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As consumer electronics evolves, it gravitates toward ever more pronounced versatility. A typical example is smartphones, which are often not used by many for their intended purpose (phone calls). However, for home entertainment, standalone dedicated media players remain the most convenient form factor. Today we’re going to take a look at a selection of media players that received top marks from Expertology experts based on the realities of 2019.

What do we mean by media player

To begin with, let’s clarify the issue with definitions – what should be generally understood by the term “media player” in our time. And here there are two definitions of completely different things.

Media player as a device

Modern media players are a much broader concept in terms of functionality compared to devices of past generations. VHS, CD, DVD, BluRay – players with such abbreviations in the nomenclature clearly gave an idea of ​​u200bu200btheir leading function. Now the number of popular technologies and common media formats is so large that it is time to first understand the definitions before analyzing specific models.

So, a modern media player can be of any size, weight, form factor; in contrast to past generations, where at least to some extent the minimum size was dictated by the information carrier itself. The functionality can also be very different – from a simple player of audio tracks and videos to a complex device with built-in Smart TV, wireless communication and a set of additional functions. In fact, set-top boxes for receiving a digital DVB-T2 signal also fall into the category of media players, partly due to these additional features.

Media player as a program

Finally, the concept of “media player”, which means an electronic device, has a homonym, which means an application for playing media content in the environment of a particular operating system. Especially for those of our readers who are interested in this particular question, in the framework of this review, we will also consider a small selection of the most worthy and popular media players for Windows in 2019.

Rating of the best media players

Nomination place Name of product price

Best Inexpensive Media Players

one

Tanix TX3 Mini

1 900 ₽

2

iconBIT XDS304K

2 449 ₽

3

Google Chromecast 2018

2 750 ₽

The best feature rich media players

one

Apple TV 4K 32/64GB

12 000 ₽

2

NVIDIA SHIELD

13 990 ₽

3

Dune HD Pro 4K

16 529 ₽

four

Xiaomi Mi Box International Version

4 990 ₽

5

MINIX NEO U9-H

8 790 ₽

The best media player apps for Windows

one

KMPlayer

2

PotPlayer

3

VLC

Best Inexpensive Media Players

At the beginning of the review, we will traditionally consider a selection of the most inexpensive, but efficient and not bad media players in terms of key characteristics. Brands other than Google Chromecast won’t tell the average user much, but that’s not too important here.

Also Read: Top 10 Soundbars

Tanix TX3 Mini

Rating: 4.8

Tanix TX3 Mini

The player of the Chinese brand Tanix will open our review. It’s a fairly basic TV box that delivers unexpectedly decent specs and has earned strongly positive user feedback.

Externally, this media player is a compact TV box with dimensions of 105x15x105mm and a weight of 151g. The case is plastic, black, mostly matte surface texture. The design is minimalistic, and thus almost universal for any interior and context. It is powered by 220V mains through an external power supply. Cooling is passive.

There are no controls on the case, only connection interfaces. All control is carried out from the remote control included in the delivery. The modes themselves and other information are displayed on a primitive, but quite sufficient LCD screen.

The developers of this model built the software part on the basis of Android 7.1 OS. A set of standard applications is preinstalled – YouTube, Chrome browser, media playback programs, TV Center and more. Applications are displayed on the main screen in the form of familiar tiles-links for Android users. Keep in mind that some applications will require a classic mouse to use.

We present the media playback capabilities of the Tanix TX3 Mini in detail, as this is one of the most important indicators in the context of this type of device. So, the media player supports the following file formats: video and related – MKV, AVI, WMV, ISO, VOB, MOV, MP4, DAT, MPG, FLV, RM, RMVB with MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, XviD, DivX, H.264 codecs , WMV9, AVCHD, VC1, HEVC (H.265), VP9; audio – MP3, WMA, AAC, Ogg, PCM, FLAC, APE; images – JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, TIFF. All of the above can be played in ultra-high definition 4K UHD, with the exception of video playback in the YouTube app, where the maximum is 720p.

This model also provides a very decent set of interfaces and communication modules. There are outputs: stereo and optical audio, composite, HDMI version 2.0, network Ethernet with RJ45 jack (speed up to 100Mbps), two USB 2.0 TypeA ports, Wi-Fi 802.11n and Bluetooth wireless modules, slots for microSD and microSDHC memory cards . There is internet radio.

