Science

Microsoft upgraded Windows Media Player—but you might still prefer one of these apps

Microsoft never fully killed off the classic Windows Media Player, but in recent years it hasn’t exactly shown it much love either. Now the audio and video tool is back in a new incarnation for Windows 11, and even though it doesn’t have all the features of its predecessor,  it’s made a good start. 

Still, there are plenty of high-quality alternatives for Windows that might suit you better. In fact, if you need to play music or movies, you’re spoilt for choice when picking software.

Windows Media Player

You can download the new Windows Media Player for Windows 11 by launching the Microsoft Store browser from the Start menu, and then looking for “media player” in the box at the top. If you don’t see it, it’s possible that the update hasn’t rolled out in your region yet, but there is a workaround for downloading the app manually.

Once you’ve got the program up and running, you can click Open file(s) to do just that, or use the Music library and Video library links on the left to browse what Media Player has found on your computer (click Add folder if you have files stored in locations outside of the standard Music and Videos folders in Windows).

The Play queue link will show you the audio and video files coming up next, while you can use the Playlists tab to create customized lists of files for playback. At least for now, the Windows 11 Media Player doesn’t incorporate any streaming services—everything you play has to be stored locally on your computer.

Click on the three dots in the bottom right corner and you can bring up the audio equalizer or change the playback speed of your content. Finally, select Settings to adjust the Media Player color scheme, or to specify the location of all of your audio and video files.

Windows Media Player comes with Windows.

VLC Media Player

VLC Media Player has built up a loyal following down the years, and it’s not difficult to see why. The program comes packed with features, supports a wide variety of popular audio and video formats, and boasts a spartan interface that keeps the focus on what you’re playing.

The app comes with a stack of audio and video effects you can play around with, so you’re able to brighten up your movies or boost the bass on your music, for example. In fact there are so many features here that it would probably take you several hours to properly explore them all.

VLC Media Player isn’t complicated or difficult to use though—far from it. You can simply drag files on the app to open them, and you’ll have support for building playlists, streaming media across a local network, and even loading up audio and video streams hosted on the web.

To get an idea of how comprehensive VLC Media Player is, choose Tools and then Preferences. The subsequent dialog box lets you adjust everything from the keyboard shortcuts you use to control playback to the appearance of video subtitles on screen.

VLC Media Player is free to download.

iTunes

Apple still hasn’t turned the Windows version of iTunes into Apple Music, as it has done on the Mac, but there aren’t huge differences between the two. If you’re looking for a local media player for Windows 11, then iTunes remains one of the best options, whether or not you own any Apple devices or an Apple Music subscription.

Where iTunes has always excelled at is music library management. The app is perfect if you have a large digital music collection, and few other programs get close to it in terms of arranging your albums, artists and tracks out in an easy, intuitive way.

Here you’ll also find support for videos, and if you want, you can buy digital content directly from Apple. You can also sign up for a $10-a-month Apple Music subscription, which will not affect your local library, since the program will seamlessly integrate the tracks on your PC with the ones in the cloud. 

Importing audio and video files from your hard drive couldn’t be more straightforward, and iTunes will organize files into folders automatically if you want it to. We also like the smart playlist support, so you can queue up tunes based on certain criteria (such as number of plays or the last time you listened to something). 

Overall, iTunes for Windows is a pretty complete package, even if it’s a little outdated compared with the Mac version.

iTunes is free to download.

MediaMonkey

If you’re not keen on iTunes, but you still want an application that comes with a host of content management features as well as the ability to play audio and video, then MediaMonkey fits the bill. 

The app will make short work of organizing the music and movies sprawled across your hard drive, and will import any missing metadata from your files (like artist names or the years songs were published) from the internet. If you want to know more about the artists you’re listening to, MediaMonkey also gives you a direct link to their Wikipedia pages. The software supports podcasts as well, and can even stream media around your home to compatible devices (like other computers) across your local Wi-Fi network.

This is all a bonus to the main functionality, which is playing your local audio and video files—and MediaMonkey does that very well indeed. As you spend more time with the software you’ll notice plenty of neat touches, including the audio equalizer and the sleep timer, which you can use to drift off to your tunes.

MediaMonkey is mostly free, but if you upgrade to a Gold membership you get extras like automatic file organization on your hard drive and support for smart playlists that match certain criteria. Paying a one-off fee of $25 will get you all these features and a year of future updates, but if you want to fully commit, you can have a lifetime of updates for $50.

MediaMonkey is free to download. Extra features and updates start at $25. 

Potplayer

Potplayer is a simple, straightforward, no-nonsense media player, and that’s why we like it. The app concentrates on the task of displaying your videos and blasting out your tunes, and you don’t have to wade through a load of menus and settings first.

When you import or drag tunes and videos into the program, Potplayer will ask if you want to add them to the playlist or play them immediately, which is a helpful touch. The application supports a broad range of popular file formats, and it seldom crashes, so it’s rock solid in terms of reliability.

There are several advanced features included if you dig around for them, including an audio and video effects panel that lets you adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, color, and audio frequencies. You’ll also find the option to set your own bookmarks in videos, which you might want to use for going back through your favorite content.

By focusing on core functionality, the software developers behind this program have produced a tool that’s both lightweight and fast. Other media players are more impressive in terms of their interfaces and have more functionality to take advantage of, but Potplayer sticks to the basics and does them well. 

Potplayer is free to download.

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