If you’re itching to watch a season of The Partridge Family, you’ll be able to Netflix it. But you’re so bored and you can’t wait that long. Or you’re traveling. Whatcha’ gon’ do? Probably search it out on the Net. Once you search it out and download it, your media player gives you a codec error. Now what? Our advice: reach for a traffic cone

Legal or not, videos downloaded from the Web can be stubborn to downright impossible to play. Whenever I’ve downloaded some obscure video file, I first reach for my trusty-and-never-dusty traffic cone.

“A traffic cone?” you say. Yes, a traffic cone. It’s the icon for the VLC media player. It plays anything. No seriously, anything. Because of of the way proprietary codecs work, no single media player (iTunes, Windows Media Player, what-have-you) can play a file without some finagling. But the folks behind VLC use free decoding libraries and builds all of them right in. What does that mean? It means you only need to install one video program to play all of your video files.

I personally have been using VLC for a little over a year now. Although the program is still in beta, it delivers a user experience of a mature program. Oh, did I mention that it’s available for just about every operating system you can imagine?

A gem like VLC is hard to find, and thus it makes a perfect cornerstone for our 12 HackCollege Days of Christmas feature.

This post is part of the 12 HackCollege Days of Christmas feature.