The hardware in this case is based on the Amlogic S905W and in this environment the processor shows decent performance. Graphics – Mali-T450. Memory package: from 2GB of RAM and from 16GB – built-in. This memory configuration is the most affordable on the market.

Advantages

  • compact and lightweight;

  • convenient and understandable Russian-language interface;

  • fast work;

  • support for 4K UHD resolution;

  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth;

  • wired network connection.

Flaws

  • there are cases of hanging – they are solved by installing elementary active cooling.

iconBIT XDS304K

Rating: 4.7

iconBIT XDS304K

The second in the review, we offer for consideration a Korean-made media player of the iconBIT trademark. This model practically does not differ from the previous one in terms of price and minimal functionality.

The external design of the device is in many ways similar to the previous model – the same form factor of a “box” made of gray plastic, only slightly larger in size 119x28x119mm. External power supply, passive cooling. The controls are assembled on a remote control, and only interfaces and a mechanical power button are located on the perimeter of the box itself.

The remote control itself is much more functional here than in the above case. It offers impressively flexible settings and is versatile in itself. It can be used simultaneously to control both the box itself and the TV.

The media player supports playback in high definition 4K, as well as 3D format. Support for media formats and codecs is as wide as Tanix with minimal differences. Hereinafter, all the most popular content and file formats are supported, and Expertology experts recommend that you be interested in supporting the rarer ones separately at the point of sale and in real user reviews.

The player runs on Android 7 OS. Its feature, which the manufacturer insistently emphasizes, is support for non-stop content playback 24/7/365 without pauses and returning to the menu. This workflow is often used in the commercial field – in trading floors, at exhibitions and other events where screens are used for presentation.

The memory configuration of this model is two times more modest than that of the previous one – 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal flash memory. The interfaces are the same, only USB 2.0 TypeA ports are not two, but four. There is a Wi-Fi 802.11n module and a wired network interface. Bluetooth is not provided. There are slots for memory cards SD, SDHC and MultiMedia Card.

Advantages

  • 4K UHD support;

  • wired and wireless network connections;

  • multifunctional remote control with flexible settings;

  • endurance and the ability to work without interruption for a long time.

Flaws

  • relatively little built-in and RAM.

Google Chromecast 2018

Rating: 4.7

Google CHROMECAST 2018

The third and final media player in the mini-selection of budget models is a well-known product of Google Corporation. The Chromecast 2018 is comparable in price to the two previous models, it has been cut in places in terms of functionality, but other important qualities determine its popularity.

The 2018 model is already the third generation of the Google Chromecast. So far, this solution keeps stable high demand and positive feedback from users. The main wording is that the device turns any TV, monitor or projector into a powerful Smart TV receiver. At the same time, its dimensions are minimal, the weight is negligible, and in general, the Chromecast 2018 resembles a keychain.

The device is capable of playing video in resolutions up to 1080p and up to 30 frames per second. If you lower the resolution to 720p, the frame rate can reach 60fps. Some users lack 4K, but there is no such support here, and this is not a drawback. To watch 4K video, you should look at the Chromecast Ultra model. Supported video formats – MKV, AVI, WMV, MOV, H.264 and VC1 decoding; audio – MP3, AAC, WAV; raster graphics (photo) – JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, TIFF.

HDMI is used to connect the Chromecast to a playback device. There is also a wireless high-speed dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac module. There is also a microUSB port with support for recharging.

All interaction and control of the device is carried out through any wearable gadget with installed proprietary software. Android users can even stream any activity on their smartphone or tablet to the TV. Perhaps the same feature will appear in future versions for users of Apple gadgets, but this feature is not yet available in the 2018 version.

Google Chromecast is capable of working as part of a complex multi-source home audio system. Many popular apps have built-in support for Chromecast, making connecting and using it even faster, easier and more convenient.

Advantages

  • brand;

  • portable form factor;

  • reliability;

  • compatibility with many applications;

  • autonomy;

  • IPTV support;

  • smartphone and voice control.

Flaws

  • minor subjective comments from users.

