I have had a while now to experience some of the improved features in Windows 7 more intimately. One of my favorite past times on the PC of course is listening to music. I would describe my collection as mostly Popular music with numerous Rhythm and Blues selections. I do listen Rock and Alternative but not too aggressively. Windows Media Player 12 is not a drastic departure from version 11, it adds nice enhancements that make’s engaging with your music more fun. Lets take a look:
Windows Media Player 12 features cool interface
The most noticeable difference when you first launch Media Player 12 is the changes to how the UI is now laid out. But before we go into that, lets talk about some of the initial steps to start getting ready:
Windows Media Player still comes bundled in Windows, 7. So unlike some applications that were once bundled with the OS but are now a part of the Windows Live Essentials suite, you don’t have to download it. Just like version 11 when you launch the executable for the first time you have a choice between doing a ‘Express’ or ‘Custom’ setup. Of course, I would like to see if there are any new changes, so lets go with the Custom Settings.
Most of the common options you are accustom to seeing during this portion of setup are there, the first change I see is the option to add the Media Player 12 executable to your desktop, which I see a lot of persons do, so looks like a make sense option. Next you can choose to make Media Player your default music or video Player or choose specific file types you would like it to play. Media Player 12 supports numerous formats now, I notice songs that I had to resort to playing in iTunes now play just fine in Media Player eg. MP3 Format Sound and the proprietary AAC.
There are many new supported codec’s making WMP 12 a definite choice for Media.
After you have completed the setup process, you are greeted by the media player, which takes you immediately to the music library. Based on my observations, Media Player adapts a combination of Windows Explorer bread crumb menus which help you to easily back track path ways throughout a folder hierarchy but in this case your music library locations. There is also separation between task and locations as evident by the location arrangements and features like ‘Play’, ‘Burn’ and ‘Sync’ which are now situated on the far right of the interface. The familiar back and forward buttons are still there and makes it easy to move between different areas of the interface.
Below these options you will find a second toolbar which display menus for Organizing, Streaming, creating a playlist, Library Mode and searching in addition to Help. The Navigation Pane situated on the right of the interface is revamped with a new addition. In Media Player 12 Library links such as Year, Rating, Songs are now a part of the library table. You can still find Navigation Pane options under Organize > Customize Navigation Pane. The Recently Added link has been removed. Two new library links Video and Pictures are available providing a central location to truly view all your media. Today’s Portable Players are complex media devices that not only store music and videos, but also photos and those are just two more of the great things users can look forward to in this release.
Lets look a little closer at the different components and within their locations:
Play tab – a combination of ‘Now Playing’ (which exist now only as a mini playing mode – discussed later) with Playlist wrapped into one. Its quite convenient and provides the option of easily navigating back and forth between your custom playlist while also viewing your main library of music. I wish there was a separator to make it easier to identify different albums from the artiste, also, I would have liked to see an option for one song within that active playlist to have the option of Repeat when selected though, instead playing over the entire playlist or having the user manually choose to play over that particular song by double clicking.
Burn tab – provides the same functionality as previous versions without the need to leave your music library. Some nice options are available such as Eject Disc After Burning, Apply Volume Leveling Across Tracks on Audio CDs and Name Disk (not checked by default).
Sync tab – provides synchronization capabilities for your portable player. I was not able to accurately test this since I do not own a MP3 player at this time, but similar options available in prior versions are just the same in this release.
The new mini playing mode, also works for video clips and movies.
If you find activated Tabs distracting, you can easily hide them by clicking the Tab once which will show the entire library. Organization of music in Media Player 12 has been greatly enhanced and the new layout of songs in the library provides a more simplified, yet detailed approach to interacting with your collections. I do find it frustrating that certain areas still cannot be customized, for instance, the Album art column cannot be unchecked, I would like to use that space for another column such as Date Added or Play Count.
One of the nice things I like about playing songs from my personal ripped collection of albums, when I hover the mouse pointer over the Album art in the ‘Play’ tab, it does not display buy. I found that annoying in Media Player 11, I already have the album on my hard disk, why is it suggesting that I purchase the album, a more neutral ‘shop’ link is displayed which could suggest buying more music from that artiste. You can also preview tracks in your library. You might ask, how different is this from simply double clicking a track and listening to it for a few seconds. When you hover a track and click the preview song link on the floating balloon, you will hear the song for approximately 15 seconds, the sweet part is, when you have heard enough, you simply move the pointer away from the floating balloon which will stop playing the song. The Windows Media Player Team could have made it even more innovative by simply hovering over the preview button without any manual clicking.
Windows Media Player becomes a true media player, you can also play slideshows.
