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Which is the better free video player: MPC-HC 1.7.6 vs. VLC 2.2

Jon L. Jacobi | March 24, 2015
I had a firm belief that this head-to-head was going to be a rout for VideoLAN Player aka, VLC. Over the years, I've used Media Player Classic - Home Cinema (MPC-HC), it's predecessor Media Player Classic, and VLC extensively. MPC-HC's pronounced and long-time tendency to crash pushed nearly everyone, including myself, to the somewhat geeky, but very capable VLC.

I had a firm belief that this head-to-head was going to be a rout for VideoLAN Player aka, VLC. Over the years, I've used Media Player Classic - Home Cinema (MPC-HC), it's predecessor Media Player Classic, and VLC extensively. MPC-HC's pronounced and long-time tendency to crash pushed nearly everyone, including myself, to the somewhat geeky, but very capable VLC.

In fact, the only reason this article exists was a tenuous plan I formulated for my VLC 2.2  review to temper any unkind comments by calling out MPC-HC's numerous flaws. The only flaw was with my plan. After pitting the two players against each other on eight criteria, I'm back to using MPC-HC as my everyday 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.

 

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