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Top Audio/Video Players for PC

written by: Matthew Becker•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 9/16/2008

Functionality, user friendliness and organization: these are the things that we consider most important when it comes to using a media player. Ease of organizing videos and music, how well the software works, and how much the program can do all has an effect on whether or not we will use it. This guide will list the top audio and video players available today, along with their features and drawbacks.

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    How this guide works

     Like previous guides I've written this lists features and their setbacks.  The program listed at the top of the list doesn't display a ranking difference in performance and quality compared to what's listed at the bottom of the list.  However, this list will display the most commonly used programs on top first, and lesser known software towards the bottom.

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    iTunes (+ Quicktime)

     

    Features

    • Many ways to organize your playlist

    • Various playback options (cross-fade, sound check, etc)

    • Sound check modifies the volume slightly of each song on your playlist to close the gap between certain songs (such as certain songs that are louder and quieter than others)

    • Direct connection to the iTunes store so that you can purchase albums online

    • Compatible with different varieties of media (wav, mp3, amv)

    • Many different burning/importing options, such as bit rate and file type

    • Store allows you to purchase movies and certain TV episodes

    • Network sharing

    Drawbacks

    • Requires Quicktime in order to play video with iTunes

    • Can consume a good portion of memory, even for simple tasks

    • Takes a while to load on slower machines

    • Incredibly dull design

    • Could use adjustable skins

    • Songs downloaded from the iTunes store (m4a) can only be synced to an iPod

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    Windows Media Player

     

    Features

    • Customizable appearance

    • Good compatibility with several different MP3 devices

    • Easy enough to track down album artwork

    • Several different ways to organize audio playlists

    • Multiple visualizers for audio files

    • Easy-access controls when minimized to task bar

    • Automatically detects which codecs are required to play certain types of video files

    • Picture integration: add your own photos

    • Network sharing

    Drawbacks

    • Menus and program themselves require a bit of a learning curve

    • Does not always determine which codecs are needed should they be lacking in order to play a video file properly

    • Doesn't sync with the iPod, nor does it support Podcasts

    • Has a long way to go before it catches up with the features and usability of iTunes

     

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    Winamp

     

    Features

    • Customizable appearance by downloading (or designing for yourself) different skins

    • Easy enough to use

    • Access to several online radio stations, such as XM radio

    • Podcast support

    • Allows syncing to multiple MP3 players, such as the iPod

    • Sufficient video playback

    • Makes significant upgrades and changes with every new release

    Drawbacks

    • Flimsy design; poor organization of different windows, audio controls, etc

    • Could use better access to online stores

    • Free version only allows 2x burning and ripping

    • Pro needed in order to encode MP3s, WMAs, etc

    • More features and accessibility available in other media players, such as iTunes and Windows Media Player

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    RealPlayer

     

    Features

    • Has made significant strides to create a far more usable product

    • Syncing and compatibility with different MP3 devices: allows music downloaded from their store to be synced onto an iPod

    • High quality AAC songs can be purchased from their store

    • 5.1 surround sound playback for DVDs

    • Plug-in allows you to download video files from streaming websites such as YouTube

    • Pause live TV streams

    • Cleaner, more organized menus allow for users to effectively build up a video playlist

    • Those who are familiar with iTunes will navigate through RealPlayer's menus with relative ease

    Drawbacks

    • Extra features such as burning DVDs requires purchasing RealPlayer Plus

    • Difficult to find the Basic player on the website; download links automatically take you to the Plus player

    • May be too little, too late for Real Player?  Poor, buggy programming has left this company with a bad reputation in the past

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    Adobe Media Player

     

    Features

    • Clean design

    • Access to different streaming content

    • Easy enough to flip between channels

    • Can potentially display great video quality, depending on the connection

    Drawbacks

    • Runs on Flash, so expect to do more downloading if you don't have it installed already (which isn't unlikely)

    • Loading streaming video can be very sluggish

    • Expect to see plenty of advertisements while using this player

    • Managing video downloads is frustrating

    • Could use a better variety of content, but more will certainly be added in the future

    • When downloading, it doesn't give the status of how the download is coming along

     

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    DivX Player

     

    Features

    • Identifies missing codecs immediately, and says which ones are needed in order for certain video files to play properly

    • Whether or not you use the player, you'll need some of its codecs in order to play certain videos

    • Plays a variety of different media, such as AVI, MPEG, and MP3

    Drawbacks

    • Installation a bit of a hassle

    • Runs Adware whenever the player is loaded

    • Limited features; mostly offers just playback

     

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    Screens

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    MidWavi

     

    Features

    • Clean look

    • Plays a variety of media, from music to videos to photos

    • Playlist and slideshow is easy enough to create and organize

    • Enhanced searching

    • Can even edit images and send them to be printed

    Drawbacks

    • Shareware: full version must be purchased to continue use

    • Dull appearance

    • No synchronization options

    • Limited features

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    Screens

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    VLC Media Player

     

    Features

    • Open source, which allows for endless customization

    • Powerful tool, fully featured for free

    • Plays a variety of media, including OGG, MP3, WMA, AVI, MPEG, etc

    • Comes with codecs such as FLAC, MP4, and Raw DV

    • Good hotkey support

    Drawbacks

    • Appearance needs a bit of tweaking

    • Skin selection could be better

    • For Preference changes to be made to the program, it must be restarted

    • Playlist is limited and buggy, something which will hopefully be fixed in later versions

    • No sync support

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    MediaMonkey

     

     

    Features

    • Catalogs and manages all of your various audio files: Mp3, WAV, WMA, OGG, etc

    • Comes with CD and DVD reading/writing abilities

    • Supports plug-ins from other media players on your computer

    • Looks up missing album art

    • Automatically adjusts volume levels (like iTunes)

    • Can synchronize multiple types of MP3 devices

    • Convert certain files into other formats

    • Loads of different playback and organization features; great for DJs along with others who have a media library of several thousand songs

    Drawbacks

    • For improved CD burning, enhanced synchronization and searches, a commercial version must be purchased

    • Cluttered interface, with limited skin selections

    • Features and learning curve may be overwhelming to some users

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    Screens

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    OrangeCD Suite

     

    Features

    • Powerful cataloging tool, allows you to organize your MP3s, CDs, Tapes, and even Vinyl records

    • Downloads missing track information from the internet

    • Plays back a variety of media, including MP3, OGG, FLAC, WMA

    • Integrated search, allowing the user to look for prices on certain album information

    • Customizable information can be added to each song, including artist information, lyrics, reviews, etc

    Drawbacks

    • Shareware only; a trial version is available, but product must be purchased in order to keep using it

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    Screens