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Since first becoming available in February 2001, VLC has developed into the leading open source cross-platform multimedia player.

Not only is it free, lightweight, and fast — but it can also play just about any type of file you throw at it, even if the file itself is damaged, incomplete, or unfinished. There’s a reason it’s called the Swiss Army Knife of media players.

But if you’re only using it to watch DVDs 4 Ways Watching Movies Used To Be More Fun 4 Ways Watching Movies Used To Be More Fun You might not have realized that your enthusiasm for movies is waning. It's no longer the good old days. and I'm sure watching movies used to be more fun... Read More or listen to CDs, you’re missing out. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find an incredible number of useful features.

In this article, we’re going to show you six awesome VLC features you may not know about.

1. Play and (Safely) Download YouTube Videos

If you want to play a video outside of your browser, you can use VLC. Even better, you can go one step further and download the video 5 Free YouTube Downloaders & Converters Compared: Which One Is Right For You? 5 Free YouTube Downloaders & Converters Compared: Which One Is Right For You? Two years ago, I told you about 5 easy ways to download and convert online videos. Recently, we also told you about ways to download YouTube videos to your Mac, and some ways you can... Read More to your computer.

To watch a YouTube video, navigate to File > Open Network Stream and paste the YouTube URL of the video in question. After a couple of seconds of loading, it will start playing.

VLC YouTube Play

If you want to download a video to your local drive, you need to take a few extra steps. Navigate to Tools > Codec Information and copy the text from the Location box at the bottom of the screen.

VLC YouTube Source

Paste the text into your browser and the video will start playing. Right-click and select Save Video As to save it locally.

In the example below, you can see our very own James Bruce reviewing the Elephone Elecam 360 on the MakeUseOf channel.

VLC YouTube Source Save As

The method might be more cumbersome than using some of the web-based downloaders, but it’s also a lot more reliable and a lot more secure.

2. Subscribe to Podcasts

VLC is a fully-featured and highly-powerful podcast manager What Is the Best Podcast Manager For Windows? What Is the Best Podcast Manager For Windows? A desktop application is still the best option to play podcasts on your Windows PC. Whether or not you have an Apple device, you'll find a great solution in this roundup. Read More .

To access the podcast menu, go to View > Playlist and scroll down until you come to Podcasts (it’s listed under the Internet subsection).

VLC Podcasts

To add a podcast, you’ll need to know its RSS feed. If you’re not sure of the podcast’s URL, there are lots of websites that will extract it for you. Click on the + icon to add the podcast to your list of subscriptions.

The app will find all the previous episodes, along with any relevant artwork. Double-click on one of them to start listening.

3. Listen to Internet Radio Stations

In addition to podcasts, VLC will also let you listen to internet radio stations Listen to & Record Free Internet Radio With Audials Listen to & Record Free Internet Radio With Audials Want to listen to Internet radio and record songs for free? Want a solid podcast player? Try out the Audials app for Android. Read More . Remember them? It’s what we used to use before the likes of Pandora and Spotify Spotify vs. Apple Music vs. Google Play Music: Which Is Best? Spotify vs. Apple Music vs. Google Play Music: Which Is Best? While there are lots of music streaming services around, there are three major ones that stand out above the others: Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. But which is best? Read More came along.

You access the feature in the same way as podcasts — navigate to View > Playlist and scroll down until you find the entry called Icecast Radio Directory.

VLC Internet Radio

Unlike podcasts, in addition to adding manual feeds if you know the URL, you can also search for stations from within the VLC app. Just enter your query in the search box in the top right-hand corner.

In the example above, you can see I searched for BBC Radio 2. Double-click on a result to start listening to the radio station of your choosing.

4. Record Your Desktop

There are countless reasons why you might want to record your screen Record Your Desktop with These 12 Great Screencasting Apps Record Your Desktop with These 12 Great Screencasting Apps Need to record your desktop? Luckily, you'll find that screencasting apps are more common than you might think. Here are some of the best free ones. Read More . Some of the most common include creating a screencast for a presentation and live-streaming your desktop across your network.

To start recording, head to Media > Open Capture Device and select Desktop from the drop-down menu.

VLC Record Desktop

You can choose your preferred frame rate. If you’re just recording your desktop, 15 fps should be adequate. Increase it to 30 fps for fast-paced movement.

Lastly, click the drop-down arrow next to Play and select Convert.

On the next screen, choose the file format you need (for most uses, the default Video — H.264 + MP3 (MP4) is fine) and where you want to save your output. When you’re ready, hit Start.

