After Hours

Five free desktop media players

If Windows Media Player falls short of your needs, you might prefer one of these free third-party alternatives.

Although Windows includes a general purpose media player, there are many third-party media players you might like better. This article lists five of the more popular desktop media players.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: VLC Media Player

I first discovered VLC Media Player (Figure A) several years ago when I had trouble getting Windows Media Player to play a particular file. Since then, I have found that VLC has been consistently able to play files that simply won't play on some of the other media players.

Figure A

VLC Media Player

The other thing I like about VLC Media Player is that you can easily adjust the playback speed. I use a lot of video based training products to keep my IT education current. Often times, the video classes tend to be really long, and I simply don't have the time to sit through a 20-hour class every time I want to learn something new. With VLC, I can set the playback speed to about 2.5X and breeze through the training classes.

2: GOM Media Player

GOM Media Player (Figure B) focuses on making your videos look as good as they possibly can. When you launch GOM Media player, it asks you whether you want to run the player in normal mode, high quality mode (which is optimized for high end computers with HD displays), or in TV output mode. The setup process also lets you indicate whether your computer is equipped with surround sound.

Figure B

GOM Media Player

GOM Media Player lets you adjust things like the aspect ratio, the hue, and saturation of video playback. There are a number of settings that allow you to optimize the video playback experience. Furthermore, GOM Media Player includes a number of audio and video codecs. (Yes, the player can also be used for audio).

3: Zune

I installed the Zune software (Figure C) on my PC for no other reason than that my Windows Phone 7 device and my Zune HD required it. Although I don't use the Zune software as my primary media player, there are a couple of things about it I really like.

Figure C

Zune

For starters, Zune makes it really easy to navigate your media collection. Music can be sorted by artist, album, genre, song, or playlist. Unfortunately, the software does a better job organizing music than organizing your videos. Videos can be sorted as movies, TV, personal, or other, but there is no way to divide movies into genres (Action, Comedy, etc.).

The other thing I really like is that when it comes to playing music, Zune produces noticeably better sound quality than Windows Media Player.

4: MediaMonkey

I discovered MediaMonkey (Figure D) a few years ago when I was having trouble getting my Sony Walkman X to display album art. At the time, MediaMonkey was the only application I could find that could copy music files and album art to my Walkman X in a format it liked.

Figure D

MediaMonkey

Aside from working well with Sony media players, MediaMonkey's real niche is that it works really well for managing large music collections. The software includes a number of auto tag features you can use to associate various attributes (including album art) with songs in your collection. To top it all off, MediaMonkey even offers CD / DVD burning capabilities.

5: Audacity

Audacity (Figure E) is more of a sound editor than a media player, but I just had to include it in the list because this is such a great application. I use Audacity all the time for recording podcasts and other audio. The software features multi-track recording and editing capabilities.

Figure E

Audacity

In addition to basic sound editing, Audacity allows you to generate various effects, align tracks, and even plot an audio spectrum. Audacity includes a mindboggling number of options, and when it comes to sound editing there is very little that this application can't do.

Your pick?

Do you have a favorite media player you think belongs on this list? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

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