VLC: An Excellent Media Player (Finally) Turns 1.0.0

vlc_media_playerThere’s nothing worse than a video player that won’t play all of your video files. That’s why I’ve long been a fan of the free VLC media player: It plays back just about every kind of file you can throw at it. And, finally, several years after the first version was released, VLC media player is now available in version 1.0.0. If you’ve never used VLC, now is the time to start.

VLC media player is an open-source application from VideoLAN that runs on Windows, Mac OS and Linux. (For a full list of supported OSes, see VideoLAN’s site.) You may not think you need an application to play back videos, with so much browser-based content available these days, but downloading VLC is a no-brainer if you want to watch any kind of offline content, whether that’s stuff you download (legally, ahem, or not) or even DVDs you pop into your computer.

While VLC competes with apps like Windows Media Player, comparing VLC with Microsoft’s (s MSFT) media player is not the best way to take stock of its features. Windows Media Player works as a repository for your multimedia files, organizing and playing them back for you — as long as those files are compatible, that is.

VLC, meanwhile, is lean and mean: It doesn’t tax your system resources, and it plays back just about any kind of video file you have, even DVDs. You do have to organize and find those files yourself, and the player lacks some refinements. I wish, for example, it had easier-to-use fast-forward and rewind controls.

Most of the rough edges remain in version 1.0.0, and its minimalist interface looks just like that of version 0.9.9. (That screenshot above? It’s all you see when you launch the software.) Under the hood, however, version 1.0.0 features several improvements, including live recording, finer speed controls, support for new HD codecs (including AES3, Dolby Digital Plus, TrueHD, Real Video 3.0 and 4.0, among others), full-screen video scaling, the ability to play back zipped files, instant pausing and frame-by-frame support, and more.

In my tests of 1.0.0, my HD videos looked a bit sharper than they did when using earlier versions, especially when played back full screen. I also noticed clearer and louder audio playback from the new VLC app. The finer speed controls that VideoLAN is touting did not appease my desire for fast-forward and rewind buttons, but that’s about my only complaint.

Version 1.0.0 is a solid upgrade. Overall, the app seemed more stable than previous iterations. And if you are using an earlier version, there’s no reason not to take advantage of the free upgrade. But the biggest selling point of VLC is its ability to run on nearly any OS and to play back just about any file, which it’s always offered. In the time I’ve been using VLC, I’ve yet to find a video file format it won’t play.