VLC Record Desktop Settings

VLC will silently make the recording in the background. When you’ve finished, return to the app and click Stop.

5. Convert Video Files

You don’t need any additional software to convert a video 2 Ways to Convert AVI & MKV Files to Add Videos to iTunes 2 Ways to Convert AVI & MKV Files to Add Videos to iTunes iTunes only supports MP4 and QuickTime format video files. We demonstrate how to use trusted free, open source, and cross-platform software to convert video files into formats recognized by iTunes. Read More into a different format. VLC is as good as anything else that’s available.

To start the process, go to Media > Convert/Save. Click the Add button to select your file, then choose Convert from the drop-down box in the bottom right-hand corner.

VLC Convert

On the next screen, choose the type of file you want to convert and give the file a name and location under Destination. Finally, click Start.

6. Play Videos Back in ASCII Characters

To finish, I’m going to leave you with one for your inner tech geek. Granted, ASCII playback isn’t particularly useful, but that doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely awesome!

When turned on, any video will be played back as ASCII characters. At the very least, it’s a great way to trick your friends into thinking their video files are corrupted.

To use the feature, head to Tools > Preferences > Video. Choose Color ASCII Art Video Output from the drop-down menu next to Output.

Restart the VLC app for the changes to take effect.

Remember that video from the start of the article? Here’s the ASCII version of the same footage:

VLC ASCII

Change the Output setting back to Automatic to revert to normal playback.

What Cool Features Do You Know About?

We hope these tips have given you an insight into the vast potential of the VLC software.

Of course, there is plenty more cool stuff for you to go and discover by yourself. For example, did you know you could use the app to create a video desktop background on Windows, remotely control video playback from a browser, or fix out-of-sync subtitles How to Fix Out-of-Sync Subtitles in VLC Media Player How to Fix Out-of-Sync Subtitles in VLC Media Player It's easy to increase or decrease subtitle delays in VLC Media Player, which can fix subtitles that aren't synchronized properly. Read More ?

We would love to hear more about how you maximize VLC’s potential. What is the coolest underused trick you use? Which settings do you tweak to get VLC working exactly the way you want it to work?

As always, you can leave your thoughts, suggestions, and tips in the comments below. We read all of them, and sometimes even take the time to reply.

  1. JNorth
    November 22, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Play a video on a second screen (e.g. projector) gracefully.
    1. Set the 2nd screen to be to the RIGHT of the primary screen (so the coordinates remain a positive number)
    2. Open the preferences dialog (Tools —> Preferences)
    3. In the interface tab, Choose to show "All" settings int he lower left.
    4. Under Video
    1. Un-tick “Embedded video” (this enables the controls to be separated from the video)
    2. Tick "Fullscreen video output"
    3. Set "Show video title for x milliseconds" to 0
    4. Scroll down and set an X and Y position that are on the second monitor - so set an X position larger then the width of the first screen. The value of the Y coordinate doesn’t matter much, but mustn’t be negative otherwise both values will be ignored. For example, when using a 1920x1080 resolution on the main screen, set the Video X coordinate to "1921"
    5. Press Save

    5. Now double click a video (choose VLC if not set as the default player) and the controls will show on the main screen while the video plays on the other. It will gracefully fade to black when done playing.

  2. g.m.nelson
    November 21, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    you can also use VLC to extract a single frame of a video as a .JPG foto

  3. CptGuapo
    November 21, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Soooo nice these features, huh? I didn't know any of them...

    I'll try them asap. I like that option to record the screen. I tried a few other programs but thought they are always little intuitive.

  4. Rick
    November 21, 2016 at 5:34 am

    What version of VLC are you using? The YouTube videos I tried will not play, producing an error that they cannot be played. My interface is different than what you have in the article as well. I am using VLC version 2.2.4 on macOS Sierra.

    • junior
      November 21, 2016 at 6:34 am

      Music videos don't work, but most other videos do.

  5. cjester66
    November 15, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    I use VLC to play downloaded videos and movies all the time, but that's because they make it super easy to do so. Honestly though, when I dig down into VLC, I don't know what the hell I'm looking at. Everything seems way more complicated than it needs to be. I use a separate downloader for videos because its simple and intuitive. I also have a converter for the same reason. It seems to me that if VLC made things more accessible to the average user they might get more believers. Thanks for your help and these tips. Maybe when I have lots of time I'll try to figure some of them out.

    • ryan
      November 18, 2016 at 1:09 am

      Agreed, but that's why they're not asking for some monthly membership fee (ergo anything else with a Windows or Apple branded on it).

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