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What is a Media Player?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A media player is a software program designed to play multimedia content as it streams in from a network like the Internet, or from local storage on a hard drive or other resource. It might be expected to understand and translate several audio and video codecs, covering many digital music and video formats.

Patrons of Apple products like the iPod® and iPhone® will have iTunes® installed, a versatile media player that, like Microsoft’s WMP, has many advanced features. These large, comprehensive programs not only act as players but as multimedia libraries, rippers and burners.

Having an all-in-one media player works for some, but others prefer their favorite proprietary software for tasks like ripping and burning. These people might opt for a player that serves just one purpose: a streamlined, small program that executes fast, does its job, and stays out of the way. Something without the flash, bang and glitter of larger, bloated players.

One of the most popular in this category is a free, open-source media player called VLC™. Originally designed by students at a French university, VLC is now a global project with worldwide contributors. It is popular for a number of reasons, including its cross-platform flexibility, at home on all popular operating system, and its ability to play what is perhaps the widest variety of codecs of any player. VLC will even play an .iso file, a format that normally must be converted to an MPEG or burned to DVD before playing. Best of all, VLC has a small footprint that executes fast, uses few system resources, and does a great job of streaming live multimedia content.

No matter your preference, there is no shortage of media players to choose from, nearly all of which are free. Many, including VLC, have browser plugins so that the player will automatically open music or movie files while surfing. Even if you prefer an all-in-one player, installing a faster program can be handy for this purpose.

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Discussion Comments

By Mae82 — On May 12, 2011

I enjoy using VLC as it has so much user added content that it is constantly evolving.

I find this important because many of the mainstream corporate funded players only get their updates once a month, or a few times a year. This can be very frustrating with the constantly changing encryption and new file formats that are popping up.

Also, for those who are Mac users, VLC also makes a high-quality version for you. So you don't have to worry about reading files.

As for appearance, I find the interface pretty bland, but it does do what you need it to do. I will take functionality over aesthetically pleasing any day.

By animegal — On May 11, 2011

I have found it really difficult to find a good media player that does everything. There are so many kinds of encryptions on videos and music that at minimum I have three or four players on my computer at one time.

Does anyone know of a good player that can handle DVDs from multiple-regions?

I love collecting movies from all over the world, but it is terrible having to carry around a region free DVD player that needs an adaptor. I really need something that will allow me to play my DVDs, MP3s and MP4s, as well as avi files.

By anon40043 — On Aug 05, 2009

What media streaming device is best for audio and having it play in multiple rooms?

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