VLC player, the most popular multimedia playback application never ceases to amaze me with its simplicity and popularity. Now add one more powerful adjectival phrase – versatility. VLC has this simple (maybe boring too?) look on outside yet has amazing features hidden inside. Here’s your chance explore them in a simple & easy way!
[ If you’ve stumbled upon this article accidentally, download VLC Media Player and install it before proceeding any further to make this article relevant to you (besides, it’s an awesome media player; you’ll see why as you read further). This article has been written for desktop versions of VLC player, including both Windows and Linux versions (which are pretty much the same) but the same should work MacOS version too(just a speculation, I don’t have a MacBook). ]
Needless to say, keep the VLC player open if you want to try these as you read them. Also note that the tricks/tips listed here are not ordered in anyway, so feel free to hop around if you ever feel like so. Get ready to explore and try them to take your multimedia experience to next level.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
• The ultimate capture tool
VLC player not only plays the content others created, but also lets you create your own content. How cool is that? Just hit the Ctrl + C keyboard shortcut to open the capturing menu.
Now again, there are two possible uses:
- As a screen recorder – Choose Desktop from drop down menu and VLC will start streaming your desktop with mesmerizing inception kinda effect. To start recording your screen, hit Shift+R & minimise VLC player. Do whatever you want to record on screen, like software tutorial or whatever. When you’re done, maximize the VLC player again and use the same keyboard shortcut to stop recording. Recorded video will be saved in your videos library. Who needs a separate screen capturing software now?
- As a selfie-cam/video recorder – Choose Directshow(or your webcam’s name) from the drop-down menu and start streaming(If you’re webcam doesn’t show up in the drop-down menu, probably its drivers need to be updated). This works provided you’re using a laptop with webcam or a desktop with extra webcam. To take a snap, use the screenshot shortcut (Shift+S) or Shift+R to record the video.
• Dress up VLC :
Did you know that VLC supports themes/skins as well as plugins like Photoshop?
If you’re kinda bored with the same old look of the player that you see everytime you play a video/audio, here’s something that might please you. Go to Tools > Plugins and extensions.
Here, you can browse for various themes under Skins tab as well download some cool extensions like VLSub that adds additional functionality to your favourite player. Look for them under Extensions tab. You can also search the exact plugin you’re looking for.
Another way to add theme is to download the skins from here and then put the downloaded vlt files in the following folder:
Now , simply follow the steps given in Interface settings section. Also, if you’re unable to set the skin downloaded from skins library, you can set them manually as explained in Interface settings. Downloaded skins will be located in C:\Users\<your username>\AppData\Roaming\vlc\skins2
Here’s snap of VLC Player with skin, doesn’t it look (mildly) intersting?
- Skins don’t work on MacOS.
- Although skins seem fun to use, most of the skins I tried turned out to be buggy or confusing and had no choice but revert to the default skin. I was also unable to resume the playback when skin was enabled. So, pick wisely.
• Customize the interface :
Just now you learnt how to theme VLC Player but surprisingly customizing looks doesn’t stop there. VLC even lets you customize the toolbar buttons(Play, Pause .. etc. buttons you see on the bottom toolbar) completely. To take advantage of this, go to Tools > Customize interface. Now a Toolbar editor window opens up as shown below –
Here you can edit 4 toolbars but let’s focus on the most used ones-
- Main toolbar – one that appears in windowed mode
- Full-screen toolbar – the toolbar that appears when VLC is in full-screen mode & you move the cursor.
You literally drag & position any button, anywhere you want or even add/remove buttons you want from the Toolbar elements list. VLC also has some preset profiles in the drop-down menu which will bring back the old-school look if you rather prefer it. When you’re done customizing, you can save the current toolbar profile by clicking New profile button(highlighted above)
• Watch TV shows/Movies with ease :
This trick is my favourite one,as I discovered it accidentally. If you’re a movie/TV series fanatic like me, then I’m sure you’ll be watching a lot of episodes continually. Sometimes, you may even watch entire season in a go. Nevertheless, if you have downloaded an entire season of any show or a movie as a single compressed archive (rar or zip), you can easily watch it without having to extract the files first. Yes! It’s possible. Here’s how:
- Launch up VLC player and drag the archive onto it.
- Go to the Playlist view by
- Here, you’ll be able to see all the files (episodes or videos) inside the archive.
- Double click on the desired file to play.
- Switch back to the play-screen view and enjoy!
Note : This trick doesn’t work with split archives.
Bonus tip: While you’re in the playlist view, you can drag and rearrange files in any order your want, remove or add files to the list and finally export the playlist to a xspf file. Later on, just open the playlist you saved to watch the show, you need not drag the archive every time you want to watch an episode. Also, you can use the P and N keys to play the Previous/Next episode without having to go to playlist view.
• The magic of effects :
If you’re struggling to watch/listen video/audio with mediocre quality, VLC can help you a bit with that. When you’re playing a video or audio, hit the Ctrl + E shortcut or click on Tools > Effects and Filters. Now the tool box containing various audio-visual effects opens up.
If you’re playing a song/audio file or want to improve perceived voice quality in the movie you’re watching, then tweak Audio effects. VLC provides 10 Band equaliser along with Compressor and Spatialiser which can make your audio experience much better. It also provides some preset profiles, mainly for music. If you have prejudice about VLC player as just a video player, its time to change that.
If you’re watching a video and want to improve its perceived quality, you can adjust some essential properties like brightness, saturation, sharpness etc.If you want to tinker more, explore and try some more effects in other tabs like Colors, Crop etc.
Sometimes the subtitles and visuals just don’t go hand-in-hand. In such cases, you synchronize them here. Adding a negative time will compensate for lagging subs and vice-versa.
