New M1 Version of VLC Media Player Reminds Us Again How Powerful Apple’s Silicon Really Is (Here’s How to Get It)

MacBook Pro M1 Credit: Girts Ragelis / Shutterstock
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Even though Apple’s new M1 Macs can run just about every traditional piece of macOS software without any problems, it’s definitely better to have versions that offer native support for Apple’s new ARM-based chip, and this is especially true when it comes to apps like video players and converters, which put more than the usual amount of demand on the CPU.

So fans of the popular open-source VLC media player will be delighted to know that the developers have just released an ARM-based version of the app that runs natively on Apple’s new M1 MacBooks and Mac mini, and it looks like it delivers some nice performance improvements.

Although Apple’s Rosetta 2 translation layer does a surprisingly good job of allowing Intel x86-based apps to run on the new M1 ARM architecture, it still adds overhead that’s not necessary with apps that are natively compiled for the M1. In fact, how well this works is actually a strong testament as to how blazingly fast Apple’s new M1 chip really is, and most users don’t find running Intel apps on their M1 Macs a problem simply because most of them run just as well as they did before; what they don’t realize is that they can actually run much faster.

Of course, you’re not going to notice this with apps like Microsoft Word or Twitter, since these don’t exactly tax the system’s resources, however the new M1 version of VLC provides a nice example of what a native M1 app can truly do.

To be clear, the Intel version of VLC runs just fine on Apple’s new M1 Macs. There have been no reports of problems, or even slow performance or poor battery life, but now that we have an M1 version available, we can get an idea of how much better the M1 can really make things.

According to reader comments at 9to5Mac, playing back 1080p HD videos in the M1 version results in about 25% lower CPU utilization than on the Intel version running through Rosetta 2. We were able to reproduce these results in our own testing as well, suggesting that the M1-native VLC will be far more efficient on battery life.

Similarly, video encoding times with the M1 version of VLC were cut in half compared to the Intel version running under Rosetta. While we didn’t have the latest equivalent Intel MacBook Pro for an accurate comparison to what came before, based on a number of online benchmarks for VLC’s performance on Intel machines, it’s fair to say that the M1-native version is significantly faster across the board — it’s not that Rosetta 2 was slowing VLC down so much as it was holding it back.

This isn’t all that surprising either, considering that this weekend I discovered that my new M1 MacBook Pro can actually beat out a $6,000 Mac Pro when it comes to rendering videos in Final Cut Pro and Compressor.

Of course, Apple had an M1-native version of Final Cut Pro ready right out of the gate, so there’s been nothing keeping it from running at peak performance. Although it’s not a completely fair comparison, Adobe’s Premier Pro — the public release of which still runs through Rosetta 2 — isn’t nearly as fast at rendering on the M1 MacBook as it is on the Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro also still has the advantage in multi-core performance — it’s faster at rendering several videos in Compressor simultaneously, for example — however that doesn’t keep it from being absolutely mind-blowing that the M1 can render complex videos more quickly and efficiently than a GPU-accelerated 8-core Intel Xeon, and in a fraction of the time as a six-core Intel Core i7 without the benefits of a discrete GPU.

How to Get Native VLC for the M1 Mac

While the rendering and conversion times in VLC are the most impressive things about the M1 native version, if you regularly use VLC to watch a lot of videos you’re going to want to update to the new M1 version just for the battery life improvements alone.

Unfortunately, VLC has made it a bit more complicated than other apps right now, since it hasn’t released a “Universal” binary that includes both the Intel and M1 versions in a single package, nor has it even made the M1 version available as a separate download.

Update: VideoLAN has now released a direct download for the Apple Silicon version of VLC. You can get it from the VLC for Mac OS X page by clicking on the down arrow to the right of “Download VLC” and selecting “VLC for Macs with Apple Silicon Chips.” You can confirm you’ve got the correct version by looking for “arm64” in the name of the downloaded package. The steps below are still recommended for anybody who already has an older version of VLC installed, however.

Instead, the M1-native VLC is installed through the built-in software update system, and you may actually have to run through it twice to get it — once for the latest Intel version (3.0.12), and then a second time to get the M1-native update (3.0.12.1).

  1. If you don’t already have VLC installed, download it here from VidoeLAN’s website and install it on your M1 Mac.
  2. Once VLC is installed, or if you already have it installed, open it.
  3. In the VLC app, click VLC Media Player in the menu bar.
  4. Click Check for Update… in the menu.
  5. When the software update dialog comes up, click Install Update.
  6. Once the update completes, click Install and Relaunch.
  7. Repeat steps 3–6 to install the M1-native 3.0.12.1 version.

Note that the package you download from VideoLAN is only the baseline VLC 3.0, so even if you’re installing it fresh on your new M1 MacBook, you’ll still need to go through the software update process to get to 3.0.12 first, and if you read the 3.0.12 release notes carefully, you’ll see a note at the bottom that you’ll need to go through the software update process a second time.

It’s a bit unclear whether this two-step process will be required for subsequent VLC updates; hopefully VideoLAN will eventually release a universal binary to avoid this issue entirely, but for now, it seems safe to say that now that the M1 version is available it will continue to be updated in parallel with the Intel version.

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