What is a Media Player?

While searching for a streaming solution, it’s possible you’ll come across two different terms: video players vs. media players. What’s a media player? How are they similar? More importantly, which one do you need?  

While they sound alike, there is a distinct difference. We’ve talked about video players quite a bit in this blog, but we’ll start with a refresher before moving on to what a media player is.  


What is a Video Player?  

Are you familiar with the basic streaming workflow? If not, you can check out this post, but for our purposes today the most important part is knowing that every workflow ends with a video player. That’s the viewer-facing component; the element they interact with, press “play” on, and associate with your brand.  

A video player is a web-based application that allows users to stream video content directly from the internet — i.e., playback (even offline streams, such as surveillance streams from non-internet connected IP cameras, send video data to players for security personnel to watch). YouTube, Netflix, Peacock, and all those other streaming services have their own video players you likely interact with frequently.  

The standard video player in today’s world is HTML5. Ever since the death of Adobe Flash (remember that?), HTML5 grew in popularity due to its intentional compatibility with Apple products. We dive more into HTML5 players here.  

Because video players enable users to, you know, watch your content, that’s where you’ll find features like play, pause, volume, fast forward, rewind, closed captions, social sharing options, and video recommendations. These features are necessary for a seamless viewer experience and enable watchers to interact with your content.  

Media Player graphic

What is a Media Player?  

A media player is a broader technology. It’s usually a software application or hardware device that you can use to play locally stored multimedia files including music, videos, and photos (storage can be within an external device, streamed from the internet, a disc, or its own local network). Some media players you might already be familiar with include VLC Media Player and Windows Media Player. DVD and Blu-ray players also fall into this category.  

Media players support a wide range file formats and include even more features beyond basic playback controls. Most media players can do some, if not all of, the following:  

  • Organize content libraries 
  • Create playlists  
  • Play songs and videos 
  • Burn CDs 
  • Rip CD tracks to other audio formats including MP3 
  • Download content from online stores (such as iTunes) 
  • Listen to internet radio 

And more. Unlike online video players, media players don’t rely on a constant internet connection once the media files have been downloaded or stored locally. They allow you to watch content anytime, anywhere, and are ideal for playing personal media collections.


Learn everything there is to know about online video players and how to improve your viewer experience.


Video Players vs. Media Players: What’s the Difference?  

Both video players and media players are intended for playing video and audio. They also have some degree of playback controls such as play, pause, and volume adjustments.  

Their key differences lie in how they do so: video players stream content directly from the internet (even if you download a video to your device, like on Netflix, it still came from the internet first), while media players can play from the internet or locally stored files. As such, a video player’s quality depends on internet speed and connectivity, but a media player can playback as long as files are already downloaded. Plus, media players are standalone applications installed on a device whereas video layers are only accessible through web browsers or dedicated apps.  

Both have their appropriate use cases. Being able to playback content whenever and wherever you are is a major perk of media players, but many people consider an advantage of video players is that you don’t have to download content first and consume valuable storage space. Media players are also often intended for personal media collections while video players connect you to the wealth of video available on the internet, allowing you to watch a wider range of published content.  

Video players are also more interactive. They enable comments and social sharing features so you can more easily recommend content to your friends and engage with other viewers.  

Media players and video players are both meant for video playback, but they differ in terms of features, operational scope, and intended usage scenarios. Businesses looking to build a video application can consider Wowza Flowplayer, an online video player that provides a robust set of viewer controls and interactive features to optimize your viewers’ experience. 

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About Jacob Yoss

Jacob is Wowza’s resident content writer, creating blog posts, case studies, and more that educate Wowza’s audience. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, Jacob currently travels the world as a digital nomad and is also passionate about social justice, art, and fantasy literature.