Choosing the ‘best’ of anything can be a difficult task. Choosing the best media player for your computer is among those because, well, there are so many great choices. There are even a lot of great free media players.
Along with there being many different software options to sort through, there are many more features and capabilities to consider before identifying the best media player for your computer. We’ll try to pare down the list of considerations to help make that selection process simpler.
Whether you’re running Windows, Mac OS X or even Linux, there’s a player for you. The assumption here is that you are not satisfied with the built-in media player that came with your system. Many third-party providers either offer cross-platform, or custom-OS versions of their products. There still are a good many players that are Windows-only, so that narrows the field for other users. Intel Macs can operate in either OS X or Windows mode and there are some vendors that offer more advanced features only on their Windows products.
Looking for a robust media player? The free version of RealPlayer plays and converts most file formats and does a whole lot more.
MEDIA PLAYER FORMATS
What container formats and codecs do you need to play? Windows Media Player and Apple’s QuickTime are both excellent media players, but do not completely cover the wide range of available formats such as FLV, AVI, MP4, WMV, MKV and others. Often, the built-in media player won’t serve all your needs or has limited features, like Windows Media Player. Upgrade your feature set and format compatibility easily by using an independent media player. Check to see if the media player is also able to accept additional codecs to help extend its capability. Also make sure the player can handle any special audio formats you may want.
All the best media players have this ability, although be sure to check what formats are native to the video player, and what formats they can be converted to. The typical use here is to convert video from your computer to a format that can then be ported to your smartphone, tablet or other mobile device. Also, the best media players can easily convert video to MP3 audio.
DOWNLOADING VIDEO ONLINE MEDIA
With both commercial and free content readily available on the Internet, being able to download video directly to your video library with a single click is a welcome feature. This feature is available in the best free media players, so be sure to look for it.
VIDEO PLAYLISTS AND LIBRARIES
Keeping track of your video collection through a library, having playlists and the ability to easily move files around should be one of the most important features.
This is a big part of why you select a particular media player. Most players share many of the same functions, but it’s how they are presented and the general workflow that separates them. Items to check are the overall look and feel, how intuitive the functions are to access and use; whether it can be customized with skins or docking to suit the way you like to work. Do windows appear and disappear for no apparent reason? Can the interface be minimized? Is there a mini player or taskbar version?
MEDIA PLAYER SETTINGS
All media players have different layers of preferences so you can customize how the user experience by adjusting video and audio playback quality, settings for hot keys, automatic window resizing, Internet connection parameters, enabling on screen displays, and so on. These can be confusing at first, so start with the factory defaults and adjust various settings, as you get more familiar with the player.
EXTRA FEATURES IN THE BEST MEDIA PLAYERS
Since the majority of the best media players all do a great job at playing video and audio, usually have a decent media management system, can convert formats and easily download video from sites like YouTube, it’s often those extra features that make or break a media player being the right one for you.
A few things to look for:
- Does the player enable easy linking with social network sites and sharing?
- Can it burn CDs and DVDs, and is it able to burn in high definition?
- Will it display subtitles and handle other metadata, which may be embedded?
- Does is allow screenshots, including being able to capture DVD snapshots?
There are a large number of free media players for computers available from a wide range of vendors. Several, especially for Linux, are open source. But not all the free media players offer some of the advanced, extra features you may need. So check on the differences between free and paid software. Typically, the up-charge for the extra-feature, paid version is modest, from $10 to $40.
If you have any problem choosing the best media player for yourself, just let me know. I’ll be happy to answer any questions. Just leave a comment below.