A video player on Windows determines what video format you can play on Windows and what files you can watch. On Windows, there are two popular media players: Media Player Classic – Home Cinema (MPC-HC) and VLC Video Player. But there must be a better one in any two things. So, Which is the better free video player: MPC-HC vs. VLC? We believe you can get your own answer from the head-to-head comparison below.
MPC-HC vs. VLC, Which is better video player?
Best video support: MPC-HC
I’m not sure why it surprised me, but MPC-HC played HEVC (x.265) files flawlessly, including 4K with decently high bit rates. I’d expected this from VLC, whose authors are almost fetish-like in supporting everything, but VLC didn’t play the 4K files as smoothly. VLC skipped frames like they were going out of style. This won’t affect many users now, but it may soon.
What’s more, MPC-HC played nearly everything else I threw at it. There was one exception: an old MPEG-1 file that VLC won’t handle either. Both also had a hard time seeking in certain WMV files, though VLC was quicker on long jumps. On the other hand, MPC-HC did play another older MPEG-1 that choked VLC. Both programs played VCDs and DVDs (even commercial ones), nicely handling the menus and other elements, and both played non-protected Blu-ray movies, too.
There was another factor: The stark difference between the way the two programs react to a file they don’t understand. When VLC runs into a problem, it often goes into a loop that requires several attempts to break out of. Sometimes killing the VLC process tree using task manager is the only solution. MPC-HC simply doesn’t play a file it doesn’t understand. It might be nice if it displayed a frown clown instead of just sitting there, but that’s being picayune.
MPC-HC’s new-found stability with video seems due to replacing its old internal DirectShow filters with Nevcairiel’s excellent LAV filters. The release notes for version 1.7 actually stress the increased stability. LAV is based on the popular GNU-licensed FFmpeg.
Best streaming support: VLC
This one was a laugher for VLC. It’s called VideoLAN for a reason. Just paste a URL into the “Open Media Stream” dialog and if access is allowed, you’re streaming YouTube and what have you. MPC-HC doesn’t even try to do this.
Best audio support: MPC-HC
A squeaker for MPC-HC. Both programs played WAV files up to 96kHz/32-bits, and all the standard compressed formats, including MP3, M4A, FLAC, APE, and even Opus. Both failed with .VQF files (a very old codec), but so does everything else. The small difference was that VLC also misfired on Windows Lossless, starting but continuously glitching. I’m guessing this will be fixed soon. but it’s not unusual for a VLC update to break something else. MPC-HC played both Apple Lossless and Windows Lossless just fine, and the program was more responsive when switching tracks.
Both programs also played audio CDs, with VLCbeing smoother at switching tracks in this instance.
Best with subtitles: VLC (barely)
In my subtitle tests, MPC-HC was generally fine, but for some reason refused to display text after I installed the external version of the LAV filters for use with Windows Media Player. Re-installing MPC-HC cured the issue, which may simply have undone my tinkering with which codecs to use, but it was an issue that VLC seemed immune to.
VLC’s ability to add subtitles by dragging a .sub, .srt, etc. file on top of a playing movie in VLC (MPC-HC tries to open it as a playable file) and you have the winner by a small margin. Both automatically load subtitles the vast majority of the time.
Best photo format support: MPC-HC
Neither program is really made for images, nor will they do a slideshow worth a darn; but while VLC spun its wheels on nearly everything other than PNG and JPEG files, MPC-HC displayed BMP, compressed and uncompressed TIFF, PNG, static and animated GIFs, and TGA (Targa) files. On the other hand, it failed on one JPEG, then displayed it fine later. So that’s eight formats to two, but a random fail on by far the most common type. I’m calling it for MPC-HC, but that JPEG glitch was puzzling.
Best user interface: MPC-HC
Neither VLC or MPC-HC are much to look at. MPC-HC was derived from the older Media Player Classic, whose interface is based on the Windows 95/XP Media Player. VLC has clunky icons and its garish orange work cone (aren’t you supposed to avoid these?).
