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A brief overview of VLC

There are many media players in addition to the ubiquitous Windows Media or
Quicktime players. I use and often recommend VLC Player as a one-stop tool to play just
about any format.

In this video for an Ask Leo!
, I’ll show off a few of its features.


View in HD (1280×720)


VLC player. VLC player is a replacement or an alternative to Windows Media Player to basically a dozen other different media players. You can see that it’s available here from It’s a free download; it’s once again ‘donation ware’ – if you feel like donating to the cause, you can.

VLC’s single biggest claim to fame is that it can view almost any format that you might have on your machine. I’ve not yet found something that it can’t play. I’ve ended up making it the default media player on almost all of my machines.

To show VLC, I’ll show two different things. I’m going to show you first, videos. This particular video is a .3gp video that was taken on my phone basically at the same beach we were at for an earlier trip. The video quality (I’m not really sure how well GoToWebinar is going to play with this), but you can see that it plays the video just fine.

There are two issues in the video quality that you are probably seeing live and that would be GoToWebinar’s not necessarily able to keep up with streaming video and second, coloration I’ve noticed here is just a little bit off and that’s because I’m actually doing this with a virtual machine and not on my desktop. You’ll have to trust me that when this actually plays on a real desktop, it actually looks really, really good. So that’s the video…as I’ve said, I’ve yet to find a video format that I’ve not been able to throw at this thing and just have it work. It’s been very useful for that.

And I’ll also end up using it as my MP3 player. So I’ll just go ahead and pause Pink there for a moment. As an MP3 player, it does fine; it will do playlists; it will do everything that most of your other MP3 players will do (you’ll see here that it’s building up the playlist and showing you exactly what it’s playing). Again, it’s a very simple program that handles a large number of file formats. Once again, I think it can play almost any audio file you can conceive and think of. It may or may not be able to play Reel; Reel tends to be kind of funny that way, but it is a very useful and ubiquitous media player.

It’s not the prettiest thing in the world; I’ll absolutely admit that. We’ll fire this thing back up again. You can skin it; I typically don’t (I believe you can skin it) preferring to stick with the basic interface, but by and large, everything that you might want to do with a media player is in VideoLan’s VLC player.

Can I answer any questions about VLC?

Does it contain all of the necessary codecs? To the best of my knowledge, yes, all of the statements I’ve just made about it playing everything that I’ve thrown at it, I’ve done with it just out of the box. I’ve not needed to download any additional codecs. The only caveat that I’ll throw out there is that it is possible that it relies on some of the codecs that may already installed on my system but I don’t believe that’s necessarily true. I’ll also point out that VLC is, in fact, multi-platform. VLC is available for the Mac and also on Linux.

What would happen if you added ‘k-lite pac’? Honestly, I’m not sure; a) I’m not sure that you need to, but b) I’m fairly certain that once again, it will just work.

Can you use it to record? I don’t believe so. It’s fundamentally a player so its focus is playing media, not necessarily recording it. Typically for recording audio, I recommend tools like Audacity if you’re trying to do audio or if you’re trying to do video, any of a number of different video applications, depending on the function that you’re attempting to perform.

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11 comments on “A brief overview of VLC”

  1. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that it won’t play well with Firefox and completely take over media playing duties so that I don’t have to have Quicktime installed. I don’t like Quicktime because it tries to take over media playing and I haven’t trusted Apple since they tried to make Safari my default browser when I didn’t even know they had installed it. I know, I’m an unforgiving sort.
    Hopefully HTML 5 will fix it so that this will no longer be a problem but it could be that I am just dreaming.

  2. Come on .. VLC is nowhere near good , it’s buggy and slow and its development pace is just dead, the only advantage that player has is being cross-platform.
    For me using codecs – though complicated – is the best all round solution , you’ve got system wide support for foreign files like MKV , RMVB and FLV with thumbnails and everything.
    I really like the combination of Shark007 Codecs + KMPlayer , they are free and they do the job perfectly .

  3. I believe it’s called K-Lite Codec Pack and it does indeed work just fine; I’ve got both installed and even both running (well, the Windows Media Player Classic that comes with K-Lite) and there are no conflicts.

  4. I’m kind of split here.. As much as I want to praise VLC for being a decent free multi-video player, crazy as it sounds, WMP actually will play a DVD without any staggering unlike VLC on a clean install on Windows7. I have tried this on multiple OS installations, and for some reason VLC doesn’t have a smooth DVD playback like WMP (Windows Media Player).

    I, however, still support VLC over WMP due to my history with WMP being lame and stealing other player codecs over the years just to play certain videos etc. Maybe VLC may need tweaking to get it to play DVDs smoothly, but I hav’nt taken time to tweak around with it.

  5. I tried VLC, tried to live with WMP [a funny beast], and finally Media Player Classic [MPC]. With VLC, I found I was always having to stop what I was doing and configure something [many times I had no idea what I was actually supposed to do]. I tried MPC, and it has worked fine once downloaded-never a problem. Never.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all based on how your computer is configured. A real broad term that means if it works great after installing, keep it, use it, enjoy it. My brother has VLC, and it has worked flawlessly. Not for me.

    Overall, the VLC/MPC platforms do what they are supposed to do – play various forms of media. I’ve given up with WMP, too many quirks that prevent us from playing media. Especially when WMP couldn’t play it’s own WMV files. Hooray for open source software.

  6. Thanks for the tip on VLC Leo. I’ve just been trying it today and it seems absolutely great so far. Time will tell but I plan to use it exclusively and see how it works long-term. I’ve completely given up on Quick Time-it has been nothing but a bother and Apple keeps trying to push things off on me. But for my iPod, I’d remove Apple from my machines for good. I’ve also liked DivX but VLC seems a big improvement over that in that it will play everything. VLC has also allowed me to remove Media Player (which I’ve never liked) from my machines Great tip Leo!

  7. VLC turns out to be a truly great player, thanks Leo!

    The VLC that comes with Ubuntu Lucid Lynx 10.04 LTS is obsolete (won’t play some formats properly), so you _must_ add “PPA” to your repositories – and through it fetch the new VLC version – which works beautifully for all formats! The instructions are on page :

    Command line way
    % sudo add-apt-repository ppa:lucid-bleed/ppa
    % sudo apt-get update
    % sudo apt-get install vlc vlc-plugin-pulse mozilla-plugin-vlc

    Ubuntu PPA repository is much too useful for all sorts of applications to be ignored: see “What Is An Ubuntu PPA & Why Would I Want To Use One? [Technology Explained]” on page

  8. Leo – thanks for your video introduction to VLC Player. I use VLC a lot just because, as you say, it will play almost anything. But there’s an aspect which I dislike strongly, and I wonder if there is a way to change it. Once installed, VLC put an orange-striped-cone icon on every video file on my computer, replacing any other icon that was previously there. (I’m referring to the icon at the beginning of the file name as seen in list view in Windows Explorer or an equivalent such as PowerDesk Pro.) I have been unable to find a way to revert back to the original icons. Is there a way that you know of? And is there a way to prevent that wholesale icon-heisting at the outset? Many thanks.

    Those icons aren’t part of or really associated with the file. The way Windows works is that it displays the icon of the program that would be used to open the file. When you change the default program for a particular file type – as installing a programn like VLC will do – then the icon for all files that it now opens by default is changed.


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