*Review best according to redakciey. About the selection criteria. This material is subjective in nature, is not an advertisement, and does not serve as a guide to purchase. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.
With the development of consumer electronics tends to more pronounced versatility. A typical example is smartphones, which are often almost never used for their intended purpose (phone calls). However, for home entertainment, standalone dedicated media players remain the most convenient form factor. Today we will look at a selection of media players that received the highest ratings from experts based on the realities of 2021.
What we mean by a media player
To begin with, let’s clarify the question with definitions – what should be understood by the term “media player” in General 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 previous generations. VHS, CD, DVD, BluRay players with such abbreviations in the nomenclature clearly gave an idea of their leading function. Now, the number of popular technologies and common media formats is so large that it’s time to first understand the definitions before analyzing specific models.
So, a modern media player can be of any size, weight, or form factor; unlike previous 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 for audio tracks and videos to a complex device with a built-in Smarttv, wireless communication and a set of additional functions. Actually, set-top boxes for receiving DVB-T2 digital signal also fall into the category of media players, partly due to these additional features.
Media player as a program
Finally, the term “media player”, which means an electronic device, has a homonym that 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 issue, we will also consider a small selection of the most worthy and popular media players for Windows in 2021 as part of this review.
Rating of the best media players
|Best low-cost media players||1||Tanix TX3 Mini||1 900 ₽|
|2||iconBIT XDS304K||2 449 ₽|
|3||Google Chromecast 2018||2 750 ₽|
|Best multi-functional media players||1||Apple TV 4K 32/64GB||12 000 ₽|
|2||NVIDIA SHIELD||13 990 ₽|
|3||Dune HD Pro 4K||16 529 ₽|
|4||Xiaomi Mi Box International Version||4 990 ₽|
|5||MINIX NEO U9-H||8 790 ₽|
|Best media players apps for Windows||1||KMPlayer||–|
Best low-cost 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 say much to the average user, but that’s not a big deal here.
Tanix TX3 Mini
The player of the Chinese brand Tanix opens our review. This is a fairly simple set-top box that shows unexpectedly decent characteristics and has earned strictly positive feedback from users.
Externally, this media player is a compact TV box with dimensions of 105x15x105mm and a weight of 151g. The case is plastic, black in color, mostly matte surface texture. The design is minimalistic, and thus almost universal for any interior and context. It is powered from the 220V power supply via an external power supply unit. 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 package. The modes themselves and other information are displayed on a primitive, but quite sufficient LCD screen.
Software the developers of this model were built based on Android OS 7.1. Pre-installed set of standard apps – YouTube, Chrome browser, playback software media, TV Center, and more. Apps are displayed on the home screen in the form of tiles that are familiar to Android users-links. Keep in mind that you will need a classic mouse to use some applications.
The Tanix TX3 Mini’s media playback capabilities are described 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 codecs MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, XviD, DivX, H. 264, 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 resolution 4K UHD mode, with the exception of playing videos 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: audio stereo and optical, composite, HDMI version 2.0, network Ethernet with RJ45 Jack (speed up to 100 Mbit/s), two USB 2.0 TypeA ports, wireless modules Wi-Fi 802.11 n and Bluetooth, slots for microSD and microSDHC memory cards. There is an Internet radio station.
The hardware in this case is built on the basis of Amlogic S905W and in such an environment the processor shows decent performance. Graphics – Mali-T450. Complete set of memory: from 2GB of RAM and from 16GB – built-in. This memory configuration is the most affordable on the market.
- compact and lightweight;
- user-friendly and intuitive Russian-language interface;
- fast operation;
- support for 4K UHD resolution;
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth;
- wired network connection.
- there are cases of hanging – they are solved by installing elementary active cooling.
The second media player in our review is a Korean-made iconBIT media player. This model practically does not differ from the previous one in price and minimal in functionality.
The external design of the device is largely similar to the previous model – the same form factor of the” box ” made of gray plastic, only slightly larger with dimensions of 119x28x119mm. External power supply, passive cooling. The controls are assembled on a remote control, and on the box body itself, only interfaces and a mechanical power button are located around the perimeter.
The remote control itself is much more functional here than in the case described above. It implies 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 high-resolution 4K playback, as well as 3D format. Support for media formats and codecs is as broad as Tanix with minimal differences. Here and further, all the most popular content and file formats are supported, and experts recommend that you ask for support for rarer ones separately at the point of sale and in real user reviews.
The player runs on Android OS 7. its feature, which is strongly emphasized by the manufacturer, is the support of content playback mode in non-stop mode 24/7/365 without pauses and return to the menu. This procedure is often used in the commercial sphere – in sales halls, at exhibitions and other events where presentation screens are used.