The best feature rich media players

In a more extended selection of the Expertology review of the best media players of 2019, we will consider the most popular models on the market without any restrictions in terms of cost. Some devices have a pronounced “specialization” (games, TV), but do not exclude other use cases.

Apple TV 4K 32/64GB

Rating: 4.9

Apple TV 4K 32/64GB

Let’s start right away with the most “noticeable” boxing because of the famous brand. Here, the Cupertinos are just as true to their ideology – minimalism and elegance in design, power and performance in the filling. I would also like to add a high price, but in this collection there are models that are much more expensive.

Externally, AppleTV is exactly the same small box measuring 98x35x98mm and weighing 0.425kg. And even a similar shape with rounded edges, and almost the same black plastic. However, here you still feel the developer’s “signature” attention to detail, even with all the minimalism of the design.

This is the fifth generation of AppleTV, and differs from the previous one in almost the only circumstance – support for 4K resolution. But in 2019 (the media player was released in the fall of 2017), this moment already looks like a fundamental one due to the active conquest of the market by the UltraHD format. The electronic part of the device is based on the Apple A10X Fusion processor. Installed 32GB of RAM and 64GB of built-in. Built-in power supply, passive cooling.

The media player runs on tvOS. Supports MOV, MP4 video files with MPEG4, H.264, HEVC (H.265), HEVC Main 10 decoding. Compatible audio formats – MP3, AAC, WAV, FLAC, AC3; images – JPEG, GIF, TIFF. It connects to a TV via HDMI 2.0a, and in order to play 4K, you need a compatible HDMI cable of the second generation.

In addition to HDMI, the device also has a Wi-Fi 802.11ac (dual-band) wireless module, Bluetooth, and a built-in gigabit network adapter with an RJ45 output. Airplay supported.

The functionality and compatibility of this model include support for a number of online services – iTunes, Apple Music, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime; Siri voice control (English only); Dolby Vision; HDR10; IPTV.

The package includes a proprietary Lightning cable. Here it is needed for the sole purpose of recharging the battery of the remote control. This solution looks redundant, but for any user of Apple technology, the presence of another, very expensive original Lightning cable 1 meter long is a tangible and pleasant bonus. But the HDMI cable, which is simply necessary, is not included in the previous generations, nor is it in the current one.

Advantages

  • renowned brand;

  • elegant design;

  • powerful electronics;

  • wide compatibility with formats and services;

  • 4K UHD support;

  • Siri voice control.

Flaws

  • individual comments from users.

NVIDIA SHIELD

Rating: 4.8

NVIDIA SHIELD

The next model in the review is an example of a media player with a special specialization, namely, gaming. The very name of the manufacturer NVIDIA clearly hints at this. But gaming is, of course, not the only functionality of the device. At the time of its release in 2017, this model attracted a lot of attention from specialists, and the subsequent detailed reviews led many to enthusiastic conclusions.

Externally, this player has a slightly more expressive than previous models, but still the same discreet design with a predominance of straight lines and angular kinks. There is an element of illumination. Housing made of high quality black plastic. It is powered by 220V through an external power supply. Physical dimensions of the functional block – 159x26x98mm, weight – 0.25kg. Active cooling – one compact fan, although many descriptions of this model on the network mistakenly indicate a passive type of cooling.

NVIDIA SHIELD electronics is based on a powerful NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor on four ARM Cortex-A57 and four ARM Cortex-A53 cores with a frequency of up to 2GHz. Top graphics, as for similar systems – GeForce 6 ULP (GM204). 3GB DDR3 RAM is installed, and 16GB of built-in permanent memory eMMC. The package includes a game console, but there are configurations without it, so if you are not a gamer, there is an opportunity not to overpay for this accessory.

From the software side in a broad sense, here we see large-scale format support: 19 video file formats; more than a dozen codecs; audio formats including Ogg and FLAC; JPEG, GIF, BMP and PNG image formats. Operating system – Android 7.0.

This media player features Chromecast technology, installed Google Assistant as voice control, and uses the GeForce Now gaming platform. Gaming capabilities of this model include compatibility with games from Google Play, streaming from a desktop computer through the built-in NVIDIA GameStream, as well as cloud streaming through GeForce NOW.

