Well, the wait is finally over. Sort of. Last night, Videolan's long-awaited VLC Media Player finally arrived in Modern mobile app form for Windows 8. But there are some caveats: It's only a beta, doesn't work with Windows RT, and doesn't support all of the file types that make the desktop version of this app such a delight. But it will of course get better over time. And it already supports all the captioning and subtitling options that matter to me.
I don't write about this very often, but VLC Media Player ranks among my top five gotta-install-it applications for Windows. I use VLC for a number of reasons, but the top two are that it works with every single video file I've ever thrown at it and it supports all of the captioning and subtitling formats there are. (That last bit is important because my son is deaf, and as I've ripped DVDs to digital formats I've always used some form of captioning or subtitling when available.) Beyond these, VLC is also amazing full-featured and configurable. It's absolutely wonderful.
When you look at what's missing from the Modern environment in Windows 8.x (including RT), a proper video player is of course near the top of the list. Xbox Video is fine for what it is, but it has limited format support and is useless for captioned and subtitled videos I've made with Handbrake. So like many, I was quite happy to find out that Videolan was creating a version of its video player for the Modern environment.
It arrived last night, and you can now download VLC Media Player for Windows 8 from the Windows Store. It's described as an initial beta release, so there are some functional holes. The key one, perhaps, is that it only works on Intel-type x86/x64 PCs, meaning it won't (yet) work on Windows RT. I assume that's coming.
It offers limited system integration so far: You can configure it as the default media player if you know where to look (PC Settings, Search and Apps, Defaults). But you can't right-click on a video file and choose to play with the app. (The desktop version works this way.)
From a format perspective, I've not tested all possible formats, of course, but I have tested the format I used to rip my DVD collection: My video files are all in H.264 format, but some of the files have *.mp4 extensions (preferable) while many others use a *.m4v extension that is specific to iTunes. (I think Handbrake must use this extension by default.) Unlike its desktop cousin, VLC can't even see these files. But if you rename them to .mp4 they work fine.
But the best news from my perspective is that the VLC app fully supports the captioning and subtitling types I've used on my ripped DVDs, which includes various forms of "soft" captioning "CC" or "SUB," and "VSUB." They all work. This alone is fantastic.
Beyond that, my final major gripe is that there's no aspect ratio tuning. Videos simply fill the screen and many look squashed or pulled as a result. There's a distinct lack of playback configuration here, but that can only get better over time. Then there a lot of little things. The Open File button doesn't open a File Picker interface, it opens a menu ... with one item, called Open File. Hitting ESC while a video is playing doesn't exit. It can't see sub-folders in my Videos folder, which is dumb. That kind of thing.
You know what? I don't really care, and I'm just glad this is happening. VLC can only get better, but as of now, this tiny company is doing more for video playback in the Modern environment than Microsoft ever will. I have a new app I'll want to install regularly, and for once it's a Modern app. Highly recommended even in this incomplete state.