The Best Media Players for Windows


What are the best media players for the Windows environment? That’s a pretty good question. The player that comes with Windows, Media Player, is pretty good, but it has its shortcomings. Sure, it plays a wide variety of file types. However, navigating around in it is pretty tricky and there’s no way to adjust the quality of the sound to make up for deficiencies in the listening environment or the speakers being used.

I use three different media players on my computer. I use Winamp pretty exclusively for all my music. I split my video viewing between Windows Media Player and CyberLink PowerDVD.

Winamp Gives Me Control Over My Music

I’ve been using Winamp for listening to music, both the free and paid versions, for years. I can use the built in graphic equalizer to adjust for problems in the acoustics of my listening environment or the shortcomings of the speakers being used. That means if the original recording of the song is of lower quality, I can use the EQ to clean up the sound and make it sound better. The preamp also lets me give a little power boost to my speakers on poorly recorded tracks.

Creating and adding to playlists is easy and straightforward. You can either add whole folders, or select individual or multiple files to add at once. You can also scramble the playing order of your songs by either having the program play the current list randomly, or you can randomize the list. Winamp is also pretty good for watching movies, again because of the EQ and preamp, but there are annoying controls on the screen during playback. Winamp even lets you watch psychedelic music visualizations. Far out, man!

Another cool feature of Winamp is the ability to change skins on the player. Changing the player’s skin gives it a new appearance. This appearance change can be subtle — just a change in colors — or it can be complete — changing the whole way the player looks — by changing the style and shape of buttons, etc. It’s definitely one of the best media players out there.

Media Player for Almost All Your Movie Watching Needs

If you’re planning on watching a video file, I recommend Windows Media Player. There shouldn’t be anything to download and install, like with the others in this list. It’s OK for playing audio files/songs, especially when you’re playing an audio CD, but, in my book, the program is pretty weak here. Media Player also doesn’t have the visualizations option while playing music.

Where Media Player stands out the most is in playing video files. It supports most files and codecs automatically and can download many new codecs with a little nudging. File load time is also pretty good. However, my favorite feature is the fullscreen option with what I call “DND” for “Do Not Disturb.”

Every media player that can play video files has a fullscreen viewing option. However, it’s really annoying to be watching a movie and accidentally bump your desk, causing movie controls to instantly appear and obstruct your view of the screen. This doesn’t happen with the DND option (lower right of the screen when the movie is playing) selected. A simple click of the mouse pauses and restarts the movie, while pushing will exit fullscreen mode and display movie controls.

CyberLink’s PowerDVD Fills My Other Video Needs

PowerDVD from CyberLink fills out the rest of my video/movie watching needs. I use it for watching movies on Blu-Ray and DVD instead of Windows Media Player because I don’t like how Media Player handles discs and the menus they have.

PowerDVD puts direct access to the menus just a click away, just like with a component DVD or Blu-Ray player with a remote. This is great for when I want to access the special features and deleted scenes of movies. I also use PowerDVD for when I want to watch a movie in the new HD 4K format. I also like the fact that I can use the program to adjust the image and sound quality using built-in preset equalization settings. You can even toggle subtitles from within most movies using the unobtrusive onscreen controls. It’s not free, but the few bucks it costs are worth it in my opinion.

Never Be Without Your DivX Payer

DivX is one of the main movie format standards to encode movies digitally. With few exceptions, most movies distributed in avi format are encoded in the DivX format. That’s why I always have the latest DivX player and encoder/decoder installed, just in case one of my other media players won’t play the movie file, I can always run it in the DivX player and nine times out of ten, it’ll play.

Do you have a favorite media player that you feel deserves to be on the list of best media players? Let me know in the comments below.