Advantages

  • 4K UHD support;

  • high performance and stability;

  • wide support for media formats and codecs;

  • significant gaming component of the functionality;

  • voice control;

  • gigabit Wi-Fi module;

  • spectacular design.

Flaws

  • unsystematic user comments.

See also: 11 best music centers with karaoke

Dune HD Pro 4K

Rating: 4.7

Dune HD Pro 4K

The third number in the review of the best media players in 2019 according to Expertology, we suggest that you familiarize yourself with a device of a rather high class, closer to a premium one. This is a Dune HD Pro 4K stationary media player. Dune HD is headquartered in Taiwan, but the origin of the brand is believed to be Russian.

It should be emphasized here that we are talking about the most affordable model from the Dune media player series. The fact is that other popular models – Dune HD Pro 4K Plus, Dune HD Max 4K – are completely different devices, despite the similarity of names. They differ significantly even externally, but are much more expensive. It makes sense to take a closer look at them if the functionality and characteristics of Dune HD Pro 4K are not enough for you.

Externally, the media player is a small box 188x27x128mm in a black plastic case with a discreet design. Weight without packing – 0.51kg. Cooling is passive. The media player is controlled through a trained IR remote control that runs on AAA batteries.

The device combines the tasks of a media content player and an Android Smart TV set-top box, and all this with significantly more features than budget media players. So, it supports not only ultra-high resolution 4K at 60fps, but also 10-bit color depth, HDR technology, various 3D video formats and much more.

On the hardware side, the developers took care of high performance by combining a Cortex A53 processor with a frequency of up to 1.5 GHz, Mali-T820 graphics, 2 gigabytes of RAM. Built-in memory – 16GB flash and 4GB for file storage. The media player has a built-in interface for connecting a SATA hard drive. HDMI 2.0a is used to connect to a TV, and there is also an additional HDMI input.

For wireless connection of devices, a Bluetooth 4.x module is provided, for connecting to networks – a wired network card with a standard RJ45 jack and a wireless dual-band high-speed Wi-Fi module.

Everything described is an extremely concise description of the capabilities of this media player. Its full functionality is wide and varied. Unfortunately, this model is not without flaws, which are caused by the “dampness” of the firmware and some omissions in terms of functionality. These shortcomings are mostly solvable, but they create inconvenience. However, the manufacturer actively responds to feedback and tries to quickly eliminate the shortcomings. In fact, significant improvements are made in each new batch.

Advantages

  • 4K and 3D support;

  • 10-bit color depth;

  • introduction of innovations;

  • advanced functionality in general;

  • ease of use and flexibility of settings;

  • Broad compatibility with Apple products.

Flaws

  • defects in the firmware and functionality (resolved).

Xiaomi Mi Box International Version

Rating: 4.6

XIAOMI MI BOX INTERNATIONAL VERSION

Another media player that our experts suggested for review is the famous Xiaomi Mi Box, namely its international version. The model has proven itself well among the mass consumer and has passed the test of time. The quite affordable price adds to the glasses device on the market.

Externally, the player is a compact box measuring 101x20x101mm in a black plastic case with smooth lines and rounded edges in the design. Weight without packaging – 0.18kg. Works from a network through the external power supply unit, cooling passive. Operated by remote control with voice functions.

This model supports all the most popular video and audio formats and codecs, including FLAC. Image formats – JPEG, GIF, BMP and PNG. The software runs on Android 6.0. The player supports IPTV technology, is compatible with the iPhone in terms of audio, has a built-in Internet radio. Supports installation of additional software directly from the Google play market.

The player’s electronics are built on the basis of the Amlogic S905 chipset under the control of the ARM Cortex A53 processor with a core frequency of up to 2.0 GHz. It has 2GB of RAM and 8GB of built-in flash memory. The electronics here are quite decent, but questions remain for optimization, since even with such hardware, some users notice performance drops, especially when it comes to resource-intensive content.

To connect the player itself and additional devices, HDMI 2.0 interfaces, a standard audio output, USB 2.0 TypeA, Bluetooth wireless modules and dual-band Wi-Fi are used. Built-in support for DLNA, AirPlay and Miracast. There is no wired network interface; if necessary, you can connect to a wired network through an adapter connected to the USB port.

