The KMPlayer: one media player to rule them all

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The KM Player is a free media player that supports a comprehensive range of media format, including broad DVD support using all internal filters and codecs.

It is extremely feature-rich, offering a range of features such as applying filters during playback (sharpening, denoise, color effects, etc), excellent subtitles support, playing (and capturing) streaming media over the internet, playing incomplete files, bookmarking parts of videos, and others.

The KMPlayer (not to be confused with simply “KMPlayer”, which is another product) is the kind of free software that is so good it makes you wonder how anyone can still manage to charge money for a program in the same category.

The reason I give it such a high endorsement is that software manages to juggle four things at once, each of which is remarkable in its own right:

  1. Supports a very wide range of formats: (including obscure ones).It includes all essential decoders internally (including RealMedia, Flash video, and Quicktime) that are not registered to the system, but also interacts with system filters through a “fully controlled environment”. This means that The KM Player will (a) eliminate any possible errors due to codec conflict, (b) none of its internal filters will be running in the background at all times, taking up resources, and (c) If you have a media file that you cannot get to work this program will most certainly play it.
  2. Has a very light footprint: takes up only 16 megs in memory and a (negligible) 50 megs on your hard drive.
  3. Delivers an unusually rich selection of features: from those features that make you think “finally someone thought to include this” to “I can’t believe they thought of this”.
  4. Delivers a simple and straightforward interface: despite all the supported features, everything is context-menu based, and the program can be used in a simple way without overwhelming the user with the diversity of options. On-screen tooltips are displayed on hovering over an element that tell you what it is.

This does not mean that this program is perfect but, in my view, is very close to it. There are a number of drawbacks which I will get into in my “wish list” section below. For now here is an overview of some of the features on offer:

  • Formats supported: a listing would take a lot of space and would be superfluous. Suffice it to say: every conceivable video format (including DVD), audio format, playlist format, image format, and even disk image formats.
  • Image processing: allows you to apply a wide range of effects to your video as it is being played, including color controls, (e.g. greyscale, auto-level control), sharpening, blurring, denoise, resize, flip/rotation, etc. Resize, flip, etc. Variable playback speed also supported.
  • Capture: frame (image) capture, video capture, audio capture. Also playback by frame (e.g.single frame forward, backward, etc.)
  • Plays incomplete/partially downloaded files: will not make the missing parts appear magically but will play what is there, even files that are “locked” by another app such as a torrent client and corrupted files.
  • Plays streaming video/audio: delivered via HTTP (ASF, OGG, MP3, AAC, MPEG PS, MPEG TS, including non-streaming media). Internet radio supports both Shoutcast and Icecast. Can capture these to the hard drive (see below).
  • Custom codec use: allows the user to select which codec to be used on per-video basis and to specify the external/commercial filters, if any, that they might wish to use if they want (e.g.commercial h.264 decoders).
  • Support for compressed archives: will play media files that are compressed into archives (.ZIP, .RAR).
  • Favorites: not favorite files, but rather selecting parts of a media as favorites. How cool is that?
  • WinAmp plugins: can use general plugins of Winamp2/5.
  • Dynamic skins; i.e. change a skin dynamically depending on a media type playing. (Which I find interesting, but not my cup of tea ;) ).

Wish list (or things that can be addressed make this software even better)

  • Comparatively low playback quality has been reported while playing some files. I haven’t seen this personally, but it was mentioned in forums as happening in some cases.
  • Does not add itself to the Autoplay menu as the default DVD player. This can be easily remedied with a program like TweakUI or Autoplay Repair though.
  • Help file: is underwhelming, especially for such a feature-rich app.

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick

The verdict: that I like this program is pretty much summed up in the 4 points listed at the beginning of the review. Although designed as a player for both video and audio, I am inclined to use it only for videos/DVDs and use a music manager type software for audio. However, if you need to install only one program to play video files this is the one you need.

Comparison of 3 media playersThe KMPlayer holds its own alongside such freeware heavyweight media player (VLC Player, GOM Player), and probably has the edge. See the image on the right for a feature by feature comparison (adapted from Wikipedia’s “Comparison of media players” article).

Note on the sale of The KMPlayer: before concluding this review I will mention that as of Dec 2007 this program has been sold by the orignal developer to a Korean YouTube-style streaming video site named Pandora TV. This prompted some concern in various forums about the new owner bundling spyware and/or adware into it or changing its freeware status; however from what I’ve read the new owners have since stated their intention to keep The KMPlayer free and in any case so far after more than 6 months this is still the case.

Version Tested: 2.9.3.1428 final release

Compatibility: Windows 2000, 2003, XP, Vista.

Go to the official KM Player forums to get more info and the download link for the latest version (approx 14.2 megs). Download link here and also here.