The memory configuration of this model is twice as modest as that of the previous one – 1Gb of RAM and 8Gb of internal flash memory. The interfaces are still the same, only the USB 2.0 TypeA ports are not two, but four. There is an 802.11 n Wi-Fi module and a wired network interface. Bluetooth is not provided. There are slots for memory cards SD, SDHC and MultiMedia Card.
- 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.
- relatively little built-in and RAM.
Google Chromecast 2018
The third and final media player in the mini-selection of budget models is a well-known product of Google Corporation. For the price of Chromecast 2018 is comparable to the previous two models, the functionality is cut in places, but its popularity is determined by other important qualities.
The 2018 model is the third generation of the Google Chromecast. So far, this solution keeps stable high demand and positive feedback from users. The main formulation – the device turns any TV, monitor or projector into a powerful Smarttv receiver. At the same time, its dimensions are minimal, its weight is negligible, and in General, the Chromecast 2018 resembles a keychain.
The device is capable of playing video in a resolution of up to 1080p and a frequency of up to 30 frames per second. If you lower the resolution to 720p, the frame rate can reach 60fps. Some users do not have enough 4K, but there is no such support here, and this is not a disadvantage. To view 4K video, you should look out for the Chromecast Ultra model. Supported video formats-MKV, AVI, WMV, MOV, H. 264 and VC1 decoding; audio-MP3, AAC, WAV; bitmap graphics (photo) – JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, TIFF.
Use HDMI to connect the Chromecast to the playback device. There is also a wireless high-speed dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 ac module. There is also a MicroUSB port with support for recharging.
All interaction and control of the device is carried out using any wearable gadget with proprietary SOFTWARE installed. 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 in the 2018 version this feature is not yet available.
Google Chromecast is able to work as part of a comprehensive home audio system with multiple sources. Many popular apps have built-in support for Chromecast, which makes connecting and using It even faster, easier, and more convenient.
- brand name;
- portable form factor;
- compatible with many applications;
- IPTV support;
- smartphone control and voice control.
- minor subjective comments from users.
Best multi-functional media players
In a more extensive selection of the review of the best media players of 2021 by version, 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
Let’s start right away with the most” noticeable ” box because of the famous brand. Here cupertinos are just as true to their ideology-minimalism and elegance in design, power and performance in stuffing. I would also like to add a high price, but in this selection there are models that are much more expensive.
Externally, AppleTV is exactly the same small box with dimensions of 98x35x98mm and a weight of 0.425 kg. And even a similar shape with rounded edges, and almost the same black plastic. However, here you can still feel the developer’s “branded” 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 2021 (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 internal storage. Built-in power supply, passive cooling.
The media player runs on tvOS OS. Supports MOV and MP4 video files with MPEG4, H. 264, HEVC (H. 265), and HEVC Main 10 decoding. Compatible audio formats-MP3, AAC, WAV, FLAC, AC3; images – JPEG, GIF, TIFF. It connects to the TV via HDMI 2.0 a, and to play 4K, you need a compatible second-generation HDMI cable.
In addition to HDMI, the device has on Board a wireless module Wi-Fi 802.11 ac (dual-band), Bluetooth, built-in Gigabit network adapter with RJ45 output. Airplay Is 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.
A proprietary Lightning cable is included in the delivery package. 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 with a length of 1 meter is a tangible and pleasant bonus. But the HDMI cable, which is simply necessary, was not included in the kit in previous generations, and is not present in the current one.
- a famous brand;
- elegant design;
- powerful electronics;
- wide compatibility formats and servisabil;
- 4K UHD support;
- Siri voice control.
- individual user comments.
The next model in the review is an example of a media player with a special specialization, namely, a game player. 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 is already slightly more expressive than the previous models, but still the same restrained design with a predominance of straight lines and angular kinks. There is a highlight element. The case is made of high-quality black plastic. It is powered from the 220V network via an external power supply. Physical dimensions of the functional unit – 159x26x98mm, weight-0.25 kg. Active cooling – one compact fan, although many descriptions of this model in the network mistakenly indicate the passive type of cooling.
NVIDIA SHIELD electronics are based on the powerful NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor with four ARM Cortex-A57 and four ARM Cortex-A53 cores with a frequency of up to 2GHz. Top-end graphics, as for similar systems-GeForce 6 ULP (GM204). 3GB of DDR3 RAM is installed, and 16GB of internal EMMC permanent memory. The game console is included in the package, but there are complete sets 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, we see large-scale support for formats: 19 video file formats; more than a dozen codecs; audio formats, including Ogg and FLAC; image formats JPEG, GIF, BMP and PNG. The operating system is Android 7.0.
