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Video Players: Choosing the Best

You want to know about playing Blu-rays, file compatibility, important settings, and VLC vs Media Player Classic. We have the answers.

Apps in this Guide

Web browsers can stream video and audio, but a dedicated video player is ideal for viewing a file that's already on your computer. Video players (aka media players) can handle most audio and videomore

Web browsers can stream video and audio, but a dedicated video player is ideal for viewing a file that's already on your computer. Video players (aka media players) can handle most audio and video file types, though you may have difficulty playing Blu-ray discs.

Judging Windows Media Player today

For most Windows users, Windows Media Player would be a fine choice, but Microsoft stopped bundling it into the operating system starting with Windows 8 in 2012. If you're still on Windows 7, which will continue to receive security updates until January 2020, then sticking with Windows Media Player will keep things simple.

Playing Blu-ray discs on a personal computer

Sometimes your PC's Blu-ray drive has bundled software that will play Blu-ray discs, but it's often a trial version -- the license usually expires after 30 days. Once that time is up, you can't play any more discs until you buy a license, which costs in the $60 range. Blu-ray software is also notoriously glitchy. If you want to watch the discs at home, you're probably better off plugging a home theater Blu-ray player into your TV. There's a lot free Blu-ray playing software floating around on the Internet, but it's almost all sketchy.

Handling digital rights management (DRM)

Some media is protected by digital rights management (DRM) to prevent you from making unauthorized copies. This media can usually only be accessed by using approved software. For example, Apple's music files that use the M4P extension are intended to be played only within iTunes or on an Apple-manufactured device. It's possible to remove this DRM, but it's a legal gray area, and exploring it can lead you to sketchy websites and downloads. Trying to play DRM-encrypted media with a general-purpose player like VLC or Media Player Classic will usually result in an error message.

Video player quality settings

Popular video players also have controls that let you adjust brightness, color, saturation, and other visual settings. These can't make a grainy or dark video look pristine and bright, but they can clean up the image. Audio controls with equalizer sliders also let you tweak the treble, bass, and midtone for better clarity (or to compensate for low-quality speakers).

Playing local video files in a Web browser

You may be surprised to hear that you can often just click-and-drag a variety of media files into a Web browser window, and they'll play without trouble. This method isn't that popular, because you don't get as many controls, like brightness and color adjustment, but it works in a pinch. The major browsers, including Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox can handle most media formats just fine.

Checking file type compatibility

Make sure the video player software can play the types of video that you want to watch. Check the file extension of your files. For example, video.wmv is encoded in the Windows Media Video format. If you've told Windows to hide the extensions for most files, right-click the file and select Properties. The Type of File section will display the video's extension. On, the compatible file types are usually listed in the Publisher's Description section of the product page.

Recommended Video Playing Apps

Media Player Classic Home Cinema

Media Player Classic Home Cinema


Media Player Classic Home Cinema is the descendant of Media Player Classic, which emerged as a rival to VLC. Like VLC, Media Player Classic Home Cinema is a free, open-source app. In some cases, it may play a file that VLC cannot, or play it more smoothly. People who play a lot of locally stored media usually have both apps installed, to cover as many bases as possible. Like VLC, Media Player Classic Home Cinema can't play feature film Blu-ray discs.

VLC Media Player

VLC Media Player

VLC is one of the most popular video players around and for good reason: It's completely free. How? It's backed by a nonprofit open-source organization. There are no ads, and you don't need to give the company an email address. You just download and install it, then play your video file. However, VLC won't play feature-film Blu-ray discs by default.