15 March 2014

VLC for Windows 8 finally arrives, bringing MKV and subtitle support to tablets

VLC for Windows 8
At long last, the Windows 8 Metro environment has a decent media player that can play MKV files: VLC for Windows 8! VLC Media Player Beta for Windows 8 is a complete reimagining of VLC for Microsoft’s touch-oriented Metro interface, but still with most of the functionality that makes the Desktop version of VLC so awesome. VLC for Windows 8 includes support for the MKV container format, the H.264 codec (along with its various containers/file formats), and almost every other codec under the sun (just like VLC on the Desktop). Perhaps most importantly, VLC for Windows 8 includes the same flawless support for captioning and subtitles. Unfortunately for Surface 2 owners, VLC for Windows 8 doesn’t yet support the ARM architecture but the developers say that ARM support is coming eventually.

Way back in November 2012, VideoLAN (the group behind VLC) launched a Kickstarter project to fund the creation of Metro version of VLC. The Kickstarter went on to successfully raise around $80,000 and now, just over a year later, VLC for Windows 8 has been released to the Metro app store. Being a beta release, there are some bugs, and it’s not 100% stable, but it’s still very usable. There’s no ARM support yet, but the original Kickstarter said there would be a “subsequent release” that adds it. VLC hasn’t made a full list of supported file formats/codecs available, but it played all of the normal video files we threw at it (MP4, MKV, MOV, AVI, etc.) It also worked with a range of subtitle files, including CC, SUB, and VSUB. The app store says it should support FLAC audio playback, but it didn’t work for us; MP3 worked just fine, though.

VLC for Windows 8 screenshot

VLC for Windows 8: Where's my option to open a music file

VLC for Windows 8: Where’s my option to open a music file?

In terms of usability, VLC for Windows 8 is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s fairly unpleasant to use with a mouse and keyboard. It has some interesting new views for External Storage and Media Servers, but the inability to right click anything, or change any settings. There’s no double-click-to-full-screen (or minimize), because Metro doesn’t really allow for that (but split screening works just fine). Normal shortcuts like space (pause/play) and escape (exit full screen) don’t work. You can’t drag files into it from the Desktop, and the built-in file browser thing only shows video files.

In short, VLC for Windows 8 is good if you have an x86 Windows 8 tablet, and you really need to play an MKV or watch a movie with subtitles. If you were hoping that Windows 8.1 Update , with its tweaks for non-touch users, plus VLC for Windows 8, would give mouse-and-keyboard users a bona fide reason to stay within the Metro interface. I’m afraid that just isn’t the case. Watching downloaded movies and TV shows is a very valid use for tablets, however and now that there’s a good MKV media player for Metro, maybe Windows 8 tablet sales will finally take off?

Download VLC for Windows 8 from the Windows Store. Ignore the mentions of WinRT; it doesn’t mean that it supports ARM it’s just another way of referring to the Metro interface.


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