• Preferences and its chambers of secrets!
VLC has a lot of tricks up its sleaves and most of them are hidden inside menus and preferences. Let’s explore and bring out some of the cool features into light.
First, launch up Preferences window by either clicking Tools > Preferences menu or hit Ctrl + P keyboard shortcut. Now, the simple preferences window opens up with entire settings divided into five categories. Let’s quickly see what each of them has to offer one by one:
Note: You can just hover over a setting/option to see a bit more about what it is.
Interface settings :
- Remember how I was telling you could change the looks of the player? Here’s the way for it. Click on ‘Use custom skin‘ and then browse for the skin file (with vlt extension) that you’ve downloaded. Save the changes and simply relaunch the VLC player to see it’s new avatar. Once you have activated a new skin, you can quickly switch between skins by right clicking anywhere on the play-screen and then going to Interface > Select skin.
- Bonus tip : Download the collection of all VLC Player skins in a single zip file from here (38MB)
- If you don’t want that tiny VLC player icon to appear in the right corner of the taskbar everytime it’s open, then uncheck ‘Show systray icon’.
- Pause playback when minimised is another useful option to have enabled. If you often watch/listen the multimedia content with lot of interruptions in between, then keep this box checked. Whenever you minimise the VLC player window, the playing video/audio will automatically be paused and the same will be resumed when you maximize the player again. Note that you’ll have to keep this disabled if you want to capture videos as explained earlier.
Audio settings :
- So, you casually plugin your headset, play a video and BAM! Next thing you know, your ears are exploding with this out-of-the-universe level of volume. Sounds familiar? Then, turn on . This will automatically set the volume level to predefined level everytime the player launched. (not everytime a file is played, unless in a new window)
- Want some cool surround sound? Then set Dolby surround ON. Also, checking Headphone surround effect is a good idea if you listen to audio through headphones most of the time.
- Bonus tip : “Normalize volume to’ is useful and balances the loudness differences in a video. For example, in some movies, dialogues and music have abrupt differences. In such cases, volume will be normalized to preset value but you’ll have to experiment yourself which value works best for you.(between 0.5 to 10)
Video settings :
- Check ‘Always on top’ if you do a lot of multitasking while watching videos and don’t want other windows get in the way your playing content.
- You can also change various video snapshot settings such as where the snapshots should be stored, filename prefix etc. here.
Subtitle settings :
- Disable the (annoying?)title display every time a video starts playing.
- Change the default font, font size etc. of subtitles to whatever seems nicer to you. You can also force the subtitle display position so that it won’t appear on the video; instead appears on the less-distracting black bars at the bottom(or even top) of video/movie.
Input/Codec settings : I’m mentioning this only to have a sense of completeness. There’s nothing worth tweaking here(I’d be more than happy if you prove me otherwise).
Keyboard shortcuts: One of the coolest features of VLC is the ability to set your own keyboard shortcut to literally every action there exists. Just double click on an action for you which you want set your own shortcut and then actually press the shortcut you want to assign.
You can also search for the actions in the search bar as there are hundreds of shortcut actions altogether. I suggest that you assign some simpler keys for very frequent actions like changing volume or short forward/backward jumps for whom, a single up/down or right/left arrow key makes more sense than Ctrl+up/down/right/left. It also saves time & effort(okay, maybe few seconds but still good for the health of your keyboard).
On the other hand, if you’re already a expert user and have become accustomed to existing shortcuts, leave it be.
• As a streaming station/video converter :
Wanna watch a online video? No problem! Hit Ctrl + N, type in video URL, and click Play. That’s all you’ve to do.
You can also convert a video to desired format by selecting Convert instead of Play and then following the on-screen instructions. To configure the encoding options, click the setting icon as highlighted in the screen-shot above.
• Play anything :
When I said VLC player is versatile, it didn’t just reflect it ability to customise every aspect of the player, but also its capacity to play audio/video files of almost any format. Don’t believe me? just look at all the file formats it can play –
MPEG-1/2, DivX® (1/2/3/4/5/6), MPEG-4 ASP, XviD, 3ivX D4, H.261, H.263 / H.263i, H.264,H.265 / MPEG-4 AVC, Cinepak, Theora, Dirac / VC-2, MJPEG (A/B), WMV 1/2, WMV 3 / WMV-9 / VC-1, Sorenson 1/3, DV, On2 VP3/VP5/VP6, Indeo Video v3 (IV32), Real Video (1/2/3/4).
MPEG Layer 1/2, MP3 – MPEG Layer 3, AAC – MPEG-4 part3, Vorbis, AC3 – A/52, E-AC-3, MLP / TrueHD>3, DTS, WMA 1/2, WMA 3, FLAC, ALAC, Speex, Musepack / MPC, ATRAC 3, Wavpack, Mod, TrueAudio, APE, Real Audio, Alaw/µlaw, AMR (3GPP), MIDI, LPCM, ADPCM, QCELP, DV Audio, QDM2/QDMC, MACE.
DVD, Text files (MicroDVD, SubRIP, SubViewer, SSA1-5, SAMI, VPlayer), Closed captions, Vobsub, Universal Subtitle Format (USF), SVCD / CVD, DVB, OGM, CMML, Kate, ID3 tags, APEv2, Vorbis comment
That’s a huge list!
FINAL REMARKS : If you have tried some/most of the tricks, tips given so far, then you’ll surely notice the difference between what you’ve had been using as a mere video player and what it has transformed into. It also means that now you can get things done with VLC in much faster and simpler ways. I’m also sure you had fun exploring some of the cool features VLC was hiding in the plain sight. So, how did all of this go for you? Meh? WoW? Comment below if you have any queries/suggestions.
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