VLC media player traffic cone icon on a green background

VLC media player has now been downloaded over 5 billion times across desktop and mobile devices, with the most recent release clocking up 335 million downloads on its own!

Jean-Baptiste Kempf, president of VideoLAN, the non-profit organisation who develop VLC (and related tech), shared the monumental milestone in a natter with Lowpass newsletter editor Janko Roettgers.

In the same chat Kempf also provided a bit of information on what we can expect in VLC 4.0 when it’s finally released (date TBC), and that a version of VLC for Apple Vision Pro exists (though they’re not committing to releasing it formally due to the Vision Pro’s low user-base).

VLC was first released in 2001 and is one the most successful and recognisable open-source desktop apps of all time. VLC is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, various BSDs, Solaris, and even OS/2 and QNX.

Despite our modern media habits skewing more towards on-demand and streaming services it seems VLC —the ‘Swiss army knife’ of media players thanks to its ability to play nearly anything asked of it— continues to swell in popularity.

Which means contrary to common perception people do still want to play local video and music files they’ve downloaded, and play “legacy formats” like CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Rays (I wrote a post on how to play Blu-Rays in VLC on Ubuntu with disc menus accessible, something other workarounds lack).

Even so, VideoLAN’s developers aren’t keen to let the player rest on its (well earned) laurels.

VLC 4.0 Includes UI Revamp

If VLC is to remain relevant it has to continue meeting users’ needs and what they expect of a modern media app.

Opening VLC 3.x presents a blank canvas, so for VLC 4.x devs are working on a new content-focused default view to present users with a way to visually browse their media content and, once set up, provide an immersive overview of their media library immediately on launch.

And since not everyone has the media they want to watch, there are plans to include access to FAST channels to will allow people to open VLC and start watching something with a click, no need to enter stream URLs etc.

Of course, how much of that will make it in the final release is unknown. Kempf himself suggests many of the UI changes currently being explored in nightly builds of VLC will end up reverted prior to launch.

Try VLC 4.0 Nightly Builds on Ubuntu

VLC Media Player Hits 5 Billion Downloads – Big Changes Ahead
VLC nightly build (March 2024) in Ubuntu

You can try VLC nightly builds (for what will eventually become v4.0) in Ubuntu by downloading a VLC nightly snap package from the VideoLAN website, which are generated daily. If your internet connection is slow or capped do be aware that these snaps are around ~700MB in size.

A VLC master daily PPA is also available, albeit automated and not maintained by VideoLAN devs. This builds packages from the VLC Git for most support versions of Ubuntu. Do note that packages regularly fail to build, and VLC ask you don’t file bug reports for issues in the PPA builds.

Keen to see “what’s coming” I installed a VLC nightly build in Ubuntu. As one might expect of a nightly anything the overall experience was less than perfect. It was buggy, crashed frequently, and the player struggled to keep audio in sync with video (which for VLC is unusual).

VLC’s revamped UI is interesting but looks, on Linux, very unfinished. When I did get the app to play a video it rendered content outside of the main app and sans window controls (which made it impossible to close without quitting VLC).

VLC Nightly (March 2024) on macOS
VLC Nightly (March 2024) on macOS

I also tried the latest VLC nightly build on macOS. While it looks far more polished there than on Linux (grr), and it did playback video inside of the app window rather than outside of it, it too was prone to crashing, and exhibited many bugs in the new built-in media discover view.

As this is all WIP code — there’s no fixed release date for VLC 4.0 at the time of writing — those issues are to be expected.

Still, the future of VLC is looking very good.