The best media player for performance is…

As we took a closer look at the figures, it was again obvious just how important your choice of media player can be, particularly if you're running a lesser-powered PC.

Opening a file using JetAudio Basic, for example, could take up to nine times longer than VLC Media Player. The maximum memory demands of Windows Media Player were around four-and-a-half times that of SMPlayer or Snow Player.

We also carefully recorded the average CPU demands for each video format played, because it was obvious some formats were much more demanding than others. OGG files tended to ask the most of our media players, while the iPod and MPEG-2 versions of the file were the least demanding – unsurprising when you consider that their resolutions were sub-HD.

Having said this, some media players worked better with certain formats than others. Having taken so long to open files, JetAudio Basic excelled at playing back the HD MOV format, averaging a paltry 2% CPU usage – by contrast RealPlayer topped out its demands with 19%. If you're wedded to a particular format, the graphs below should help you pick the perfect media player for your specific requirements.

One thing that did surprise us in these tests is the relatively poor performance of VLC Media Player, our 2011 winner. Yes, it was the quickest to load files – and its format support is second-to-none, making it an excellent all-round choice where performance isn't an issue. But its average CPU utilisation left it in the bottom half of our list, although things were slightly improved by its relatively lean memory demands.

So which player won out in the end? In third place was GOM Media Player. It played all five video formats and averaged under 10% CPU utilisation across the board. But it lost out due to its memory demands, which peaked at 183MB.

In second spot was MPCSTAR. It matched GOM's CPU demands, but weighed in with a lighter memory footprint, peaking at just over 100MB. One possible black mark against it is a lack of OGG support.

The winner of our roundup was SMPlayer. It wasn't the quickest player to launch and load files, but it never took more than two seconds, which we think is an acceptable wait. It excelled where it mattered though - in CPU and memory performance. Thanks to a maximum memory footprint of just 80MB, and average CPU utilisation just that little bit more efficient than the other two players on the podium, SMPlayer emerges as the best performing media player for 2014.

MS Player launch times

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MS Player launch times

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MS Player launch times

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MS Player launch times

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* Couldn't play all our test files. Included for reference only.