This media player implements Chromecast technology, Google Assistant is installed as voice control, and the GeForce Now gaming platform is used. Gaming features of this model include compatibility with games from Google Play, streaming from a desktop computer via the built-in NVIDIA GameStream, as well as cloud streaming via GeForce NOW.
- 4K UHD support;
- high performance and stable operation;
- broad support for media formats and codecs;
- significant gaming component of the functionality;
- voice control;
- Gigabit Wi-Fi module;
- eye-catching design.
- unsystematic observations of users.
Dune HD Pro 4K
The third number in the review of the best media players in 2021 according to the version, we offer to get acquainted with the device of a fairly high class, closer to the premium one. This is a dune HD Pro 4K stationary media player. The main office of Dune HD is located in Taiwan, but the origin of the brand is presumably Russian.
Here it should be emphasized 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 in appearance, and 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 of 188x27x128mm in a black plastic case with a discreet design. Weight without packaging-0.51 kg. Cooling is passive. The media player is controlled via a learnable IR remote that runs on AAA batteries.
The device combines the tasks of a media player and an Android Smart TV set-top box, and all this with significantly wider capabilities compared to budget media players. So, it supports not only ultra-high 4K resolution with a frequency of 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 due to the combination of a Cortex A53 processor with a frequency of up to 1.5 GHz, Mali-T820 graphics, and 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. To connect to the TV, use HDMI 2.0 a, and there is also an additional HDMI input.
For wireless connection of devices, a Bluetooth 4.x module is provided, for connection to networks – a wired network card with a standard RJ45 Jack and a wireless dual-band high-speed Wi-Fi module.
All of this is an extremely concise description of the features of this media player. Its full functionality is wide and diverse. Unfortunately, this model is not without drawbacks, which are caused by the” dampness ” of the firmware and some omissions in functionality. These shortcomings are mostly solvable, but they create inconveniences. However, the manufacturer actively responds to feedback and tries to quickly eliminate shortcomings. In fact, significant improvements are made in each new batch.
- support for 4K and 3D;
- 10-bit color depth;
- introduction of innovations;
- advanced functionality in General;
- user-friendliness and flexibility of settings;
- wide compatibility with Apple products.
- bugs in the firmware and functionality (solved).
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. Quite an affordable price adds points to the device on the market.
Externally, the player is a compact box with dimensions of 101x20x101mm in a black plastic case with smooth lines and rounded edges in the design. Weight without packaging – 0.18 kg. It operates from the mains via an external power supply, passive cooling. It is controlled by a remote control with voice functions.
This model supports all the most popular video and audio formats and codecs, including FLAC. Image formats are JPEG, GIF, BMP, and PNG. The software runs on Android 6.0. the Player supports IPTV technology, is compatible with iPhone audio, and has a built-in Internet radio. Supports the installation of additional software directly from the Google play market.
The player’s electronics are based on the Amlogic s905 chipset running an ARM Cortex A53 processor with a core frequency of up to 2.0 GHz. There is 2GB of RAM and 8Gb of internal flash memory. The electronics here are quite decent, but there are still questions about optimization, since even with such hardware, some users note performance drawdowns, especially when it comes to resource-intensive content.
To connect the player itself and additional devices, use the HDMI 2.0 interface, standard audio output, USB 2.0 TypeA, wireless Bluetooth modules and dual-band Wi-Fi. Built-in DLNA, AirPlay, and Miracast support. There is no wired network interface. if necessary, you can connect to a wired network via an adapter connected to the USB port.
Experts recommend updating the firmware to Android 8.0 OS immediately after purchasing the gadget. this will solve almost all problems with lags and other performance issues.
- 4K support;
- remote control with voice functions;
- a combination of price, function and quality;
- reliability and stability;
- dual-band Wi-Fi.
- disadvantages of optimization – are solved by updating the firmware.
MINIX NEO U9-H
Completing the selection of the best multifunctional media players in 2021 according to the online magazine version is another compact media player of the mid-price category of the MINIX trademark-owned by MINIX Technology Limited (Hong Kong). The brand has long been known for high-quality mini-PCs and Android boxes.
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 for amplifying the wireless signal. Installation of the box can only be desktop, wall mounting is not provided.
There are no controls on the case – everything is only via the remote control, and this is one of the weak points of the player. The standard remote control is clearly under-developed both in terms of convenience and in terms of its direct responsibilities – the sensitivity of the IR sensor is weak. The situation is solved by the possibility of HDMI CEC – control, in which the media player modes can be switched using the remote control from the TV, provided that they are sufficiently compatible.
The media capabilities of the MINIX NEO U9-H are largely determined by the characteristics of its predecessor, the legendary MINIX Neo U1 media player. This model pleases with the support of many media formats and codecs, including ultra-high resolution 4K; IPTV television; 3D video (only Side-By-Side and Top-and-Bottom); Torrent Stream Controller technologies, HD VideoBox and much more. The device supports some features that are relatively rare for this class of devices, such as the coordinated operation of Webcams during video conferences.
