Saturday, March 12, 2011

VLC Unleashed

"VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and
framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVD, Audio CD,
VCD, and various streaming protocols."
I would add quite a bit more to that definition from VideoLAN's Official VLC website (screenshot below), but I understand it would not be politically correct for them to do so. Indeed, VLC is an amazingly powerful and dynamic media player, a favorite for many I can count myself amongst, but also a raw diamond with lot more to it than what meets the eye.

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If you are like me, chances are you use VLC exclusively as a video player, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. After all, VLC blossomed into a full blown multimedia player from a video player embryo. Even more importantly, it makes sense because VLC is, in my opinion, the best video player available in Linux. Having said so, if we scratch below the surface, we may find that we've been missing out on a lot of VLC's impressive features.


If you like themes and skins to customize your favorite applications, VLC offers a host of great skins that make it look radically (sometimes better) different. Here are a few examples I like to use:

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These skins make VLC look a lot slicker, but they sometimes lack in functionality because they remove (or make access more difficult to) some of the advance (albeit less commonly used) features in VLC. Because of that, if you like to use all that VLC has to offer on a regular basis, it's probably best to stick to the default outfit.

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In order to enable skins, simply open VLC, click on the Tools menu > Preferences and select "Use custom skin" on the interface tab. When going from native to custom, you may need to restart VLC for the changes to take effect. Once you are on custom skin, you can easily change from one skin to another on the fly. The VLC Website offers a wide array of great looking skins for your delight, as well as instructions for each of the OS it supports. You can download VLC skins from HERE.


VLC provides some advanced features out of the box that allow for some impressive video manipulation on the fly. Having said so, let's start with the basics, which already cover a lot of ground.

- Play about anything you can think of: Starting with the Media menu, we can see that VLC can open a lot more things than your standard video player. From a network share to a single file, a folder, a DVD or a capturing device. It can even act as a streaming client. On top of that, it sports an amazing host of codecs providing support for even the most obscure media formats out there.

- Fine tuning: Even the basic set of controls provided allow for more control over what is being played than most other media players out there. Want to increase/decrease video playing speed? Tweak the audio EQ? Display subtitles? Manage your video queue with its powerful playlist? Piece of cake.

On top of those basic features, one can enable a few more advanced ones, which allow for some impressive tricks. To enable the advanced features, click on the View menu and tick the Advanced controls option. Once you do that, you will see that four new buttons appear on top of your standard controls, as shown below (I highlighted the advanced buttons):

From left to right, here's what we get:

- Record: This button allows us to record a portion of a video. Among other applications, this comes in handy when you want to easily extract a few highlight sections from an otherwise long video/movie.

- Snapshot: Want to take a few snapshots from your movie as some sort of a preview? Just click on this button a few times when you see fit!

- A to B loop: If you ask me, this feature alone is worth the price of admission. I play guitar myself, and whenever I want to transcribe a difficult solo from a live performance, this feature can save my day. Looping a specific section combined with the ability to lower its speed without modifying the pitch, can make the most difficult guitar solo look easy. Needless to say this is also extremely useful for watching over and over again that awesome fighting scene, a basketball dunk, a tennis smash... You get the drill.

- Frame by frame: This feature is also pretty cool if you want to take video playing flexibility to a whole new level. I don't use it much myself, but I guess it can be a good way to spot movie mistakes, for those who are into it!


If all of the above was not enough, VLC offers a powerful and rich set of audio and video effects. Effects can be combined at will, so the end result is directly linked with creativity. Some video effects, like adjusting image contrast or brightness, are easy to understand and have a clear application. Others may be useful for specific purposes only (live public presentations come to mind). Then there are some that are downright strange, but all of them are lots of fun. To use VLC effects, click on the Tools menu > Effects & Filters. Here are some examples:

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The screenshot above shows the water effect in combination with color extraction.

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Want to go back to the eighties? The puzzle effect displayed above will certainly help.

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The gradient effect is awesome if you are in for some psychedelic vibe.

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Inverting colors is always fun.

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Double screen setup?... No problem, VLC can clone its output (and add custom text on screen!).

NOTE: The guy in this video I was using to demonstrate VLC effects is Andy James, an awesome guitarist from the UK.

All in all, the amount of effects VLC provides is amazing, and they all work great. In fact, I am amazed at how fast they are applied and how well they perform.


Obviously, a few screenshots don't do justice to all that can be achieved with VLC. The best way to find out is to pick a video of your choice and go crazy with its advanced features and effects.

VLC is one of a few applications which can claim they do what they are supposed to do very well and then add a lot more on top without making matters more complicated. If you have not discovered it yet... what are you waiting for?

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