw data from a VHD camera streamed using IR, VLC will have it. And to close the article on the same note as the opening, VLC, you're simply the best.