Broad functionality requires not the weakest “hardware”, and in this regard, the MINIX NEO U9-H is all right. Electronics are not the most top-end, but fully sufficient for the tasks set: ARM Cortex-A53 processor on 8 cores with a frequency of up to 1.5 GHz; graphics – ARM Mali-T820MP3; 2GB of DDR3 RAM; 16GB of internal eMMC memory; support for external memory cards.
The media player and other devices interact via a set of interfaces: three USB 2.0 ports, one microUSB port, HDMI 2.0 a output, previous-generation HDMI, S/PDIF optics; wired communication – a Gigabit network card with a standard connector, wireless communication-Bluetooth 4.1 modules and 2-band Wi-Fi with support for external 2×2 MIMO antennas.
- 4K support;
- 3D video support;
- stability and reliability;
- you can use the same remote control for your TV and media player.
- shortcomings of the remote control (solved by adapting the remote control from the TV).
Best media players apps for Windows
In the final part of the review, we will focus on those readers of the magazine who are interested in the current topic, but with regard to media players-applications used to play media content on devices. Despite the seemingly narrow specialization, such applications have a lot of nuances related to compatibility, format support, and functionality in General.
Let’s start with the super-popular media player developed by a team of Korean programmers Pandora TV, which has been relevant and regularly updated for more than 10 years. KMPlayer appeared as one of the numerous alternatives to the extremely limited media player built into Windows at that time. The trouble with the standard player was the weak support for formats and especially codecs, which, due to the lack of clear 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 all possible codecs for pre-installation. This solved an unpleasant problem when a video in a particular format 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 features of KMPlayer, as It is at the end of 2021, is exhaustive. The media player can work with different audio tracks, control playback modes, play non-streaming and streaming video, transform the “picture”, and recognize (within reasonable limits) damaged and under-downloaded media files.
In General, it is a powerful, multifunctional and flexible software package for playing a wide variety of media content. Of course, it is not without drawbacks, but it is difficult to formulate completely objective and serious claims to it. So, for example, KMPlayer is clearly cumbersome in terms of resource intensity to ensure its own operation. 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 much similar, but much less voracious media player – PotPlayer.
Recent updates to KMPlayer are increasingly met with sharp criticism from users due to the obsessive offer to install unnecessary additional applications, display ads, and so on. This can not be called a disadvantage of the media player in terms of functionality, but it is worth keeping in mind.
- streaming and stationary video playback;
- support for a record number of formats and codecs;
- flexibility of settings;
- reading undocumented and corrupted files;
- many additional features;
- convenient keyboard shortcuts and combinations.
- resource-intensive by itself – not for weak computers;
- negative feedback due to increasingly Intrusive advertising.
When you first get acquainted with PotPlayer, you get a strong feeling that It is the “younger brother” of the KMPlayer described above. To a large extent, this is true, since KMPlayer formed the basis for creating PotPlayer, but already within the walls of another Studio-Kakao Corp., where one of the authors of KMPlayer once moved. Until 2017, the media player had the full name Daum PotPlayer, but in the latest versions, the Daum prefix was removed.
PotPlayer is very similar in design and interface to its prototype. The app is just as user-friendly and flexible in its settings. The average user will not notice the difference in capabilities – PotPlayer can also play all imaginable formats and codecs, manipulate hot keys, play a stream, recognize “broken” and under-downloaded media files, play different voice-over 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 conscious refusal of the developer to support rarely used functions in favor of speed. Thus, even on weak systems, PotPlayer is able to work correctly and play videos in high resolution without lags. The player’s distribution volume is minimal and incomparable to the monstrous KMPlayer.
Unlike its” grandparent”, 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 tasks.
- fast to work correctly;
- user-friendly and intuitive interface;
- a lot of settings;
- all other key advantages of KMPlayer;
- good optimization and low resource consumption;
- completely free and ad-free.
- it can hang permanently on damaged files.
In conclusion, let’s look at another project with global popularity and recognition, which was launched in 1996 as the VideoLAN media player. Already from the name, it becomes clear to many that the emphasis when creating a product was made on working with streaming video in various networks.
The idea of creating a media player was largely to solve the problem of watching videos online, when it was not yet mainstream (YouTube was almost 10 years away). 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 undocumented files, including with the “torn” download of torrent-like protocols. Today, 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 based on weak systems, so the developers paid maximum attention to optimization. Over the past 10 years, the app’s interface has hardly changed significantly, but it remains as minimalistic as ever. At the same time, the program itself has “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 design themes that change the appearance beyond recognition, as is convenient and preferable for the user.