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The best free video players 2021: watch videos in any format

The best free video player
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With the best free video player, you won’t have to worry about needing to download additional codecs or plugins to play your movies and shows. Unlike the video player software that comes pre-installed on your computer, the right free video player skips all the headaches of downloading codecs and plugins, and lets you start watching immediately.

Luckily, there are some great free video players to choose from. There are simple players that streamline the loading and watching process, and there are also highly advanced programs offering a wide suite of play settings at your disposal. So, whatever kind of experience you want, you’ll find a video player that will offer it to you without costing you a dime.

Enhance your video viewing experience, and choose the best free video player that suits you best. We’ve rounded up five of the best options and will share what we love about each of them.

VLC Media Player

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1. VLC Media Player

The best free video player you can download today

Specifications
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

Specifications
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

5KPlayer

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3. 5KPlayer

Whatever the source, this free video player can handle it

Specifications
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.

PotPlayer

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4. PotPlayer

A free video player with advanced customization settings

Specifications
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

Specifications
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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Michael Graw is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Bellingham, Washington. His interests span a wide range from business technology to finance to creative media, with a focus on new technology and emerging trends. Michael's work has been published in TechRadar, Tom's Guide, Business Insider, Fast Company, Salon, and Harvard Business Review.