Last week saw a significant new release for VLC, the worlds most popular cross-platform video player, beloved for its ability to handle pretty much any media file you could throw at it.
So what exactly does version 2.0 bring? Here’s a full review of the OSX release, so Windows and Linux users please skip over this – there’s quite a few differences.
By far the most significant change is that of a single window interface. In the past, the VLC controller was entirely separate to the main video window, which would only appear when the video was played. Personally, I often found the controls would be obscured if the video was too large at native resolution for the monitor, or in some cases the video window wouldn’t focus on screen, so I’d have to open Exposé to look for it hidden behind something.
The unified interface fixes that, and puts inline with other native apps, so there shouldn’t be any complaints on this feature.
Sidebar Media Folders
More controversial is the new sidebar, borrowing heavily from Finder (iTunesesque even?) by presenting quick shortcuts for browsing your various media folders, playlist, and history.
Annoyingly, I found clicking on a folder would automatically start playing the first media file in that folder. Clicking the arrow instead of double clicking the folder didn’t do this though.
There are also a variety of streaming channels, though I can’t figure out how to add others to the list, and the wiki documentation all still relates to 1.x version – don’t expect to find much help there. It’s a nice feature, but somewhat redundant.
It’s a shame that bugs stand out in my 2.0 feature list, but that’s how it is – the Mac version has definitely been neglected.
Resizing the main window, on OSX at least, makes no difference once you’ve played a video – the whole interface will resize to accommodate the video (even if it’s only 300×400 pixels) and won’t return to the size you set it upon stopping that video. This makes the media folder browsing features a frustrating experience at best.
The automatic seeking of the first media file in a folder isn’t just annoying, it’s downright stupid. Try opening your iTunes folder on a Mac, and it will automatically drill down into the cryptic Album Artwork folder, only to find a .itc image – that, on my machine at least, crashed the app.
I really do want to make use of the new folder access from the sidebar – but with autoplaying of media, having to stop it, and then subsequent magical resize of the window, just makes it thoroughly hopeless – so thank you, but I’ll stick to the Finder to browse my media.
VLC’s sole strength has always been its ability to play anything. This strength very much remains there in the 2.0 release along with performance increases and video quality improvements – and even preliminary BluRay support (a task otherwise impossible on OSX). However, it’s obvious that VLC is striving to be more – the beginnings of a media centre, even.
Opinions are clearly going to be strongly divided on the matter, with cries of bloat from one side and inevitable software upgrade from the other, but so long as it retains its renowned compatibility I don’t see VLC falling from its rightful place as king of the video players.
CoverFlow, a prominent feature on the new VLC for Windows, is curiously absent. Downloading cover art for music, while functional, only displays when you open up the “view metadata” separate window, rather than being useful in the main interface in some way.
Therefore, I’m putting those ‘features’ well into the category of “currently useless”. Frankly, the music handling is nothing compared to iTunes, and pulling metadata on other media files just isn’t implemented. I was hoping to see a Plex-like downloading of movie and DVD covers perhaps, but no such luck. When it’s so poorly executed, I just wonder what’s the point of including it at all. There are far better apps to handle maintaining a library full of meta data, even if you’re not an iTunes fan. Why is there such disparity between the OSX and Windows versions?
The VLC we all know and love – our default video player for anything and everything when you just want something that works – has certainly mutated. I’m not sure I’m happy about the direction it’s taking personally, but it’s early days yet. Will it stay my default movie player? Probably. Will I be touching that sidebar full of folder browsing features? Not a chance.
Download VLC 2.0 from the official VideoLAN.org site, and beware of malware-ridden results in Google.
Have you used VLC 2.0? What do you think of it? Is it as radical as some would have you believe, or it is still just the same VLC in a single window this time? Let us know in the comments.