There’s no shortage of quality free media players to entertain your eyes and ears, regardless of your computer or operating system. With cracking cost-free solutions like VLC (often considered the king of media players) and iTunes alternative JetAudio, you really shouldn’t be paying for this sort of software.
Universal Media Player, or UMPlayer for short, is yet another addition to the media player category which uses the MPlayer backend to chew through any media you give it. The app promises to play everything and integrates various web services into one desktop solution.
There are versions available for Windows (XP, Vista and 7) and Linux (Ubuntu and Debian binaries and an RPM) with a Mac OS X version currently in development and destined for release any day now. The version I’m testing here is 0.9 (Linux) on Ubuntu 10.10.
Features & Playback
Thanks to the fantastic MPlayer backend, UMPlayer is able to play a healthy number of digital formats without the need for extra codecs. This includes your bog standard SD content, disc-based media (but no BluRay) and HD files (even in containers, like Matroska video). To quote the UMPlayer team:
“It plays most MPEG/VOB, AVI, Ogg/OGM, VIVO, ASF/WMA/WMV, QT/MOV/MP4, RealMedia, Matroska, NUT, NuppelVideo, FLI, YUV4MPEG, FILM, RoQ, PVA files, supported by many native, XAnim, and Win32 DLL codecs. You can watch VideoCD, SVCD, DVD, 3ivx, DivX 3/4/5, WMV and even H.264 movies.”
Another benefit to using MPlayer is the vast number of output options offered, including X11, OpenGL and VESA (amongst a ton of others). There’s also support for older, outdated graphics cards which should make UMPlayer a decent app to stick on an old PC.
For an easy-on-the-eyes viewing experience, MPlayer also features shadowed anti-aliased subtitles with support for 12 different subtitle formats (and DVD subtitles too) and various different fonts and scripts. So far, so VLC; and that even goes for the interface (though it does for most media players).
The program is completely skinnable, and there are five to choose from after installation. Despite the Get More Skins link under Options, there’s little to choose from in the official skins gallery so (once again) it’s up to the community to provide the real choice.
Under the hood you’ll find plenty to tweak and adjust in UMPlayer’s options. From custom command line parameters to forcing frame drop to maintain sync, this is a heavily customizable program. Saying that, you won’t find yourself changing an awful lot (if anything) unless you’ve got some specific demands from the software.
Convinced? Well there’s still a couple of extra features that might just persuade you to ditch your current media player yet!
You may have noticed the small search box in the top right of the UMPlayer window in a number of screenshots. This can be used to search both YouTube and Winamp’s Shoutcast service for streaming video and radio stations. Despite YouTube being a bit flaky on my Ubuntu laptop, Shoutcast worked flawlessly.
When you search either service your results are displayed in a separate window. Double click a result of your choosing and UMPlayer will do its utmost to launch your chosen video or radio station. It’s a nice, fast way of browsing for media – with a couple of extra services to choose from (Hulu, Vimeo and so on) it would be a killer feature.
UMPlayer can also fetch free subtitles for you. Simply open up your chosen media, click Subtitles and then Find Subtitles on OpenSubtitles.org. A new window will open displaying all available subtitles for the film or program you happen to be watching. Click Download to download the file and never have to worry about subtitles again.
Is UMPlayer a VLC-beating media solution? Possibly. That totally depends whether you’re hankering for a dekstop YouTube solution, love internet radio or regularly rely on subtitles. Apart from those few features there’s very little to separate the two.
Both are light on system resources. Both can play pretty much everything you throw at them. Both are free! Give it a go for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments below.