Expertology experts recommend updating the firmware to Android 8.0 immediately after purchasing the gadget. This will solve almost all problems with lags and other shortcomings in performance.

Advantages

  • 4K support;

  • remote control with voice functions;

  • combination of price, functions and quality;

  • reliability and stability;

  • dual band Wi-Fi.

Flaws

  • optimization flaws – are solved by updating the firmware.

MINIX NEO U9-H

Rating: 4.5

MINIX NEO U9-H

Completing the selection of the best multifunctional media players in 2019 according to the Expertology online magazine is another compact media player of the middle price category of the MINIX brand – owned by MINIX Technology Limited (Hong Kong). The brand has been known for quality mini PCs and Android boxes for quite some time now.

The form factor of this model is similar to almost all the devices described above – a compact plastic case, discreet design, rounded corners. A clearly noticeable feature is the presence of an external antenna to amplify the wireless signal. The box can only be installed on a desktop, wall mounting is not provided.

There are no controls on the case – everything is only through the remote control, and this is one of the weak points of the player. The standard remote control is clearly underdeveloped both in terms of convenience and in terms of its direct duties – the sensitivity of the IR sensor is weak. The situation is solved by the presence of the possibility of HDMI CEC – control, in which the modes of the media player can be switched with the remote control from the TV, subject to sufficient compatibility.

The media capabilities of MINIX NEO U9-H are largely determined by the characteristics of its predecessor, the legendary MINIX Neo U1 media player. This model pleases with support for many media formats and codecs, including ultra-high definition 4K; television IPTV; 3D video (Side-By-Side and Top-and-Bottom only); technologies Torrent Stream Controller, HD VideoBox and much more. The device supports some functions that are relatively rare for this class of devices, such as the coordinated operation of webcams during video conferencing.

Wide functionality requires not the weakest hardware, and in this regard, MINIX NEO U9-H is all right. The electronics are not the highest, but completely sufficient for the tasks: ARM Cortex-A53 processor on 8 cores with a frequency of up to 1.5 GHz; graphics – ARM Mali-T820MP3; 2GB DDR3 RAM; 16GB eMMC built-in memory; support for external memory cards.

Interaction between the media player and other devices is carried out through a set of interfaces: three USB 2.0 ports, one microUSB port, HDMI 2.0a output, HDMI of the previous generation, S/PDIF optics; wired connection – a gigabit network card with a standard connector, wireless connection – Bluetooth 4.1 modules and 2-band Wi-Fi with support for external 2×2 MIMO antennas.

Advantages

  • 4K support;

  • 3D video support;

  • performance;

  • stability and reliability;

  • the ability to use one remote control for TV and media player.

Flaws

  • remote control flaws (solved by adapting the remote control from the TV).

The best media player apps for Windows

In the final part of the review, we will pay attention to those readers of Expertology magazine who are interested in the current topic, but in relation to media player applications used to play media content on devices. Despite the seeming narrow specialization, such applications have a lot of nuances related to compatibility, format support and functionality in general.

KMPlayer

Rating: 4.9

KMPlayer

Let’s start with the super popular media player developed by a team of Korean programmers Pandora TV, which has been up-to-date for more than 10 years and is regularly updated. KMPlayer appeared as one of the many alternatives to the extremely limited media player built into Windows at that time. The trouble with the standard player was the poor support for formats and especially codecs, which, due to the lack of intelligible standardization, actively multiplied, causing confusion.

The main advantage of KMPlayer at the time of the release of the full version was the availability of the most complete package of various codecs for pre-installation. Thus, an unpleasant problem was solved when a video in one format or another was opened on one computer, but not on another, just because of the use of “exotic” codecs when converting and compressing video.

The range of possibilities of KMPlayer, as it is at the end of 2019, is exhaustive. The media player can work with different audio tracks, control playback modes, play non-streaming and streaming video, transform the “picture”, recognize (within reasonable limits) damaged and under-downloaded media files.

