VLC is one of the most popular video apps because it will play just about any format you cast on it. Fans will be happy to hear that VLC 4 will give the app a more modern look in the coming months.
The team behind it is also considering the possibility of adopting a Plex-style business model to secure the future of the app, and is planning a moon shot – literally …
Protocol has a piece that looks at both the past and the future of VLC, and opens with the app’s history.
The student staff who ran the campus network of the École Centrale Paris had a problem. The university̵7;s Token Ring network had become too slow for students living on campus. For years, the technology had done its job of providing access to email and newsgroups. But in the mid-90s, students wanted more. They wanted to download files, surf the web and most of all play Duke Nukem 3D, which was impossible on the aging network architecture.
However, the university failed to offer a network update. In desperate need of an external sponsor, the students entered into an agreement with a major French broadcaster, who wanted to use the campus area as a test bed for an early version of IP-based TV delivery. The idea: Instead of equipping each dormitory with its own satellite dish and digital 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 regular machines, which would cost much less, ”said Jean-Baptiste Kempf, president of the VideoLAN Foundation. To achieve this, the students developed a video server and a playback app, then called VideoLAN Client. The project was transferred as the students graduated, and finally the team behind them decided to open the source code.
It was the Mac that led to the first significant improvement in use.
Weeks after VLC was released as open source in 2001, a developer in the Netherlands ported it to MacOS, causing the first real utility spike. Apple’s first versions of OS X did not come with a built-in DVD player app, and early users of the new system flocked to VLC as a replacement.
Popular as VLC remains, it is not exactly known for a nice or modern user interface. But VideoLAN Foundation President Jean-Baptiste Kempf says that is about to change.
Twenty years after the first open source release, the app is as popular as ever, clocking between 800,000 and 1 million downloads every day. In addition to desktop versions, there are now also official VLC apps for iOS, Android, Apple TV, Android TV and Chrome OS, among others. And in the coming months, VideoLAN will release VLC 4.0, which will have a modernized user interface. “We modified the interface to be a little more modern,” said Kempf.
The team has always rejected offers to commercialize the app, but is now considering a possible route to secure the future of VLC.
Kempf pointed to Plex and its ad-supported video services as a model to learn from. “There is something that can work for VLC,” he said.
Oh, and that moon shot …
Videolan also plans to celebrate its twentieth anniversary this year, with a literal moon shot: The team wants to put a video capsule aboard the first commercial lunar flight later this year, and is currently asking VLC users to submit their own videos. “There are a lot of people in the VideoLAN community who actually love space,” Kempf said. “We have SpaceX fans, weird fanboys” […] “The moon thing is completely, idiotic, but it’s so much fun.”
There is no word yet on the release date of VLC 4, but watch this space.
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