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Make more of your music and video by tweaking Windows Media Player
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Windows Media Player has gone from being something you only use in Internet Explorer to a full-fledged media player that copes with video, audio, and organising your files. You can change the look with skins, listen to the radio, chill out with wacky visualisations or hide it away inside Internet Explorer 6.
Media Player is free, but you’ll need MP3 encoders and DVD playback codecs from other sources. In addition, there are the PowerToys and Bonus pack.
If you haven’t updated Media Player recently, head over to www.microsoft.com/ windows/windowsmedia/download and get the latest version of Media Player.
Media Player Shortcuts
By default Media Player opens where you were last, but you can control that by adding command-line options to the shortcut. Use wmplayer.exe /play to make a file start playing straight away and /close to close the player afterwards, or /open to open the file, but not start playing it. You can select a skin with /Layout:skin.wmz or set Media Player to open on a particular tab with /Task:MediaLibrary, /Task:RadioTuner, /Task:SkinViewer,
/Task:PortableDevice, /Task:CDAudio “d” (to copy files from CD drive D),
and /Device:AudioCD “D” (to play a CD). In Media Player 8 and later you can open a playlist with wmplayer.exe /playlist “playlistname” or wmplayer.exe /play “playlist.file” for playlists you’ve exported as a file.
Clear Recent Files
The list of recent files on the File menu tends to be out of date because it doesn’t include playlists, just files you open directly. You can clear it using the PowerToys or you can delete the keys, HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\MediaPlayer\Player\RecentURLList and HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\MediaPlayer\Player\RecentFileList. It’s worth getting the PowerToy if you’ll do it often, as Media Player recreates the keys each time you run it. If you don’t want others seeing what you’ve been watching in Media Player, choose Tools, Options, Player and clear Add items to Media Library when played.
Media Player 8 or better can play DVDs – if you have the codecs, which you’ll either have to pay for or get by installing software like PowerDVD that comes with your DVD drive. If your speakers hum while you’re playing DVDs, open the Windows volume control and mute the CD Audio mixer while you watch.
Run More than One Player
There’s not much point in listening to two songs at once, but if you want to compare two videos or cue up several streaming video clips to watch one after another, you can run two copies of Media Player 8 or better (it doesn’t work in Media Player 7). Run Media Player as normal then right-click the Media Player icon and choose Run As. Note that while you have more than one Player running, you won’t be able to add new content to the Media Library and you won’t be able to make changes to the player settings.
Stop Track Updates
Every time Media Player tries to get track details from the WindowsMedia site and can’t (because you’re offline or the CD isn’t in the database), it makes a note in C:\Documents and Settings\ %username%\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Player\ OfflineUpdates.dat. When you’re online, it will periodically return to the site to look for updates. Delete the OfflineUpdates.dat file every time you rip CDs that aren’t in the database to prevent it.
Pump up the Bass
If your digital tracks are sounding a little flat, use the graphic equaliser to add more bass, tweak the treble or change the balance between the speakers. Pick the Now Playing tab and choose View, Now Playing Tools, Show Equalizer and Settings, Graphics Equalizer (or look for the icon with the pop-up tools menu below the visualisation pane). There are presets for various musical genres or you can set the frequency sliders and balance yourself to get an effect you like.
Try the SRS WOW effects as well – these enhance the lower frequencies in the music like a software subwoofer, making it sound like you have larger speakers that are further apart. If you don’t notice any real improvement, turn SRS WOW and the graphic equalizer off and you’ll save memory.
Turn it Down
Media Player has keyboard shortcuts for controlling the volume – [F8] for mute and unmute, [F9] to lower the volume and [F10] to turn it up – but they only work when Media Player is the active application, not when it’s minimised and playing in the background. It’s faster to use [Alt] + [Tab] and [F8] to turn it off than to fiddle around with your mouse, but for fine control use TrayIt! (www.teamcti.com/trayit/trayit.htm), which enables you to minimise Media Player to the System Tray rather than the Taskbar.