But the real difference is that MPC-HC’s menus and features are far better organized and laid out. MPC-HC’s context menus don’t change as VLC’s do when you’re in full-screen mode, and it’s easier to remember where everything is. I’ve used VLC for years and still have to hunt around for options on occasion.
I also appreciate that when I resize MPC-HC, it stays that way, even when I’m looping a video. VLC always returns to its previous window size when it starts playback again. This wasn’t as close as I made it sound. VLC could use a lot of UI work.
Best support for filters, shaders, and FX: VLC
This was a tough call. Both players play normal speed and allow you to skip anywhere you want in the material. But VLC has more granular speed control; smoother slow speed playback; it stretches/compresses audio to retain the original pitch, instead of simply speeding it up or down as MPC-HC does; it lets you loop portions of the material, which MPC-HC does not allow; and it offers a few more tweaks that you can apply to video, such as interactive magnification, although they’re hidden away in multiple dialog boxes.
MPC-HC lets you use shaders (aka filters or FX), such as grayscale, edge sharpen, and emboss. You can also load these from files, but I never located any that don’t already ship with MPC-HC. There may be some, but the MPC-HC crew never responded to my queryand I got tired of hunting around. I’m calling shaders/FX a tie, but more facile and feature-complete playback wins the day for VLC.
Odds and ends: Tie
VLC has a very nice audio boost feature built right into the volume control, where MPC-HC has its boost buried in a dialog. VLC is cross-platform, supporting just about everything, including Windows Phone and Windows RT. Wow. MPC-HC is Windows-only. A big shout out to the VLC guys for that.
MPC-HC feels tightly programmed, which is something I appreciate from my days coding. I run a Core i7-3770 with SSDs, which tends to make everything seem the same speed; but MPC-HC still opens faster, reacts more quickly to drag and drop, and even resizes more smoothly. Then there’s it’s ability to play back 4K. It’s not a massive difference, but it’s there.
And I hate to harp, but it MPC-HC doesn’t waste your time trying to close it when it can’t read a file. VLC should really up its file-parsing game.
Why not use Windows Media Player?
Installing external DirectShow filters like LAV can enable Windows Media Player to play just about any file type, and its audio enhancement is the best in the business. It’s also a pretty fair librarian/organizer, which neither VLC or MPC-HC is good for. The ridiculous hoops that you must jump through with WMP to skip about material, however, have always sent me looking for something else. Especially for sporting-event video. But that’s another article.
I’m going to call this a victory for MPC-HC. Major kudos to the MPC-HC developer team for finally making it stable (with a nod to LAV package by Nevcairiel) while maintaining its keep-it-simple-stupid philosophy.
I would recommend keeping VLC around and up to date for those times that you want to stream outside of a browser, or loop segments, or play material at different speeds.
Video Software Helps Video Player More Powerful
No video player can be powerful enough to play any video format without any hassle. If needed, you actually can use a video converter to transcode video format for VLC and MPC-HC. Pavtube Video Converter Ultimate and the Mac version are excellent choices to transcode video files. They can convert MKV, MP4, TS, MOV, WMV, FLV, Tivo, etc video format/container and rip Blu-ray and DVD to digital files. It can convert video to audio and convert audio to another format. You can compress 4K video to 1080p and also can upscale 1080p video to 4K resolution with the video converter.
What’s more, when transcoding video to HEVC and H.264 on Windows, Pavtube Video Converter Ultimate can encode video in realtime 30x times speed then before utilizing NVIDIA HEVC encoder.
VLC and MPC-HC Solutions
- Play Blu-ray on VLC Media Player Freely
- How to Play MKV on VLC Smoothly?
- Rip and Copy DVD to VLC on Mac OS X
- Solution to Can’t play .avi files on VLC?
- How to Play H.265 encoded videos on VLC Player?
- How can You watch a 3D video in 3D or regular 2D with VLC?
- Play Blu-ray on MPC-HC Media Players