Free FLV Player (Credit: CNET Networks)

Sometimes, you just don't need the whole enchilada. Freeware video players like The KMPlayer, GOM Player, VLC Player, and others are excellent at what they do and are generally lightweight, but they look like top-heavy refrigerators compared with these nimble and zippy yet similarly named Flash players. But are Free FLV Player, FLV Player, Riva FLV Player, and BitComet FLV Player all the same, or does one pull ahead of the pack?

Getting right to the meat of it, there is one player that stands out: Free FLV Player. It stands out as a solid, reasonable program that does what it says, offers a bunch of options in the deal, and does it all without predatory advertising.

The program starts off with eight skins, most of which provide significantly different looks beyond just a new coat of paint. The options menu, which is only right-click accessible, provides hot-key and menu access to several useful choices. These include fixed resizing to double the original size or full-screen viewing, maintaining the aspect ration, and smoothing, along with nearly 20 languages and rollover hints. It also has a built-in screencapper.

FLV Player (Credit: CNET Networks)

The app is not without its flaws, though. When installing, users must opt-out of downloading a video format converter made by the same publisher, the URL downloader doesn't work with YouTube, and it will only play non-FLV formats like MP4s or ASFs if you're running Windows XP--Vista users only get FLV support. In fact, all of the players we tested promised to be able to download Flash movies from the Web when provided with a URL, and none could. Still, Free FLV Player is light on resources, loads from a 1.44MB installer, and generally performs as promised.

The other players aren't bad, either, but none of them have the bells and whistles that Free FLV does. Overall, FLV Player is pretty good, although its installer is slightly more than double the size of Free FLV. But this is 2008 and not 1988, so the difference between 1.44MB and 3.18MB is negligible. The exceedingly simple controls allow you to navigate backward and forward through videos and play them in a loop. You can also adjust the volume, mute it, and adjust the size of the player. The Settings menu provides some basic control over program behavior, such as opening a new player window when double-clicking on an FLV file and remembering previous settings. And that's about it.

One complaint is that the display window doesn't automatically resize to the size of your movie frame. We hope this problem will be remedied in future versions. FLV Player isn't a must-have by any stretch, but it's a decent tool for penny-pinching Flash developers.

Riva FLV Player (Credit: CNET Networks)

Riva FLV Player is even more modest than FLV Player. Users can navigate backward and forward through the video, and can loop them. An extra button that looks like an arrow toggles, keeping the player on top of all other programs. The interface is simple and self-explanatory, and the playback didn't cause any trouble during tests. Riva automatically adjusts the display window to the size of the movie, an important touch.

For the small number of people who need a program like this, Riva FLV Player is a reasonable choice. It's not much more than skin and bones, though--hardly enough for a meal.

BitComet is best known for its torrent-downloading program, but the BitComet FLV player is not a bad Flash playback device. It's not going to blow your socks off, though. The sparse layout is too lean, and you might want to look elsewhere unless you're a die-hard BitComet fan.

BitComet FLV Player (Credit: CNET Networks)

The program loads to a black screen with a simple Play button in the lower-left corner, and a counter and volume control in the lower right. On the Menubar, File gives you access to a URL loader for directly playing FLVs from the Web, View lets you double or triple the size of the window, and Options controls file associations and languages packs. A fourth category, More FLV, provides FLV managing instructions posted on the BitComet forums. Without even the ability to loop the video, we'd like to see more features added before using it again.

Most people don't need anything more than a Web browser and a Macromedia--sorry, I mean Adobe--plug-in to watch Flash videos. However, if you want a hair's breadth more control over your viewing, these open-source freeware programs will do the trick. For two hairs' thickness of control, go with Free FLV.