In general, this is a powerful, multifunctional and flexible software package for playing a wide variety of media content. Of course, it is not without flaws, but it is difficult to formulate completely objective and serious claims against it. So, for example, KMPlayer is obviously cumbersome in terms of resource consumption to provide its own work. Accordingly, on weak (even new) computers, video even in FullHD can slow down, and 4K is almost guaranteed to be poorly reproduced. But this can be considered a problem not with KMPlayer, but with the device. And if a technical upgrade is not planned, it makes sense to install a similar, but much less voracious media player – PotPlayer.

Fresh KMPlayer updates are increasingly being criticized by users due to the obsessive suggestion of installing unnecessary additional applications, displaying ads, etc. This cannot be called a lack of functionality of the media player, but it is worth bearing in mind.

Advantages

  • streaming and “stationary” video playback;

  • support for a record number of formats and codecs;

  • flexibility of settings;

  • reading under-downloaded and damaged files;

  • many additional features;

  • convenient hotkeys and combinations.

Flaws

  • resource-intensive in itself – not for weak computers;

  • negative feedback due to increasingly intrusive ads.

PotPlayer

Rating: 4.8

PotPlayer

At the first acquaintance with PotPlayer, there is a strong feeling that this is the “little brother” of the above KMPlayer. To a large extent, this is true, since KMPlayer formed the basis for the creation of PotPlayer, but already within the walls of another studio – Kakao Corp., where one of the authors of KMPlayer moved at one time. Until 2017, the media player had the full name Daum PotPlayer, but in recent versions, the Daum prefix was removed.

PotPlayer is very similar to its prototype in design and interface. The application is just as easy to use and flexible in settings. The average user will not notice the difference in capabilities – PotPlayer can play all conceivable formats and codecs in the same way, manipulate hot keys, play a stream, recognize “broken” and under-downloaded media files, play different audio tracks, show subtitles (including from external files ), connect DSP plugins and much more.

With all these advantages, one of the most important advantages of this media player is improved optimization and the developer’s deliberate refusal to support rarely used functions in favor of speed. Thus, even on weak systems, PotPlayer is able to work correctly and play high-definition videos without lags. At the same time, the size of the player’s distribution kit is minimal and incomparable with the monstrous KMPlayer.

Unlike its “progenitor”, PotPlayer does not force the user to watch ads and does not install third-party software for marketing purposes. This is one of the major factors in the mass transition of users to PotPlayer instead of KMPlayer. But the latter still remains relevant due to the ability to solve a number of specific problems.

Advantages

  • fast correct work;

  • convenient and clear interface;

  • many settings;

  • all other major advantages of KMPlayer;

  • good optimization and low resource consumption;

  • completely free and without ads.

Flaws

  • can hopelessly hang on damaged files.

See also: 6 most powerful music centers

VLC

Rating: 4.

VLC

In conclusion, let’s look at another project with worldwide popularity and recognition, which started in 1996 as a VideoLAN media player. Already from the name, it becomes clear to many that the emphasis in creating the product was placed on working with streaming video in all kinds of networks.

The idea of ​​creating a media player was largely in an effort to solve the problem of watching videos online, when it was not yet mainstream (almost 10 years before the advent of YouTube). The main goal set by the developers for the final product, at the same time, solved a number of intermediate problems, such as the correct playback of under-downloaded files, including those with “torn” resume download of torrent-like protocols. To date, all self-respecting media players have this ability, but so far the chances of successfully opening a “broken” video in VLC are on average higher than in any other player.

VLC was created with the calculation, including for weak systems, so the developers paid maximum attention to optimization. Over the past 10 years, the application interface has not undergone major changes, remaining as minimalistic as ever. At the same time, the program itself has been “overgrown” with many add-ons and add-ons, turning into a powerful cross-platform player with extremely flexible compatibility and the ability to integrate into other software thanks to the built-in ActiveX component.

VLC supports the installation of extensions that enrich its already decent functionality. In the same way, you can download and install themes that change the appearance beyond recognition, as convenient and preferable to the user.

Advantages

  • recognition of many formats and codecs;

  • better ability to play “broken” and underloaded files;

  • ease of integration into other applications;

  • good optimization;

  • flexibility of settings;

  • ease of use;

  • cross-platform;

  • completely free.

Flaws

  • personal preferences and subjective opinions of users.