With Windows Media Player (WMP) 11 Microsoft aims to counter iTunes’ dominance. The interface has been beefed-up, usability has been enhanced and Microsoft has worked at turning its flagship media application into a full multimedia center, linked to online stores and compatible with mobile devices. We take a look at its new features.
The first thing that will strike you when you start up WMP 11, is the complete revamp of the interface. No more deep blue, the whole application is now dark and shiny and you can customize it by selecting a hue of your choice. The left side is a drop down pane for your library, the centre displays your lists and the right side is used to create playlists which you can rip, burn or sync with a mobile device.
Compared to version 10, we feel that Microsoft actually made an effort to simplify the whole interface and give you more ways to browse through your media list, whether by using the drop down menu or the quick rollout line on the top left. The “play” and “previous” and next” buttons are now nested at the bottom of the interface and have a jazzy glow whenever you roll over them. Microsoft has finally succeeded in integrating a good search function into its WMP interface. As you type the name of an artist or title the application will bring up the results in the main window.
WMP 11 makes all your media more accessible. Double click the Media Library button to browse from your music to pictures, movie files and recorded TV. The thumbnail view is a great way to quickly scan through pictures and videos and to include the album image to audio tracks. By clicking the “Media information changes” option under the Library button you can also scan your PC to automatically find new media files. Creating a playlist is a case of drag and drop and oddly enough you can integrate audio, video and pictures. Burning and ripping is also very simple, yet disappointingly converting is limited to WMA, WAV or MP3.
The sync process is promising yet remains a bit unstable. While it’s very easy to create a list and sync media, WMP can occasionally crash or fail to load your mobile device, even if you press the refresh button. When we tested it with a Pocket PC, we had to restart WMP 11 so that it would recognize it and let us sync our music. As soon as the device became accessible though, it also became visible on the left sided menu, making it very easy to browse through it for music or pictures.
The Media Guide is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Media Store. The first page it leads you to is Windows Media , an attempt at music and entertainment news linking to albums on sale. The page works like an inbuilt browser window and loads up fairly quickly. Even though you will not get access to the Apple Media Store, you can still buy music via other known sites such as Napster, MTV’s Urge (the default store) or eMusic. Whilst on the subject of online features, note that WMP 11 doesn’t let you save and update podcast feeds, something that iTunes does very well.
WMP 11 is a huge improvement from version 10. The whole interface is snazzier and makes browsing through your media simpler. Microsoft has also made creating playlists, syncing, burning or ripping just a case of drag-and-drop. WMP lets you check out music on dozens of online stores and is loaded with small features to customize your interface and change how you interact with your media. While the syncing process still remains a bit unstable and we lament the lack of podcast feed support, WMP 11 is a solid competitor to Apple’s iTunes.