The growing popularity of YouTube, DailyMotion and other video streaming websites over the years has led to the rise of the VLC player - a program that can play videos and audio files encoded in a wide range of formats.
VideoLAN's VLC Media Player is one of the most popular having been downloaded more than 1.1 billion times (add 134 million to that number if you want to include OS X and other platforms). It's a functional suite, featuring impressive codec support, but you may find it too complicated (or simplified) for your needs.
If you're looking for a similar alternative with a slightly different feature set - whether it's support for cloud storage, the ability to convert files or play jazzy visualisations - there's a ton of alternatives at your disposal. We've picked out five of the best so that you don't have to.
It's important to note that the following programs will try to install third-party add-ons onto your machine that aren't necessary for them to function properly. As such, we advise that you read the instructions carefully and manually opt out of installing anything you don't need.
If you have any suggestions for alternative VLC players that haven't made it into our list, let us know in the comments section below.
Launched back in 1995, RealPlayer is a golden oldie. The program has matured into a slick multimedia tool that supports of a wide range of video formats - including proprietary RealAudio and RealVideo (RA, RM, RV and RMVB), in addition to MP3, MPEG, Windows Media Player and Flash Video (FLV). By acting as a central repository for all of your media files, RealPlayer lets you make playlists, bookmark videos on webpages, burn CDs, DVDs, stream videos and more.
Recent versions have improved mobile support, and you can now transfer music from your smartphone to your PC, and visa versa. There's also support for Google's Chromecast streaming dongle, which means you can now plug one into your HDMI-equipped TV and download the RealPlayer app (on iOS or Android) to take advantage of a myriad of services - from Netflix and YouTube to BBC iPlayer.
2. Free FLV Converter
Though HTML5 has been growing in popularity for some time when it coms to streaming video, many videos on the internet are still encoded in the flash format (.FLV). While the availability of browser plug-ins means that computers can easily play such files, smartphones and tablets often can't, so files have to be converted before they can be played. Free FLV Converter can convert .FLV files into more formats than you can shake a stick at, including AVI, 3GP and MP4, allowing them to be viewed on anything from an iPod to an iPhone or smartphone.
Free FLV Converter is also handy in that it lets you search video portals within the application itself to find what you're looking for, which is a much quicker and convenient way of finding (and watching) videos on certain topics than manually repeatedly typing out search queries. You can choose to search all supported websites or individual ones, and multiple videos can be downloaded and converted in batches.
Winamp is another venerable video player having established itself in the mid 90s. The fully-featured media player stands out for being highly customisable - whether that's in terms of installing visualisations or changing its appearance through its hundreds of skins. It supports a huge range of video and audio formats, including MPG, MPEG (ES, MP3, MP4, PS, PVA, TS), MP1, MP2, MP3, MP4, MTM, M2V, M3U, M4A, NSA, NST, NSV and OGG.
Winamp's killer feature is its extensive plug-in library, which can bolster functionality in a similar way to how browsers such as Firefox and Chrome can (through add-ons and extensions respectively). These range from installing dcodec packs for playing different file formats to adding extra functionality - such as the ability to rip DVDs.
iTunes receives a lot of bad press from frustrated Apple gadget owners who run into trouble with the program (usually when trying to upload or download content onto their i-Devices). However, despite not offering support for as many formats as other FLV Media Players, it still stands as a solid multimedia player - particularly if you own an iPod, iPhone or iPad. iTunes supports all video content purchased from the iTunes store, in addition to QuickTime and MPEG-4 movie files that end in .MOV, .MP4 and .MV4. You can also play video podcasts, iTunes Digital Copies and iTunes Store Movie Rentals.
Being Apple software, one of the major boons of opting for iTunes as your video player is that you can wirelessly stream what's on your iOS device onto a big TV. AirPlay-enabled output devices such as AirPort Express and Apple TV work with iTunes to let you access your content around the home, which is something that other players can't offer.
5. FLV Player
Whereas RealPlayer and Winamp strive for customisation and deep functionaltity, FLV Player prefers to keep things simple. In addition to playing .FLV files, you can zoom videos to full screen, create and save playlists and play videos in slow motion.
If you're low on hard disk drive space or simply need a minimalist program that takes a no-nonsense approach to playing flash files, FLV Player is about as straightforward as you can get.