VideoLAN Client is free, open-source video- and audio-playing software.

Commercial software warrants more attention than free or open-source alternatives, because it will be more stable and includes more features. How wrong that statement can be...

Some of the finest software available is free and can offer facilities simply not available elsewhere. One of the best examples of the creed is VideoLAN Client, an open-source video and audio player, in development for over ten years now and, at time of press, still not even branded as far as Version 1. But it's getting extraordinarily close now, and more than worthy of investigation.

Don't be fooled by the sub-1.0 release candidate name. Where many commercial software producers routinely sell you software that is riddled with bugs, adding on new version numbers to give the verisimilitude of completeness, VideoLAN Client has been stable and fully featured for more than five years of its 10-year life.

VideoLAN Client started life as a French academic project to enable schools and colleges to play DVD films over a college network. Given the restrictions mandated by the controlling DVD Forum, which tries to dictate where and how you can watch a DVD film you owned, it was perhaps little surprise that there would appear a way to work around these binds.

Indeed, there is a theory that the rise in the popularity of the DVD discs was helped not simply by the improved picture quality and versatility of a CD-sized disc when compared to a VHS cassette, but by the capability of software like VideoLAN Client, who ensured that we could enjoy on our own terms the media ‘locked' into the discs. VLC is still one of the best ways to play DVD films on any computer witout recourse to changing Region Code settings on the DVD drive itself.

The term Swiss Army knife may be over-used but it's entirely applicable to VideoLAN Client, able as it is to open and play just about any music or video file you throw at it. For music, it will play MP3, WMA and WAV of course, and also lossless FLAC, Dolby Digital (AC3), AAC, even high-grade DTS audio from DVD films. For video, it understands container formats such as VOB (for DVD films), QuickTime, AVI and more recent developments such as MTS (Matroshka).

Subtitles are recognised and available for overlaying when the necessary text file is in the same folder as the video, and font size colour and type can be readily adjusted to taste. If a video file has been rendered with the wrong aspect ratio, this can be easily adjusted between a number of common preset ratios. And for interlaced video it's possible to add on-the-fly deinterlacing using one of seven signal processors.

Post processing is another switchable option to clean up poor quality footage.

Recent additions to the software included overlaid graphics for video control when in full-screen mode (easily activated by double-clicking anywhere in the picture frame).

It's also very straightforward to create playlists, for both video and audio files, with random play as an option.

Another assett is VLC's streaming media capabilities, ideal for receiving internet radio and television stations.

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VideoLAN Client: Specs

  • Windows 98/XP/Vista
  • internet connection
  • 9MB hard disk space
  • Windows 98/XP/Vista
  • internet connection
  • 9MB hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

VideoLAN Client is an essential download for anyone that watches video or plays music on their PC. It’s a powerful tool that is now less intimidating to use, thanks to its steady refinement over several years, resulting in a less ‘techy’ preferences setup, for example.

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