Saturday, July 5, 2008

Best Free "Windows Media Player" Replacement

In the past you needed to use several separate programs to play MP3 files, streaming media from Real, Mpeg files, Quicktime movies, CDs and DVD discs. But with the advent of Microsoft's Windows Media Player (WMP), all of these media types could be played in one player. Over a period of time, however, WMP for XP and Vista has become bloated and isn't compatible with all of the available file formats. Then along came WinAmp, which began as an mp3 player but now plays almost everything, although it uses a lot of system resources and may contain adware if you aren't careful on the installation. With the ever-increasing popularity of iPods, iTunes has become more prevalent on many PCs, but it also uses a lot of resources and is processor intensive. So I've done some major research to find alternative media players capable of playing all of these media formats. I was impressed, because what I found not only replaced but also exceeded the functionality of WMP, WinAmp and iTunes. The products that I've reviewed here are capable of playing multiple types of media files, including various digital audio and video formats, CDs, and DVDs.

NOTE: Some of these programs may require additional codecs for expanded functionality. For more information about codecs, including what they do, legal issues and download links, see the article, "Understanding Codecs".

Media Player Classic

My personal favorite is Media Player Classic. Available for Windows (95 through Vista), MPC looks like the old Windows Media Player v6.4, but that's where the similarity ends. Under the hood, this program packs a lot of features, including codecs for viewing DVD discs, MPEG1, MPEG2, and MPEG 4 video files, MP3 and Ogg files. MPC can also use the QuickTime and the RealPlayer architectures (if installed on the computer) to play their native files. If you really want to extend MPC's functionality while avoiding the installation of RealPlayer, WinAmp and Quicktime, download ffdshow, Real Alternative, QuickTime Alternative and WinAmp Alternative packages. They will make sure there will be almost nothing you won't be able to play. MPC is the only product reviewed here that requires no installation on your PC. This means that it can be run from your USB flash drive as well as your hard drive. (Note: there is some dispute over the legality of Real Alternative and QuickTime Alternative codec packs. ffdshow is opensource, completely legal, and should cover almost all of your needs.)

VLC Media Player

An excellent alternative to MPC is VLC Media Player. VLC is available for multiple OSs, including all versions of Windows (98 through Vista), Mac OS X, and many varieties of Linux. Most versions will support playback of most video files and DVD discs without the need to download external codec packs, including flv files, which MPC cannot natively play. VLC has another unique feature as well. There are 5 different DVD region codes. DVDs manufactured for one region will not play in players made for a different region. This applies to PC DVD drives as well... until now. VLC plays them all. There is no need for any shady (and possibly illegal DVD region spoofing programs). This is especially nice if you're an international traveler and want to watch a movie on your laptop outside of your country.

GOM PlayerAnother good alternative is GOM Player. Available only for Windows (98Se through Vista), it also will play most media files, including flv files with its own internal codecs. If, however, you come across a file it cannot play, it will direct you to the appropriate open-source codec to install. The program is a little quirky, though. I tried to play a DVD disc on two different PCs using GOM... On one it would not play it at all (and this was a machine I've been able to play DVD discs on before), while on the other PC it played it fine. One very noteworthy feature of the GOM player is its ability to play broken media files. According to subscriber Ash, "GOM Player's claim that it can play broken avi files is very true. We have a file sharing network on campus which uses DC++. Usually avi files which are being downloaded stop partway due to too much traffic. GOM Player was able to play every one of those files on my system up to the point where they stopped downloading."

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Joe Bennett. Registered site visitors can contact Joe by clicking here.

Product Specifications:

Media Player Classic:
Download Link:
Author: Gabest
Current version:
Version date: 04-Apr-2008
Download file size: 2.12 MB
License: Free - GNU General Public License (GPL)
Operating systems supported: Windows 95-Vista
Additional required software: None
64 bit version available: No, this program will not run in a 64 bit environment
Portable version available: Program is Portable
Non-English languages supported: None
Other relevant information:

  1. ffdshow:
  2. Real Alternative:
  3. QuickTime Alternative:
  4. WinAmp Alternative:

VLC Media Player:
Download link:
Author: The VideoLAN Team
Current version: 0.8.6h
Version date: 07-Jun-2008
Download file size: 8.96 MB
License: Free - GNU General Public License (GPL)
Operating systems supported: Windows 98-Vista, OS x, Various Linux distros
Additional Related software: None
64 Bit version available: Unknown
Portable version available: Yes - Available here
Non-English languages supported: None
Other relevant information: None

GOM Player:
Download link:
Author: Gretech Corp.
Current version:
Version date: 28-Mar-2008
Download file size: 4.48 MB
License: Free - GNU General Public License (GPL)
Operating systems supported: Windows 98SE-Vista
64 Bit version available: No, but this 32 bit program will run in a 64 bit environment
Portable version available: No
Additional related software: None
Other relevant information: None

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