Once upon a time, Windows Media Player (WMP) was a lean and not-so-mean audio and video player. It did a specific job, and did it fairly
well. It was pretty much a cheap MP3 player (and a couple of other formats, too) for your desktop computer.
But like a lot of software (not just the stuff out of Redmond), WMP got a bit too big for its own good. Now, it doesn't just play audio and video. It's also a DVD player, an iTunes wannabe, a CD ripper, an interface to MP3 players, and more. Sometimes I wonder if WMP packs a death ray or a connection to my blender that will help me make smoothies.
When I use Windows, I yearn for a slimmer media player that takes me back to the old days of WMP. This kind of software is out there, thankfully. Much of it's free and it packs the punch that most people need.
Here are four lightweight media players for Windows that you'll definitely want to check out.
Often called the Swiss Army Knife of media players, VLC (short for Video LAN Client) is a wonderfully compact, yet powerful audio and video player. It supports a large number of formats — far more than any other media player that I've used. In fact, VLC has been able to play media files that other players — including Windows Media Player — have balked at. With some media files, like Windows AVI, VLC even repairs damaged files. Not always, but often better than any other desktop media player I've tried.
In addition to audio and video files that are on your hard drive or home network, VLC can also play CDs, DVDs, and streaming audio and video. With streaming media, you can use VLC to either stream audio or video on to a network or save a stream to a file. To do this, just select File > Wizard, and then select the action that you want to take. The wizard walks you through the process. Note that your results may vary and VLC will (obviously) not save streams whose format it doesn't recognize.
Admittedly, VLC's interface is pretty dull. But what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in features. On top of that, it can run on multiple operating systems: Windows, various flavors of Linux, Mac OS, Solaris, and several variants of BSD. There's also a version of the PortableApps suite.
Remember what I said about Windows Media Player having moved away from its roots? Well, Media Player Classic Homecinema has tried to return to those roots. Right down to the look and feel of the old Windows application. Media Player Classic Homecinema has the speed and the sleek visual styling of the Windows Media Player that many of us knew and loved.
But it's not just a simple clone. Media Player Classic Homecinema plays more formats than the old or new Windows Media Player, and even a few that VLC can't handle. Like what? Like Real Media and Real Audio, Apple Quicktime, and Matroska (yeah, I hadn't heard of that one either).
And, like any good media player, this one also supports CD and DVD playback. Overall, the playback isn't quite as good as VLC but it's not too bad, either. In its favor, though, Media Player Classic Homecinema is a lot smaller than VLC — the download is about 2 MB, compared to VLC's 8 MB.
Going audio only
Not everyone is a videophile. Some of us want to just listen to music or podcasts. That's where the next two media players do that and do it very well.
First up is Zinf. Zinf supports a limited number of audio formats — MP3, Ogg/Vorbis, and WAV — along with a number of streaming formats including streams from the popular SHOUTCast Internet radio. It's also a serviceable CD player.
One feature that sets Zinf apart from many of its counterparts is its music browser. The browser propecia blind date is an audio file organizer. Using the browser, you can search for all the music on your computer as well as import any playlists that you've created with another application. Once you've got your music in Zinf's browser, you can create additional playlists or just play your music on a continuous loop. It's surprisingly quick and easy.
Zinf only has a couple of drawbacks. The main one, at least for some, is that it doesn't support a number of proprietary formats like Windows Media or Real Media. And the interface isn't the most attractive out of the box. Luckily, you can add themes that liven the player up more than just a bit.
Next up is CoolPlayer. Talk about small, fast, and feisty. That's CoolPlayer. On the surface, it looks like an older version of the venerable WinAmp player. It's a lot more compact, though, and doesn't have all of the features of WinAmp (or any of the other media players mentioned in this TechTip).
Like Zinf, CoolPlayer can play MP3, Ogg/Vorbis, and WAV files. It also supports standard playlists, and can play streaming audio (at least a couple of formats) off the Internet. Out of the box, though, CoolPlayer can't play back CDs. That said, you can download a number of plugins for CoolPlayer that really extend its capabilities. Everything from turning it into a CD player to support for a number of other audio formats.
As you can see from the attached screenshot, CoolPlayer isn't all that pretty. You can, though, download a handful of skins to make the application a little more attractive. Now if there was only something I could do about CoolPlayer’s rather sinister looking default icon …
If you use Windows, you're not stuck with Windows Media Player for playing your audio and video files. There are a number of smaller, faster, and to be honest, better alternatives out there. Those alternatives are more flexible, support a number of formats that Windows Media Player doesn't handle, and they're free. What more can you ask for?