The easiest way to watch, save and share your videos.

What are the Best Media Players for Windows?

by Tom Volotta on March 27, 2012

Best Media Players For WindowsGuess what? There is no absolute “best” media player for Windows. There are simply too many excellent alternatives available offering enhancements, versatility and reliably beyond that of the Windows Media Player built into the operating system for one to stand out completely from the crowd. We’ll list many of those choices in this post, but we’re not going to crown a champion. Among the group of the best media players for Windows may be the best free media player for you, or perhaps an enhanced version at extra cost that offers more advanced features. If you aren’t sure what your needs are yet, you might want to learn more about what to look for when comparing video player software.

EVEN FREE MEDIA PLAYERS SUPPORT MANY FORMATS

That’s part of the problem of selecting a player. Because technologies are always progressing, new ways of packaging and delivering digital video make it a constantly moving target for media player developers to keep their products current, and able to handle the latest file formats being developed as standalones or designed to be embedded through Internet streaming. You’ve seen these format lists before: AVI, FLV, MP4, WMV, MKV, MPEG (in various flavors), MOV, OGM, 3GP, RealMedia, QuickTime, VOB and so on.

For the typical user, it’s can be like a rat’s nest of complex techno-babble, when all you simply want to do is play your favorite videos on your Windows PC.

One of the other difficulties in picking a player is that every manufacturer would like you to believe their products are able to play all the formats, when in fact that isn’t true. Some of this discrepancy is due to different tiers of free and paid products within a lineup. Extra cost add-on features and codec packs could extend the format and reach of the respective players though.

There are many other factors that go into choosing a media player.

Looking for a media player that does it all? Use RealPlayer to play audio and video files, create playlists, transfer videos and music to a phone, and convert videos into different formats.

SOME OF THE BEST WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYERS

Lists abound on the Internet for opinions on the best free media player or best paid media player software. Narrowing the field down to Windows-only is not of much help, since that operating system represents the bulk of consumer and corporate computers out there to begin with. A lot of competition has built up in the making of media players for Windows.

Here’s a list of popular media players that offer a similar range of features including; playing many different formats, capturing screen shots, skins, media libraries, built-in browser, social media sharing, 5.1 surround sound, DVD burning features, smooth playback, plug-ins, flexible user interface, video converter software and other features as alternatives to the standard Window Media Player (in alphabetical order, not quality or preference):

  • AL Player
  • BSPlayer
  • DivX
  • GOM Player
  • JetVideo/JetAudio
  • KMPlayer
  • Media Player Classic
  • RealPlayer
  • RulesPlayer
  • SMPlayer
  • VLC Player
  • WinAmp
  • Zoom Player

COMPARING PERFORMANCE AMONG SEVERAL MEDIA PLAYERS

For a bit more technical assistance to help your search be more objective and detailed in evaluating players, here are some bench test results. These are looking at raw CPU and RAM utilization with a variety of video and audio formats, and not assessing user interfaces or other software features mentioned above. They tested 16 different media players, and did select a performance winner.

IT’S HARD TO GO WRONG

With so many excellent media players available, it’s going to be more difficult to find a bad player than a suitable one. A good bit of the selection comes down to the features you need or want, the workflow through the user interface and how you like the look and feel of the player. Make sure first of all that it does indeed play the file formats you want. If you like a particular player, but it does not play what you want, you may either be able to upgrade to a Pro, Plus or other extra cost version of the product to get that capability.

The key in finding the best media player for Windows is whether it delivers the set of features that work for your needs and style. It’s that combination of playing the video and audio formats you require, technical performance on your computer, the functions the media player offers, and how they are brought together through the interface to provide you with a tool that is easy to use and reliable.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Malik April 12, 2012 at 8:02 am

I really enjoy the article.Really looking forward to read more.

2 Tom Volotta April 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Thank you, Malik. There are more in the queue.

3 KiD April 15, 2012 at 4:58 am

so which one is the best???

4 Tom Volotta April 17, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Ah, yes, the magic question. As I said in the piece, it’s harder to find a bad one than find the absolute perfect player for you. Assuming all things being equal (which they aren’t) in terms of the file formats and codecs the player handles, it comes down mostly to the overall feature set and ease of use. Do you like the interface? Are the tools you need simple to use? What tools besides a simple player are available? The other thing to keep in mind is that the more you use a software tool, the easier it becomes for you to master the basics, and to discover and use the extra features.

Personally, (and you should remember I am in fact paid by RealNetworks to write as objectively as I can about all subjects) I do like RealPlayer. I’m particularly fond of the Library, with its numerous ways to organize clips, access format converters, send videos to social web sites, the automatic, one-click download and so on. Again, I’ve used it so much I find it very simple to get a lot of different things done with little effort.

There certainly are plenty of excellent players available, and most do all the same basic things. It’s the other features and user interface that make the difference to me. Lots of free players for you to download and try out.

Sorry I couldn’t give you THE answer about which is “best.”

