Media Player Classic-Home Cinema (MPC-HC for short) is a true classic among media players. It can play nearly every media file format, both audio and video, and also plays DVD content. With its old-school interface and widespread customizability, it may not be the best choice if you're looking for a click-and-forget player for video and audio files. But those who require more control over their media playback will appreciate the extra options MPC-HC offers. Since this program is lightweight, it's compatible with nearly every Windows edition since 98 (which it still supports). Moving forward in time, MPC-HC is compatible with Windows 8.
MPC-HC's user interface has always emphasized function over form, and it's hard to imagine a more efficient media player layout than this classic design. You can customize most of MPC-HC's parameters from an extensive Options dialog as well as other places throughout the player, but alarming skins aren't on the menu. Lots of performance and behavior options are, though, such as two check boxes for associating MPC-HC with Explorer context menus by files, directory, or both, as well as Internal and External Filters; separate output options for DirectShow, RealMedia, and QuickTime video; and a page full of extra Tweaks like customizable Jump Distance and Windows 7 Taskbar options.
MPC-HC has a Playlist, of course, but it also has a Shader Editor, Renderer Settings, customizable Pan & Scan, and Command Line Switches. The Web-based Help file is actually light on help; there's a development wiki and changelog, but no manual to speak of -- as we noted, MPC-HC may not be the best choice for beginners, and it's helpful to know your codecs from your frame rates when setting things up.
But let's be clear: Media Player Classic-Home Cinema is a top performer with enough genuinely useful settings to suit nearly every user. It lets you play a wide range of videos in their native formats, and it has those unexpected options that can help you get the best out of less-than-perfect media. MPC-HC is totally free and extremely light, so it's a great alternative to some well-known bloatware masquerading as media players.