VLC passes 3 billion downloads, will get AirPlay support and improved VR features soon

By Manish Singh

In 1996, a group of students at Ecole Centrale Paris wondered if there was a way to efficiently stream videos across the campus. Their curiosity quickly turned into an academic project and paved the way to the early development of a media player application called VLC.

Over the past 23 years, VLC media player has become a household name, offering a helping hand to users who are struggling to play a video file that other applications won’t support. It is available on nearly every computing platform, a rarity in the apps ecosystem. Today, VLC reached another rare milestone: It has been downloaded more than three billion times across various platforms, up from a billion downloads in May 2012.

What is equally fascinating about VLC is that its parent company, VideoLan, remains a nonprofit organization that runs solely on donations. Moreover, VLC has scaled its growth over the years without ever exploring business opportunities to make money. The application is also still free to use, does not serve ads, and is not collecting user data.

Much of the credit for this goes to Jean-Baptiste Kempf, the president and lead developer of VideoLan. Kempf spoke to VentureBeat on the big occasion and shared what’s in store for the media application.

What’s next for VLC?

VLC today rolled out a minor update – v3.0.6 – that adds support for HDR videos in AV1, an emerging video format. But in the coming months, VLC has bigger things planned. First up is a major update to VLC’s Android app in about a month, which will introduce support for AirPlay. This will enable Android users to beam video files from their Android phones to the Apple TV.

Kempf then plans to update the VR app, which will enable native support for VR videos. He said his team reverse-engineered popular VR headsets so that developers no longer need to rely on the SDKs offered by the vendors. The app will also receive support for 3D interactions and stereo sound, and add a virtual theater feature.

After that, a major update would be pushed to VLC across all popular platforms. The update, which would be dubbed version 4.0, will offer playback improvements in scaling and video quality of HDR video files.

But that’s not all. Kempf says he plans to bring VLC to more platforms. He said he is thinking about bringing the media player to Sony’s PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Roku devices.

But as always, don’t hold your breath for the arrival of these apps in the immediate future. You see, there are fewer than a dozen people who contribute to VLC. And recent developments — such as the closure of MPC-HC, another popular media player — in the space have made it apparent how challenging it can be to support an open source application solely on donations. VLC has been pleasantly lucky on that front.