I’ve previously covered K-Lite Codec Pack as good solution for video playback and mentioned that alternative to packs are all-in-one media players.
So VLC is other side of the coin.
What it does
VLC is self-contained (no external codecs or other software required) and plays pretty much anything you throw at it . It’s well known as solution for playing incomplete or damaged files. For example you can take a look (or at least try to) at video file that is still being downloaded.
I can’t force myself to write long description – it just works and that’s the best thing about it. :)
Differences with codec packs
Codec packs deeply integrate with system . Any media player (not self-contained) can use them and sometimes other apps rely on codecs to play integrated video.
Players like VLC have everything built-in. They don’t contribute to the system and don’t share anything. Better for stability but you are stuck with their interface and they are no help if other apps are having problems with media playback.
Freeware, open source, cross-platform. Not natively portable but PortableApps have that covered with their portable build of VLC. Personally I am not using VLC daily but I launch it when other solutions have trouble playing something or if I want to stream something from web without bothering with download.