One piece of software that I use every time I turn on my PC is my media software. Whether I’m watching a video, arranging playlist and albums or listening to music, I’m always opening my media software alongside of my other programs. Even if I’m doing something like surfing the internet, I usually have some mp3’s playing in the background.
There are certain things in my media software that are “must have’s” and others that are just extra features. A few of my must-have’s are: good codec support, album art view, the ability to organize my media library, good layout and syncing ability with my music player among other things.
Some things which I’d like, but are not considered “deal-breakers” are: a marketplace or attached media store, auto information updating, library searching and support for many video formats.
Just like many other things with computers and technology, preference is key and everyone one has different “must-have’s”, so I would recommend trying out a few different players and see which one fits all of your requirements. Also, some players are better for playing audio and some are best for playing video. Some require little effort to update album information and some provide little assistance with auto updating. You may find that using a few different players for each task is the way to go, but if you are like me, then you are always looking for one program that does everything satisfactory.
Some of the more-popular software out there is: Windows Media Player, iTunes/Quicktime, VLC player, RealPlayer, Zune Software, Media Player Classic, ect…
Here is a quick, concise summary of the popular choices:
VLC Player: VLC has been around for a while now, but is little known outside of the tech community. Its strongest feature is the ability to play almost any format out there. Rarely will you come across a format that VLC cannot play. However, if you are looking for a media library experience, VLC might not be your top choice. When it comes to video, VLC might be king.
Media Player Classic: A diamond in the rough, Media Player Classic is a very basic player with few controls, but will play nearly everything out there. It’s open source and made to mimic the old Windows Media Player, so it should be easy to pick up. Again, this is a basic player, so some of the more advanced features will not be available.
Real Player: Real player has been around for as long as I can remember and has always taken a back seat to most other options. It’s features includes a Media Browser, Playlist editor, Theater Mode, Visualizations, Continuous Play, Stay on top while playing option, Favorites menu, Equalizer and Video controls, Media library, ect… If you are looking for a full media experience than real media will probably deliver. The down side is that these features are only completely available in the paid-for version.
Windows Media Player 12: Probably the most popular name in media players, if only because it’s already installed when you get your PC. However, WMP 12 is a very capable piece of software and is loaded with features and format support. The newest version of WMP now comes with even more codec and format support. The media library options are easy to use and the ability to update album info is definitely a plus. For a more in-depth review of WMP 12 read this previous post, here.
iTunes and Quicktime: If you haven’t been living in a cave for the last decade, then you have probably heard the name iTunes. My personal opinion is that iTunes makes for a better marketplace for media than it does a player. That being said, it is a capable player with many options for managing your media library. Feature like Genius and Cover Flow make it one of the more modern options. Album updating is easy to use and a search feature helps the user to find media quickly. Like everything Apple, you are limited to what they allow as far as codec and format support.
Zune Software 4.2: For those who don’t own a Zune player, the software may seem a little strange. One thing Microsoft did not do is copy any existing ideas for the layout of the Zune software. Like it or dislike it, we can all agree it’s very different. With features like Quickplay, SmartDJ, social integration, auto album updating and the marketplace the Zune software is very capable of doing plenty with your media. The latest update has added even more format support. For new users, the navigation will be on a learning curve as the menus are across the top and switching between the device, collection and marketplace is a bit confusing at first. The marketplace is growing larger every day, but iTunes is still the king of purchased media in the field.
DivX 7: DivX is a well-known player that is often eclipsed by it’s even more sucessful format. Almost any movie or video downloaded in the last so many years has been in Divx format and many players and home theater equipment have upgraded their software to include support for this popular format. The actual player is another basic media player with the ability to play .divx, .avi and .mkv video with support for ACC and .mp3 audio. The pro version includes High Definition conversion abilities and a few other features. This is not the media player if you are looking for many features and a load of different support formats, but the video player is definitely worth mentioning.
Hope this quick summary helps. I know I didn’t do some of these choices justice, but I can’t write forever. As you can see, media software ranges from basic players to all out media experiences. Some do things better than others and some software does everything decently. It will be up to the user to choose which software best fits their needs. I realize that I left out some very good alternatives. If you would like your preference heard, drop a decent description in the comments section and I will add it to this list, for other users consideration, and cite you accordingly.