QuickTime/iTunes on the mac is very polished and easy to use, but the media format support is rather lacking out of the box. You can extended its’ media abilities immensely by adding the Perian plugin. But it’s still not as complete as VLC or Mplayer OSX Extended. This MacTip is about free standalone Mac media players that play virtually all types of files. If you prefer simple and powerful apps to unnecessarily bloated ones, you will appreciate these media players.
VLC: multi-platform Swiss army knife of media playback.
The wildly popular VLC media player has been around for many years, and underwent many incremental improvements to become what it is today. Extremely versatile and easy to use, but packs many advanced features of commercial software. Subtitle support, equalizer settings, and streaming capabilities make this the most complete open source player on the mac.
Update (February 19, 2012): VLC 2.0 was just released. A major update, and it resolves previous performance issues on multi core systems. Can now confidently recommend VLC as the top choice for the mac.
MPlayer OSX Extended: Packs a bit more punch.
VLC is great for most situations, but MPlayer OSX Extended has a secret weapon that helps with HD video playback. If you have an older dual core mac, which is struggling with HD video playback, give Mplayer OSX Extended a try. This media player is multi-threaded, so it’s able to use both processing cores, and offer smoother playback when other media players show choppy video. On a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo system, 1080p X264 playback can get choppy with VLC and Perian, but Mplayer doesn’t skip a frame. This has got to be the most efficient X264 player for the mac.