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The best free video players to use in 2021 as Windows 11 approaches

Woman eating popcorn while watching something on her laptop
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The best free video player for your PC will skip the headaches and get you watching your favorite content straight away. You don’t have to download a bunch of plugins or additional codecs like you do with the pre-installed software that came with your computer, so you don’t have to troubleshoot every new video format you come across. Instead, they just work.

And, there are some great free media players available, regardless of your needs. Some highly advanced ones come with a plethora of features and play settings while more streamlined players are straightforward in their use. Regardless of what you want out of one of these programs, you’ll find one that will do the job without you having to open your wallet.

Currently, our top choice for a free video player is the rock solid, open source VLC Media Player, which has yet to fail us. It comes with a lot of customization features and is compatible with just about every operating system, even mobile ones like iOS and Android. And, it’s a reliable option regardless of the video file format.

To help you pick one, we’ve collected our top five picks and shared what we loved most about each one of them.

VLC Media Player

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1. VLC Media Player

The best free video player you can download today

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
Reasons to buy
+Plays almost any video file+Can tweak playback quality+Supports plugins
Reasons to avoid
-Steep learning curve

VLC Media Player is the go-to free video player if you’re looking for a software that can handle whatever videos you throw at it. This extremely versatile software can play 360-degree videos, movies and clips up to 8K resolution, and videos in compressed file formats. The real challenge isn’t getting files to play with VLC Media Player – it’s finding videos that this software won’t play.

This free video player also offers an impressive array of tools and controls. You can tweak your video settings to improve the playback or audio quality, as well as add filters to change the look of individual clips. VLC Media Player also works with synchronous subtitles, which is helpful for watching movies with the sound turned off.

The only major big downside to note about VLC Media Player is that the interface hides a lot of these tools. There’s a significant learning curve to accessing and applying some of the more advanced features.

Read our full VLC Media Player review

GOM Player

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2. GOM Player

A feature-packed free video player with lots to offer

Operating system: Windows
Reasons to buy
+Friendly layout+Handles 360-degree video+Supports screencasting
Reasons to avoid
-Bundled extra software

GOM Player offers a lot of advanced functionality for playing back videos. The software can handle 360-degree and 8K videos, as well as offers the option to play Youtube videos on your desktop. The settings for tweaking video playback aren’t quite as extensive as what you’ll find in other software options, but they’re much friendlier to use when you’re just getting started with the video player.

Among the best free video players right now, it comes with a wide variety of codecs, but it also has a searchable codec library so you can play back just about any type of clip. The player is compatible with synchronous subtitles, and you can even import entire playlists using a file type such as *.pls or *.asx.

GOM Player also supports screencast, so you can connect your computer to your television or a projector and play on a larger screen.

Just be aware that the download comes with several additional programs bundled in the installer. You'll need to be prepared to dismiss them if you decide you only want the video player.

Read our full GOM Player review


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3. 5KPlayer

Whatever the source, this free video player can handle it

Operating system: Windows, macOS
Reasons to buy
+Can stream from YouTube+Supports 360-degree video+Resolutions up to 8K
Reasons to avoid
-Contains ads

5KPlayer is one of the more comprehensive free options for not just watching videos, but managing your entire video collection. The software allows you to add your entire computer video library, so you can select videos from within 5KPlayer rather than searching your hard drive. On top of that, you can stream videos right from Youtube and use Apple’s AirPlay to display videos across multiple devices.

The player supports just about every type of video format you’re likely to come across, including 360-degree and 8K videos. The settings for managing your audio and video playback are pretty versatile, although they don’t quite stack up against the controls you’ll find in VLC Media Player.

The one thing to watch out for with 5KPlayer is that the free model is supported by ads. They won’t show up while you’re watching a video, but they can be annoying while you’re searching your library or tweaking settings.


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4. PotPlayer

A free video player with advanced customization settings

Operating system: Windows
Reasons to buy
+Supports 3D videos+Automatically updates codecs+Includes screen recorder
Reasons to avoid
-Can be tricky to navigate

Among the best free video player out there, Pot Player is an incredibly powerful program. It has a massive array of codecs built in and offers support for not only 360-degree and 8K videos, but also 3D videos. If you throw a file format at this software that it doesn’t already support, Pot Player will automatically download the needed codecs for you.

You wouldn’t know if from just looking at the user interface, but Pot Player also contains a free screen recorder and free video editing software under the hood. The options for customizing video playback are very impressive, while hotkeys allow you to access your most-used settings without a hitch.

As if all that weren’t enough, Pot Player is surprisingly lightweight software. It loads faster than just about any other video player, free or paid, and uses up relatively few computer resources even when playing back large movies.

Read our full Pot Player review

Media Player Classic – Home Cinema

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5. Media Player Classic – Home Cinema

A modern take on Windows' old built-in video player

Operating system: Windows
Reasons to buy
+Customizable toolbars+Huge library of filters+Supports most file types
Reasons to avoid
-Some options hard to find

Media Player Classic – Home Cinema is the updated version of the old Windows standby. It’s come a long way since it first launched over a decade ago. In fact, the newest version is not only a strong competitor to the likes of VLC Media Player and other free playback options, but also one of the best free video players to hit the shelves.

What really sets Media Player Classic – Home Cinema apart is the fact that it has customizable toolbars. This makes it significantly easier to access and use the wealth of playback customization options. While the user interface as a whole is pretty sparse, the menu layout makes it relatively simple to find the controls you need.

Helpfully, this software is also very lightweight. It’s designed to work on the same computers that the original Media Player Classic worked on, which means it takes very little processing power. Still, it supports almost every type of media file, including 360-degree and 8K videos.

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