VLC for Windows 8 Beta launches, early promise undermined by stability issues

Windows RT/8 users rejoice: a Modern UI version of the fan-favorite VLC Media Player tool has just surfaced in the Windows App Store. VLC for Windows 8 Beta 0.2is currently available for Intel-based processors only, so users of WinRT tablets will need to wait until VideoLan is able to successfully compile an ARM version.

As the version number attests, VLC for Windows 8 is a very early public peek at running VLC on the Modern UI platform, and sadly it shows.

First, the good: VLC for Windows 8 can play just about any media file you throw at it, thanks to comprehensive built-in support for a wide array of formats and codecs.

We also like the integration of a library for browsing content -- your video and music libraries are included by default, and in theory the app should work with external storage and DLNA servers too.

However, while there’s definite promise -- select an artist and VLC will attempt to display biography information about them along with other suggested albums to try, for example -- the app is still a long way short of being ready for primetime, so don’t expect miracles when you first fire it up.

We found trying to browse libraries problematic, with frequent crashing. When we clicked on some media to play it, it was hit and miss as to whether the file would play (or VLC would again crash) too. Thankfully, there’s a button for manually opening media using the file system, which worked more often than not.

Part of these stability issues are caused by the need to make the app backwards-compatible with Windows 8.0, something that clearly frustrates developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf.

The beta release also opens with support for multiple audio track selection, embedded subtitles, and background audio playback (so you can listen to music while in another app). VideoLan’s immediate priority is to stabilize these features, but has hinted at the promise of implementing "longer term goals" in a future release.

If you’re willing to try this unfinished app -- note performance is likely to be poor thanks to a lack of support for hardware acceleration -- you can download VLC for Windows 8 Beta 0.2 now on your Windows 8 or 8.1 PC or tablet. Also available are VLC Media Player 32-bit and VLC Media Player 64-bit for Windows, Mac and Linux desktops.

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