Working with Management
Options once available under hidden drop down menus for each button of the player interface in Media Player 11 (Now Playing, Library etc) are now clearly exposed through Organize, Share and New Playlist.
Organize – Features menus for managing your library content, whether its Pictures, videos or Recorded TV. You can customize and arrange your library views by checking or un-checking columns in addition to customizing the Navigation Pane displaying drop down menus and access entire options for Media Player 12.
A new Stream Menu provides quick access to sharing your media and configuring options for how you can access it from other PC’s, some of the new options include:
- Set up your home PC so you can access your media libraries while away from home
- Allow other Windows 7 PCs and devices to push media to your Player and control it
- Quickly authorize all home PCs and devices to access your media collection
â€˜Play To’ allows playing media to be streamed from other shared media libraries within Windows Media Player, Windows 7 can now send media to be played on other Windows 7 PCs and DLNA-certified digital media renderers. With Play To,â€ you can browse or search from within Windows Media Player or Windows Explorer to find your desired media, and then choose where you want it to be played.
A versatile remote control window is presented for each Play Toâ€ session, providing you with the ability to control the entire experience. Play Toâ€ is available for both local media libraries and for shared media libraries. If you would like to send media from one Windows 7 PC to another, choose Allow remote control of my Playerâ€ from the Windows Media Player Streamâ€ menu on the receiving PC. This will cause Windows Media Player to be discovered in the Play Toâ€ menu of other Windows 7 PCs on the same network.
Create Playlist – has its own dedicated menu which allows you to quickly create new custom playlist of your favorite content. There is also a sub menu for a New Auto Playlist which is a playlist that changes automatically according to criteria you have specified.
Performance and Quality
Media Player 12 is faster based on my testing, songs instantly play when double clicked in the library. To reduce the waiting time to launch full media player when you might only want to play an album or a few songs, there is a Mini Player mode called Now Playing Mode. This convenient setup instantly opens when you launch a song from an Explorer for instance (by default), immediately your music begins playing, no waiting, no hitching and no glitches. Media Players familiar Now Playing tools are situated here with visualization effects (that I think needs to be updated) and album art in the visualization similar to ‘mediaviz’ that was released for Media Player 10. Its quite nice and makes it more fun playing songs from a folder when you are not particularly interested with working the full media player library. The Mini-Player itself is resizable and intelligent in doing so, it knows when to show certain player controls and reveals more when it resized to a larger size. If you want to go back to the full Media Player, simply click the ‘Library Mode’ button on the player controls. I would have liked to see an option to hide the window border though, to give it a floating appearance. I still would like the option of turning it off and go directly to full library whenever a song is double clicked from Explorer although you can easily switch Library mode from the player controls, it’s just the extra step I would like to get out of the way.
Quality is very good, audio comes back pumping and clear to the listeners ears. This is something I have noticed since version 11, but I think it has more to do with the improvements to Audio in Windows 7/Vista. Since audio sounds puny when played in Windows XP I get a much richer experience on both Vista and 7. I imported 5.4 GBs of music (which is significantly small compared to some libraries), but there were no problems doing so and all my tracks were recognized along with album art. What I notice about miscellaneous tracks in a folder that the meta data such as song information and album art in particular needs to be downloaded again regardless its there hidden. There is also a mis-match of album art for different songs and artiste – kinda funny seeing Bill Haley’s Jingle Bell Rock represented by Shanice Wilson’s Greatest Hits.
You can enjoy your videos and movies in a number of cool ways from full screen to mini.
Watching movies is a favorite activity in Windows Media Player. Version 12 adds some improvements such as automatically going into full screen mode when you insert a DVD. There is also support for the new Mini-mode which looks lovely. From a technical point of view, Media Player 12 supports new video codec’s which were once available through Third party vendors, some include: MPEG-4, 3GPP standards, H.264 video, DivX and xVid. This of course delivers a richer playback experience for the consumer, which results in less disappointment, something which was true of Media Player 11. Often you would download some particular video just find out the correct codec is not installed to view it.
Changes and some missing options:
- Cannot play movies in the Library interface of Media Player 12.
- I cannot find a way to get Media Player 12 to open up in full screen mode when I play a media file, it always starts up in preview mode first – I still love preview mode though.
- Advanced Tag Editor isn’t included in Media Player. Microsoft says editing media information in the details pane of the Player Library allows you perform some of the tasks once available in Advanced Tag Editor.
Overall, Windows Media Player 12 looks like a solid release that will surely keep loyal users happy. Its fast, great design and user interface make it great application that I will continue to turn to for my media. The ability to now work with photos in addition to video is just a great way of defining WMP 12 as a true media player.