Swiss Army playback tools

Originally published in Personal Computer World as part of ‘Your media, anywhere

Swiss army playback tools

When it comes to playing back media, there are two tools that are so useful, no home media network should be without them.

The first is VLC media player ( The VLC player can play just about any file, and though it’s not the friendliest piece of software, it’s well worth downloading – it’s self contained, so won’t cause problems with other codecs on your PC. If you can mount shared drives on your computer, and install a copy of VLC on it, then chances are you’ll be able to play any files you can find on the network. Not only that, but it also has a built in streamer, using the RTSP protocol, and can transcode files from one format to another, on the fly if necessary, or be used to create a video on demand system, as we explained in PCW back in 2006 (

The other essential tool is XBMC, originally XBox Media Centre (, and now available as an application for Windows, Mac and Linux too. The screenshot shows the Mac version, but the others are similar; you can browse files on UPnP servers, as well as ordinary network shares, or your hard disk. It’ll even support remote controls, so  there’s no need for a portable TV and an extra media streamer in the bedroom, if your laptop or netbook has enough oomph, XBMC will turn it into a fully-fleded media playback system, with an impressive range of formats and streaming protocols supported. It can share media too, thanks to a built in UPnP server.

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