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.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.