5 John April 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I thought real player was the best… based on sound, simplicity and reliablity. However, THIS happened..

my realplayer stopped working. So many issues, I wont list them. I had tech help 3 times. never was anything resolved. In fact its worse. Nothing works now, Ive redownloaded countless times and tech help in their chat. One time the tech told me theres nothing wrong, and did nothing. He said it was probably a copyright issue. It wasnt because they were the same songs from the same sites as I’ve successfully recorded, downloaded and posted countless times before and believed it was the best. Now I dont know what to think and they havent even gotten back to me.
Only once one of their techs DID successfully seem to fix it, but didnt make clear what was wrong or why things continue to happen… It worked for a few days.

Next and current… the tech said its fixed, He said it wasnt installed properly and that he uninstalled it and reinstalled another one along with whatever else was necessary and that its fine now. Perhaps foolishly, I just took his word for it. I went to use it and nothing. I MEAN NOTHING WORKS. Sometimes I cant even get it to appear even though it ln my programs, and the downoad this vide appears and if it downloads, I dont know where its going, becasuse its not going to the realplayer, its not playing anything, accessing the library, or anything at all. So, again I tried and this time for the first time I complained. Besides that, I get ‘this warning that the website is not safe due to crtificate issues on their chat help page. So I sent a message just asking a simple question, is this your correct URL and if so, whats that about, the answer came back as we dont aswer technical questions here, which I’m not sure it was. And to go to the chat and from that same page or site with the security issues. On top of that and there is a lot I’m leaving out, I paid for it again because I had to re-download and though it said it wouldnt re-charge me, it did this time and I notified them also about that, same, no answer or anything. No refund paying twice, not fixed after 3 techs entered my computer and no answer regarding the security issue due to a faulty certificate. Plus the last time when the tech went in, and was done, a warning came up saying your computer may be at risk… I looked into it and discovered that my firewall had been disabled. Of course I questioned him and he said he didnt touch it…. who did? I know I didnt. I wasnt even right there at the computer and didnt touch it until I saw he was finished and to chat and ask if there was anything else I needed. I noticed it (warning) come on while he was working on it and figured it was something he had to do. I’ve been more than patient and polite, this last time inculded, but did emphasize all of this. No one has gotten back to me, its been about a week or more. If anyone has any suggestions and NOT just letting another one of these techs screw everything up and not solve the issue before I get answers especially with the bad certificate and whats going on, I’d appreciate hearing from you. I also havent called them yet, I have before but now frankly, I’m getting disgusted…….. thanks, John

6 Tom Volotta April 20, 2012 at 1:53 pm

WOW! Sounds like you’ve really been through the wringer, John.

I don’t even know where to begin in trying to diagnose what’s happening, but it seems to me you’ve got several problems going on at once, each contributing to mess with the others. I guessing there are three issues contributing to your difficulties. Possible virus or malware, picking up some cranky bit of code from whatever website you’re downloading content from having to do with DRM, and needing a clean install of RealPlayer.

The first thing I’d do is run a virus/malware scan to see if there are complications there.

Second, I’d definitely avoid any website that tells you up front that it is not safe, and is advising of a bad certificate. I’m not sure if this is a site you’ve successfully downloaded and played content from before, but past performance doesn’t necessarily mean whoever is running the site isn’t doing something bogus you should simply stay away from.

Third, do yet another UNinstall of RealPlayer. Make sure there aren’t any hidden files or DLL codes that are left behind which may have been corrupted (possibly by the website that said it wasn’t safe.) Do a complete shutdown, power up and download a fresh version of RealPlayer.

If those simple steps don’t help, then I’m afraid I’m out of suggestions. I can’t help but think that website you’ve been getting content from has something to do with all this.

Maybe you need to contact Microsoft tech support to have them run a check on your system? Could be something they’d notice that the RealPlayer techs aren’t seeing because they’re concentrating on RP, not your overall OS.

Sorry I can’t help more.

7 shahbaz Khan May 13, 2012 at 6:56 am

lol at the short comments!! :D
BTW Great Article

8 Tom Volotta May 13, 2012 at 11:04 am

Glad you enjoyed it.
BTW: this is the first time anyone has said I write anything ‘short.’ It’s usually a struggle for me to keep from blathering on and on!

9 nikhil July 17, 2012 at 8:45 am

Are paid media players are more efficient than free one’s!!!!!?????

10 Tom Volotta July 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm

More efficient? It depends on the particular functions you require the media player to perform.

Paid media players typically use the same core engine as their free counterparts. Upgrades fall into two categories: additional features not included in the free version, and enhancements that CAN improve efficiency. Using RealPlayer as an example, the $49.99 upgrade to RealPlayer Plus gives you DVD burning (not available in the free RealPlayer) along with faster (more efficient) transfers to devices like mobile phones. RP+ has other advantages too.

So, assuming you’re ok with spending the extra money in the first place, determine what features in a media player are important to you, and select the one, free or paid, that best meets those needs. Most all of the paid versions can be freely downloaded for an evaluation period. Compare several to learn which is best for you.

