NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2009
VideoLAN VLC Media Player – Free All Format Player
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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What started out in 1996 as a student project at France’s École Centrale Paris has now turned into an international sensation, a free multi-platform utility that can play almost every known audio and video format. This software, VideoLAN VLC Media Player is quite possibly the most widely downloaded media player in the world, with over 260 million copies downloaded, including earlier versions. As I type this, the latest version, only released in the first week of July, has had almost 10 million downloads, and is currently being downloaded at the rate of over 8 copies per second. Over three million copies were downloaded in the first 72 hours of the current release.

What makes VideoLAN VLC Media Player so popular is that it is unique because unlike its lesser competitors, it does not require any external “codecs” or media drivers to play the vast number of formats that VLC can process. While all of the previous releases were self-referred to as “beta” or pre-release versions with a version number less than one (such as 0.8), a full release with a version number 1.0.0 was released on July 7. Based on the success and popularity of the earlier versions, the version 1.0.0 was met with wild enthusiasm, and was the primary topic in many of the relevant blogs and media reviews.

I have been a user of VideoLAN VLC Media Player beta for several years, periodically downloading updated versions. When I saw that a real version was available, I jumped on the opportunity to be one of the first few millions to experience what a fine utility that this software is. Another reason for its extreme popularity is that builds of this software are available for free download in almost all popular operating systems, including all current versions of Windows, MAC OS X, BeOS, Syllable, and 12 of the most widely used versions and flavors of GNU/Linux. The program code is open source, meaning anyone can have it, and is also available for compilation in three versions of BSD, Solaris, ONX, Gentoo Linux, and Crux Linux. Downloads for all of these operating systems is hyperlinked by operating system at http://www.videolan.org/vlc. Since each download is large, about 17 megabytes for Windows, and over 8 copies are downloaded each second, there are dozens of international servers providing the downloads, with the massive data burden being spread among those servers. The download page attempts to route the download request to the closest available server. In my case, I downloaded it at home from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

VideoLAN VLC Media Player is likely the most capable and feature rich media player available at any price, dwarfing the capabilities of Microsoft’s vaunted Windows Media Player, and the dozens of commercial medial players available. By my count from the VLC features page at http://www.videolan.org/vlc/features.html, VLC can input media from 14 different sources, including online, DVD video, video CD, audio CD, DVB (Satellite, Digital TV, and Cable TV), MPEG sources, and other forms of media. It can also import audio and video from any capture devices installed on the computer. From these 14 sources, VLC can process data in nearly 20 formats, including MPEG, MP3, MP4, MOV, Realplayer, WAV, Midi, and many others. For those who like digital video, VLC supports 20 international video formats, and can interchangeably play videos in all versions of MPEG, DIVX, H.264, MPEG-4, DigitalVideo, Indeo (all versions), and RealVideo (all versions), as well as some lesser known formats. For those of us who enjoy digital audio, whether music, audio books, or any other audio source, VLC can probably play it, as it supports 29 different audio formats, basically any audio format in significant use anywhere on the globe. I have downloaded some bizarre videos and audio files in obscure formats, and I have yet to find one that VLC can not play. Simply put, this program will play almost any audio and video that can be found on DVDs, CDs, downloaded audio and video, and streaming media.

VideoLAN VLC Media Player can run as a free standing audio and video player, a Firefox plug-in (plays directly from the browser), an Internet Explorer ActiveX plug-in, or it can also be used as a server to stream in unicast or multicast in IPv4 or IPv6 on a high-bandwidth network. The interface is simple, clean, and intuitive, with a menu for Media, Playback, Audio, Video, Tools, View, and Help. A slider allows the user to go directly to any part of a playing audio or video, and a conventional VCR type set of buttons (icons) allows the user to play, rewind, fast forward, pause, and control the volume. For those who like Windows Media Player visualizations, those entertaining (or boring) dynamic figures that prance on the screen to the beat of the music, they will like the visualizations built into VLC, and accessed through the Audio – Visualizations menu. Sometimes it is necessary to convert from one digital format to another, and VLC has some conversion capability, found on the menu under Media – Convert/Save. Under the Video menu, videos can be viewed in their native size or in full screen at the users’ choices. Videos can also be made into DirectX wallpaper, where the video plays continuously on the desktop, or digital photo quality snapshots of playing videos can be created using the Snapshot tool under the Video menu. A variety of novel icons and skins can be downloaded to customize the appearance of the interface.

VideoLAN VLC Media Player is the most comprehensive media player I have ever seen or used, and it is a wonder with all of its capabilities. What is even more remarkable is its price, which is totally free. This is one utility that all computer users should have installed, especially considering that it is available for so many operating systems. With VideoLAN VLC Media Player you can play any form of audio or video that you are likely to find on any media form, both hardware and software, that you can get on a computer. In summary, VideoLAN VLC Media Player is a “must have”.

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