Sunday, 16 October 2005

Great free Windows software, part 2

by Charles Pooter

In part 1 I recommended a useful utility that added to the functionality of Windows. Now I will recommend a program that makes up for a deficiency in Windows.

Windows had no built in DVD playback. I'm not sure why this is. It could be that Microsoft would have to pay a gargantuan sum to the DVD consortium or it could be that they were worried that it would give anti-trust regulators another excuse to soak them for cash. Whatever the reason, it is annoying and it means we need to install an extra program to view DVDs. Thankfully a few years ago, a Norwegian named Jon Johansen cracked the CSS encryption used to protect DVDs against playback without a licence. This means with the right software anyone can play a DVD without paying anyone else any cash. Now I'm sure Jon intended this to allow DVD playback on Linux and other open platforms, but he opened the can of worms and he can't stop those worms also helping us evil Windows users.

The best solution for us would be something that made use of the libcss library to play DVDs in Windows Media Player. I have never been able to find such a thing (let me know if you have). So the next best think would be free DVD playing software that runs on Windows. VLC Media Player is just that and more. VLC media player plays DVDs for free, so you don't need to buy WinDVD or PowerDVD or any other software, but it also has the following genuinely useful features:

  1. Free playback of MPEG4 formats such as XviD and DivX (so no need to download other software, which may be nagware or spyware).
  2. Playback of various other "open" formats such as Ogg Vorbis.
  3. Video streaming, which means you can stream video to other PCs on your home network.
It is also stable and relatively easy to use. It is a tad on the ugly side, but compared to a lot of open source software it is a real looker. If you can be bothered, you can add "skins" to tart it up.

1 comment:

Mark J said...

I've been using the VLC for so long that I no longer consider it the best media player out, I consider it the only media player worth using. When I first started using it years ago I had a couple of other players installed for the occasional file that didn't play under VLC. Now I haven't used any other player for videos or audio for at least 3 years. Windows Media Player? I probably have it installed but I'm not sure, I haven't checked. On a 5 star rating system, I'd give it a 6+.