Media player product reviews

6 minute read

Edit I take it back. Windows Media Player, despite debuting with Windows Vista is in fact the only solution that works. The buttons are small but manageable, and with a little tweaking, actually respects folders.

How hard can it be to find a simple to use video player for Windows 10?

Surprisingly hard in fact. The User Experience (UX) is really lacking for computer based media players, despite glowing reviews from different sites. But if audio players like Musicbee can can get it right, what’s the problem?

Am I being fussy?

You be the judge. Here’s what I’m looking for:

  1. Play videos. (duh!)
  2. User Experience (UX) - I have a 32 inch 4k Philips monitor about 2.5 meters from the couch. I’d like to see the video controls without needing binoculars. Something like Netflix would be fine.
  3. Custom Folders - I want to specify folders with video files and do this once.
  4. Respect filenames - The files need to be left where they are, and no changes made to naming or metadata.
  5. Simple to configure.

Microsoft Films & TV

App: MS Films & TV Rating: 68/100

This is a fairly basic but reasonable looking video player that comes packaged with Windows 10. It’ll organize videos by Date Added or Filename and for the most part works well. It’s when it starts indexing videos that DON’T EXIST that things get a bit hairy. MS has taken a small leaf from Apple by integrating a media store with the app, but you don’t need to use it and frankly, I’d advise against it. Who knows what MS will want to do next, and you don’t want to end up with DRM locked content.

Requirement Comment Rating
Play videos Plays most things. I think it had issues with MKV videos at one point. 4/5
UX Decent size and can see most things 5/5
Custom Folder Requires custom folders, but if the folder contents change, this can muck up the internal database. Resetting doesn’t work. 3/5
Respect files Respects filenames but ignores episode order unless explicitly stated in filename or metadata, and even then it’s touch and go. 4/5
Config Hardly any config, but the resetting of its database works intermittently which means things can get borked rather easily. 1/5

VLC Media Player

App: Videolan VLC Rating: 48/100

This is a servicable media player and ordinarily works well. It’s multi-platform, free of charge (AKA Donationware)

There’s even a Windows 10 native version, available from the Windows Store. However, this is a disaster; if it crashes whilst playing media, it’s useless.

Requirement Comment Rating
Play videos VLC will play just about anything without requiring plugins. 5/5
UX Standard UX is tiny. VLC is skinnable but I’ve ended up with much the same problem. 1/5
Custom Folder Forget it. It’ll read from default folders, and you can create playlists, but you have to constantly update them 0/5
Respect files VLC doesn’t care what the filename is. So yes. 5/5
Config Deep, detailed and not for the faint of heart 1/5

Kodi

App: Kodi Rating: 60/100

Kodi is intended as a media server, and when opened takes over the system. This is fine on computers that are dedicated to being servers, but less helpful for multi-purpose computers. It will auto-grab artwork from The Movie Database or other databases you specify, but you have to name your files in a very specific way before it’ll do this. The slightest mistake can have bizarre results. If anything goes wrong, it’s a real pain to fix things.

There is a version available in the Windows 10 store, however, take care with this as installing addons may be difficult. Windows Store apps are installed into a system-controlled folder which you can’t write to without a lot of mucking around

Requirement Comment Rating
Play videos Kodi plays most things without issue. You can install plugins if it has issues 4/5
UX Big and easy to see, but the menu dives too deep. For multi-season TV shows you have to dive down four levels before you get anywhere. It’s somewhat resource intensive and will take over the system if you don’t click a particular checkbox buried in the config. 3/5
Custom Folder Kodi requires custom folders, so this is ok, however, the UI has several places to find “Files” and not all of them behave the same. Sometimes “Files” takes you to the database view. Sometimes you can change folders. It’s not intuitive at all 3/5
Respect files Doesn’t touch files but does require you to name them in very specific way to use the system to best effect. 3/5
Config Three “views”; basic, Intermediate and Advanced. They’re all too complicated and settings are gathered logically on the one hand and illogically on the other. 2/5

Parma Video Player

App: Parma Video Player Rating: 60/100

This seemed like an interesting approach, but needs work. One problem which isn’t the fault of the dev, is that some menu and dialogs are written with dodgy English. It’s a translation issue that’s easy fixed.

What’s not easily fixed is that the app builds a list of videos by “searching” your hard drive. This picks up all sorts of stuff that’s not required and makes the list of Videos over complicated.

Requirement Comment Rating
Play videos Seems to play fine 4/5
UX Grammar errors as a result of translation issues. Indexing the entire computer to find Videos is a poor showing. Listing every single video it’s found as a circle with coverart/filename makes things hard to find. 2/5
Custom Folder You can specify a folder, but I think this is for saving files. Specifying the folder makes no difference to the search. 1/5
Respect files Seems to respect files. 5/5
Config Fairly simple, but as I say, the search going through the entire computer is a bit over enthusiastic 1/5

Don’t even bother

These aren’t even “also ran” applications. They’re either complete clones of existing apps, screw up files, or don’t work.

VLC Clones

KM Player and POT Player appear to be VLC clones and have the very same issues.

Plex

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get past the setup screen. It requires a PLEX account to play your own videos.

Media Player Classic

UX is the same as it was back when it first arrived with Windows Vista. It’ll play things, and I’m pretty sure it uses the same database as Films & TV, but the buttons are too small.

iTunes

Don’t get me started. From the hijacking of folders, inserting iTunes specific metadata and generally screwing things up, this is at the very, very bottom of the list.

Requirement Comment  
Play videos Plays most things 4/5
UX UX is circa 2004 and hasn’t improved since then. It’s too hard to find things. 2/5
Custom Folder Specify a custom folder and watch as iTunes vacuums the files into its own folders. Or you can dig a little and THEN specify the video folder, but it needs to be a single folder containing everything. 0/5
Respect files Filenames are left alone. Metadata is not. iTunes adds its own metadata fields which bork the files in any other player. 0/5
Config Apple takes any chance to drag you into its ecosystem. 0/5