…TV

11 Enterprise July 28, 2012 at 9:47 am

Whether paid or free version of a media player,
I found VLC media player the best

12 Tom Volotta July 28, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I like the VLC player also, and have used it off and on over the years on both Mac and Windows machines for different purposes. VLC is a free, open-source program that runs on Windows, Mac OSX, GNU/Linux and several other operating systems. It also handles an extensive range of file formats and codecs. All that has contributed to its image as a versatile, universal player.

For me though, the Graphical User Interface in RealPlayer is superior, allowing a very smooth workflow. In particular, the Library acts as the central hub for many features, including routing files to the format Converter. The RP converter is also very intuitive and flexible. I find VLC’s Streaming/Transcoding Wizard (converter) interface to be typical of the traditional, Windows dialog-based style.

The RealPlayer Downloader is also nice, as it is designed to only activate the “Download This Video” button when a legal video is encountered online. Downloaded files are automatically placed in the Library.

As with all software, it comes down to the features you need and want, combined with your individual ease-of-use factor.

…TV

13 League of Legends Rp Generator August 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm

You actually make it appear really easy with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be really something that I feel I would by no means understand. It kind of feels too complex and extremely extensive for me. I am having a look forward in your subsequent put up, I will try to get the hang of it!

14 Tom Volotta August 21, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Well, that’s why the piece leads off with, “Guess what? There is no absolute “best” media player for Windows.” Download some free versions to get familiar with various features from different developers. Narrow it down by what you “need” then what you “want” and finally which product has a user interface and workflow you like. Sorry to be wishy-washy. It’s simply that there are many excellent media players. My preference is software that integrates many features, rather than having to use separate products to accomplish the same thing.

…TV

15 Mike January 1, 2013 at 5:55 pm

JetAudio is awesome. Was surprised when I didn’t see it on the list.

16 Tom Volotta January 3, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Mike,

A glaring oversight on my part. Have added JetVideo/JetAudio to the list.

Thanks for the heads-up.

…TV

17 c80 January 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm

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this board and I to find It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot.
I am hoping to offer something again and help others like
you aided me.

18 Tom Volotta January 21, 2013 at 10:22 pm

c80,

“Help” is our middle name.

Happy to be of service. Come back whenever you need assistance or just want to check things out. Lots here.

…TV

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20 Tom Volotta January 24, 2013 at 11:31 am

Happy you found the article useful. Bookmark the site and come back often.

…TV

21 モンクレール January 17, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Wow, superb weblog format! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The entire look of your site is magnificent, neatly as} the content material!

22 Tom Volotta January 22, 2013 at 11:25 am

Thanks for the compliment on the format. It is good. Others did the design.

Blogging may look easy, but it isn’t. Been writing for several years.

…TV

23 UserName January 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm

This website is great.

24 Tom Volotta January 22, 2013 at 11:21 am

Thanks.

…TV

25 Wendy March 11, 2013 at 10:06 pm

I prefer AL Player, the GUI is simple but the best.

easy install and simple interface buat still elegant
i love it

26 richard waller April 4, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Hi, when I had XP I did not have any problem downloading any video. Now I have windows 7 and after installing VLC or RealPlayer over and over I still can not save and download any videos to my pc Realplay or VLC or any type. Is windows 7 a problem downloading and is their a fix to capture videos and download them to my pc?
Thank you, maybe you have a method I can try.

27 RealPlayer Team April 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm

HI Richard,

Performing a clean uninstall and reinstall can help you resolve many issues, try uninstalling and reinstalling RealPlayer by following this link:

https://real.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/8721.

Make sure you delete the RealPlayer folders as mention on the link before reinstalling RealPlayer.

After installing RealPlayer, please enable the RealPlayer Plugin in your Internet Explorer by following this link:

https://real.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/8883

If that doesn’t work, send an email to help@real.com so that we can help you further.

28 Upsetter June 2, 2013 at 10:30 am

Honestly if we put aside all the nice skins and plugins and look purely to
quality there is Foobar 2000 and nothing else no realplayer or winamp or vlc that comes even close
its one of the few players that lets u use an Asio driver, but then again a lot of u probably use soundblaster cards and so on and will never hear the difference on pc speakers…

29 Captain Algeria June 22, 2013 at 6:55 am

In my experience, all “Media Players” differ in only 3 reliable criteria:
1- Performance: when we talk about this, we mainly speak about the software core; memory consumption, playback formats, video bugs…etc.
2- Quality: audio and video quality, some players do not have the ability of overriding the volume capacity like “vlc” and “kmplayer” do, the modern softwares use new tech to enhace the visual quality like “divx” does…and let’s not forget about the theme, people nowadays like fancy-looking media players that has easy or user-friendly interface.
3- Settings: the more they have, the handy it becomes, I’ve seen others with size over 80 mb like “AVS Media Player”, but it sucked in many ways. why not? I found in kmplayer settings that are unavailable in vlc or GOM….fully customizable, it suits me, I’m using it.
See people? There is nothing about best or worst, it’s just a matter of taste.
anyway good thread though, thanks man keep me posted.

30 Mindy M Schimmel October 4, 2013 at 11:57 am

I’m looking for a video player that allows me to display elapsed time in big numbers that I can read from a distance. And if possible, elapsed time total, elapsed time in chapter, etc. Does such a thing exist?

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