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Open source video player VLC will get a new UI this year with 4.0 launch


An orange traffic cone has long been the logo and symbol for VLC media player.
Enlarge / An orange traffic cone has long been the logo and symbol for VLC media player.

News website Protocol ran an extensive piece on the history and status of the popular open source video player VLC, and the story includes new details about the next major version of the software. Among other things, VLC 4.0 will bring a complete user interface overhaul.

“We modified the interface to be a bit more modern,” VideoLAN foundation President Jean-Baptiste Kempf told the publication. Kempf had previously shown some version of a new interface about two years ago, but it’s unclear at this point how much that one resembles the one the team plans to introduce with VLC 4.0.

While the article doesn’t list every change coming, it does outline a couple other possible directions and priorities for VLC.

The VideoLAN foundation has not generally sought ways to monetize VLC, but some source of funding or revenue could help ensure long-term support for the project. To that end, Kempf said VideoLAN is exploring a Plex-like business model, with ad-supported free video streams available in the player. “That is something that could work for VLC,” he explained. But it was clear nothing is final on that front yet.

VLC will also ultimately get support the AV1 and AV2 codecs; AV1 is gaining a great deal of traction for streaming services and other video products these days. Finally, VideoLAN is developing a new way to run VLC on the Web, using Webassembly and JavaScript.

VLC 4.0 is expected “in the coming months,” but we don’t know any more than that at this stage.

Even with the VLC 4.0 details aside, the Protocol article is worth reading just for the history behind one of the world’s most successful open source projects if you’re not already familiar (and maybe even if you are). Here’s an excerpt describing the origin of VLC on a university campus:

The student staff running the campus network of the École Centrale Paris had a problem. The university’s Token Ring network had become much too slow for students living on campus. For years, the technology had done its job, offering access to email and newsgroups. But by the mid-’90s, students wanted more. They wanted to download files, browse the web and most of all play Duke Nukem 3D, which was impossible on the aging network architecture.

However, the university wasn’t able to provide a network update. In desperate need for an outside sponsor, the students struck a deal with a big French broadcaster, which wanted to use the campus grounds as a testbed for an early version of IP-based TV delivery. The idea: Instead of equipping each dorm room with its own satellite dish and set-top box, students would find a way to stream TV signals over their local network.

“The goal of the project was to show that you could resend the satellite feed and decode [it] on normal machines, which would cost a lot less,” said VideoLAN foundation President Jean-Baptiste Kempf. To achieve this, students developed a video server and a playback app, at the time called VideoLAN Client. The project got passed down as students graduated, and eventually, the team behind it decided to open-source it.

Read the article for more details.



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