In this article, I share five of the best free media players for Windows. If you have suggestions for other media players, let us know in the comments.
I chose these media players with the following requirements in mind:
- The media player should play most file types out of the box.
- The media player should be free and not include adware, spyware etc.
- The media players should work on all recent versions of Windows (XP, Vista, and 7.)
Windows Media Player 12
Windows Media Player 12 comes bundled with Windows 7 (so it’s pretty much free after you purchase your Windows 7 license–let’s just call it free) and is, in my opinion an excellent media player that packs the following features:
- Plays all kinds of file types—including 3GP, AAC, AVCHD, MPEG-4, WMV, and WMA. It also supports most AVI, DivX, MOV, and Xvid files.
- The new Play To feature streams music and video to other PCs running Windows 7 or compatible devices around the home. With Remote Media Streaming, you can enjoy music or videos on your home PC from the road.
- The new Now Playing mode is a study in minimalism: It shows only the controls you need, so nothing comes between you and your music or video.
- Features smarter DVD playback, 15-second song previews, Jump Lists for fast access to favorite media.
I don’t use Windows Media Player, but I still think it’s a great program. Hopefully it’s featured in future versions of Windows and there’s no antitrust suit against it (IE8 ring any bells?)
Useful Windows Media Player links:
- Download Windows Media Player 12
- Download older versions on Windows Media Player
- Windows Media Player FAQ
Media Player Classic
If you’re looking for a program that plays all kinds of files, uses low system resources, and doesn’t try to impress you with visual effects, you should try Media Player Classic. Much like VLC (see below), this player plays most video files and it runs on almost any hardware without slowdown (of course depending on the encoding of the media.)
Some features of Media Player Classic:
- Supports the following filetypes: WAV, WMA, MP3, OGG, SND, AU, AIF, AIFC, AIFF, MIDI, MPEG, MPG, MP2, VOB, AC3, DTS, ASX, M3U, PLS, WAX, ASF, WM, WMA, WMV, AVI, CDA, JPEG, JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, D2V, MP4, SWF, MOV, QT, FLV.
- Support for EVR (Enhanced Video Renderer.)
- Supports Subtitles.
- Playback and recording of television if a supported TV tuner is installed.
- Supports Multi-Monitor configuration.
Download Media Player Classic
VLC Player is my media player of choice (other than for my media center, which I use Windows Media Center–which I didn’t include because it doesn’t come with all versions of Windows.)
Here’s some features I really like about VLC:
- The software is regularly updated.
- VLC is free of bloat, it loads quickly, and plays almost every file type I throw at it.
- Subtitles and alternate language files are supported (so I can have Macedonian subtitles and Afrikaans audio… of course!)
- I can use VLC to record an instream from my desktop or webcam (great for screen-casting and surveillance.)
- Did I mention it’s completely free?
Download VLC Player
I don’t own a Zune; I’d like one though! You don’t need to own a Zune to use this great software. Here’s some marketing jazz:
- Quickplay – Get instant access to the stuff you care about most with shortcuts to favorites, recently downloaded or played music, videos, and more.
- Smart DJ – From any artist, album, or song, Smart DJ will generate a related playlist from the music on your computer and new music from Zune Marketplace.
- Mini Mode – Putting the Zune software into mini mode while listening to music allows you to use your other programs while continuing to see what’s playing.
- Mixview – Launch into Mixview from any artist or album and discover a mosaic of connections to other artists, albums, and fans.
Everyone I’ve spoke to that uses this software (that’s three people!) really like this program and highly recommend it.
Download Zune Software
Well, it made it to the list. Yeah, this program isn’t anything new but then again, neither are the previous programs I listed! iTunes is a very popular program and I (begrudgingly) use it frequently. As I use an iPhone and am still trying to find a good iTunes alternative, this program does the job. Here are some of the features I (really) like:
- Easy home network sharing between PCs.
- A free Remote App for the iPhone/iPod touch that lets you control playback remotely.
- Genius playlists that send your (hopefully legitimate) collection information to Apple and use this information to make Genre-based playlists and new music recommendations.
- The ability to separate Audiobooks (now called Books in the latest version of the software.)
- A clean easy to use interface.
The things I like least about iTunes is the huge install size, added services, and slow operation. Other than that, this is a solid media player.
What did I miss? Which programs do use use to play your media? Let us know in the comments.
Rich is the owner and creator of Windows Guides; he spends his time breaking things on his PC so he can write how-to guides to fix them.
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