About video players
Web browsers can stream video and audio, but a dedicated video player is ideal for viewing a file that's already on your computer. Video players (aka media players) can handle most audio and video file types, though you may have difficulty playing Blu-ray discs.
Video player FAQs
When shopping for a video player to download, there are several questions you should consider before making your selection.
Which file types can it play?
Make sure the video player software can play the types of video that you want to watch. Check the file extension of your files. For example, video.wmv is encoded in the Windows Media Video format. If you've told Windows to hide the extensions for most files, right-click the file and select Properties. The Type of File section will display the video's extension. On Download.com, the compatible file types are usually listed in the Publisher's Description section of the product page.
Does this video player have quality settings?
Popular video players also have controls that let you adjust brightness, color, saturation, and other visual settings. These can't make a grainy or dark video look pristine and bright, but they can clean up the image. Audio controls with equalizer sliders also let you tweak the treble, bass, and midtone for better clarity (or to compensate for low-quality speakers).
How does this video player handle digital rights management (DRM)?
Some media is protected by digital rights management (DRM) to prevent you from making unauthorized copies. This media can usually only be accessed by using approved software. For example, Apple's music files that use the M4P extension are intended to be played only within iTunes or on an Apple-manufactured device. It's possible to remove this DRM, but it's a legal gray area, and exploring it can lead you to sketchy websites and downloads. Trying to play DRM-encrypted media with a general-purpose player like VLC or Media Player Classic will usually result in an error message.
Is Windows Media Player still good?
For most Windows users, Windows Media Player would be a fine choice, but Microsoft stopped bundling it into the operating system starting with Windows 8
in 2012. If you're still on Windows 7
, which will continue to receive security updates until January 2020, then sticking with Windows Media Player will keep things simple.
Can you play local video files in a Web browser?
You may be surprised to hear that you can often just click-and-drag a variety of media files into a Web browser window, and they'll play without trouble. This method isn't that popular, because you don't get as many controls, like brightness and color adjustment, but it works in a pinch. The major browsers, including Google Chrome ( Windows
) and Mozilla Firefox (Windows
) can handle most media formats just fine.
Can you play Blu-ray discs on a PC?
Sometimes your PC's Blu-ray drive has bundled software that will play Blu-ray discs, but it's often a trial version -- the license usually expires after 30 days. Once that time is up, you can't play any more discs until you buy a license, which costs in the $60 range. Blu-ray software is also notoriously glitchy. If you want to watch the discs at home, you're probably better off plugging a home theater Blu-ray player into your TV. There's a lot free Blu-ray playing software floating around on the Internet, but it's almost all sketchy.
Best video players
If you can't use Windows Media Player or don't want to, the following are fine video players, and they get periodic updates, meaning you'll get new features and security patches.
VLC Media Player
VLC is one of the most popular video players around and for good reason: It's completely free. How? It's backed by a nonprofit open-source organization. There are no ads, and you don't need to give the company an email address. You just download and install it, then play your video file. However, VLC won't play feature-film Blu-ray discs by default.
Media Player Classic Home Cinema
Media Player Classic Home Cinema is the descendant of Media Player Classic, which emerged as a rival to VLC. Like VLC, Media Player Classic Home Cinema is a free, open-source app. In some cases, it may play a file that VLC cannot, or play it more smoothly. People who play a lot of locally stored media usually have both apps installed, to cover as many bases as possible. Like VLC, Media Player Classic Home Cinema can't play feature film Blu-ray discs.