Windows Starter Kit

The Windows Starter Kit is a collection of some of the best and most essential freeware to get your new PC going. From browsers to productivity to utilities, we cover all the bases. If you're looking for the best in security freeware, check out our Security Starter Kit for all your antivirus needs. Essential utilities have earned their own kit, too: the Windows Utilities Starter Kit.

Video jukeboxes and playback

Miro

Aiming to redefine how people manage and watch their videos, open-source Miro deserves its praise. It can subscribe to and playback video podcasts while comprehensively managing your saved videos. When you launch the app, a left sidebar hosts a folder tree for managing your videos. The central pane does double duty for viewing videos and searching for new ones. The bottom hosts a search box for parsing through YouTube and other sites, a video control panel, and volume control.

Features include full torrent support, so you can download and view torrents in the same app, folder watching to manage only the hard-drive folders you specify for new videos, resumable playback, topic-based channel surfing, video sharing, hosting, and vodcast-creation assistance.

KMPlayer

The lack of a Help file can't keep the KMPlayer down. It's still one of the most powerful freeware video players we've seen. It includes a vast array of video- and audio-capturing options, as well as skins, a plethora of playback controls and tweaks, and broad DVD support.

Be patient for the mouse-over labels to pop up, and your KMPlayer experience should be rewarding. It supports all major file formats, and all of the minor and obscure ones we tested. It did have problems with the RealPlayer 11's video-capture IVR format, but not much else. Advanced options include frame capture and a frame-forward feature, which is actually a fractional Play button, but the difference is negligible. The Pause button is a fast responder, too. Combined with streaming TV and HDTV compatibility, playlists, and the ability to select which codec is used on a video-by-video basis, you get a media player that demands attention.

VLC Media Player

VLC Media Player offers a one-stop solution for the file-format problem. The program supports playback of every major and most minor file types, and can stream media. Because of its open-source foundation, it evolves quickly, with new features and fixes released frequently.

Though the interface varies from platform to platform, the Windows version is sparse. Skinning it perks things up, but also seems to cause unpredictable behavior. Beyond drag'n'drop, the basic task of opening a file is far more confusing than it should be. Overall, though, VLC Media Player is a must-have application for its ability to open just about any type of video file you throw at it.