Turn Off DRM
By default, when you copy files from CDs into your Media Library they’re ‘protected’ by a digital rights management license that means you can only play them on your PC. If you change your CPU or upgrade to a new PC you have to delete the DRM folder (C:\Windows\DRM in Windows 98), restore your licenses (and if you haven’t backed the licenses up you have to go back to your old PC or CPU to do it), then run the utility that updates licenses from Media Player to another PC. It’s a tedious process and it’s far simpler to turn off DRM in Media Player for the tracks you create yourself. Choose Tools, Options, CD Audio and uncheck Enable Digital Rights Management. Plus DRM content isn’t transcoded when you transfer it to a portable player. If you’ve got paid-for content with licenses, use Tools, License Management, Backup Now and keep the backups safe.
Check the Connection
When you’re playing songs or video from the Internet, choose View, Statistics, Advanced to see exactly how fast your connection is and whether you’re losing frames and packets. The Quality bar gives you a quick idea of how much of the data you’re getting.
Increase your Buffer
If you find that streaming media tends to stop and start while you’re playing it, increase the buffer so that Media Player downloads more of it in advance. You’ll have to wait longer for files to start playing, but they won’t be as jerky. Choose Tools, Options, Performance and under Network Buffering select Buffer and increase the default 5 seconds to 10.
Pick the File Type
You can pick and choose which file types Media Player is associated via Tools, Options, Formats (Tools, Options, File Types in Media Player 8).
Visualise More Clearly
If you like to run your visualisations in full screen (View, Full Screen), check that you’ve got the right resolution set. Choose Tools, Options, Visualizations and click Properties for each set of visualisations that you use and choose your screen resolution under Full Screen Settings.
WMA or MP3?
Media Player can play both formats, and some portable MP3 players can play WMA as well. If you’re just creating files to listen to on your PC, use WMA – it sounds just as good as MP3 and sometimes better at lower bit rates, so you could save some space. You can hear tracks in all formats at www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/windowsxp/mp3compare.asp, but you’ll get a better idea if you encode music you like on your own system.
Convert to WMA
If you make the switch to WMA and you want to convert existing MP3 tracks to save disk space, try a utility like the MP3 Audio Converter in the Media Player Bonus Pack or MP3 To All (www.audioutilities.com/mp3-to-all-convert/mp3-to-all-convert.htm). But before you do, remember that you won’t get the same quality because you’re compressing and resampling an already compressed file: not all the information is there for the WMA encoder to work with. Take the time to re-encode from your CDs and you’ll get better audio.
Digital or Analogue?
Digital playback is better if your CD drive can cope with it and you’ll definitely want it for ripping tracks, because you don’t have to wait for the CD to play in real time and you won’t pick up stray audio noise. But if you’re getting crackles and skipping when you play CDs and Tools, Options, CD Audio, Error Correction doesn’t help, you can switch to analogue playback in the same dialog (Tools, Options, Devices, Properties in Media Player 8). This will stop visualisations working, but it also cures gaps between tracks (irritating on classical and dance music, cured in Media Player 8) and enables you to hear audio through the headphone jack on your CD drive.
The Featured Stations list on the Internet radio tab changes regularly so if you find a station you like, don’t just play it, add it to My Stations. That way you’ll also find it in the Radio Tuner Presets section in Media Library and you can drag it into a playlist – make a playlist of your favourite stations and you can easily find some good music.
The different file types that Media Player can handle depend on which video coders and encoders (codec for short) you have installed. When you try to play a file that you don’t have a codec for, Windows Media Player will try to download it, but there are a lot of codecs, identified by the FOURCC (four character code) that you’ll find in the error message. Check out www.webartz.com/fourcc/fcccodec.htm for a list with download links. If you get an error message about security settings when Media player tries to download a code automatically, you need to change your Internet Explorer settings (Tools, Internet Options, Security) to allow signed ActiveX controls to download.
Media Player Bonus Pack and PowerToys
You’ll have to hunt through the WindowsMedia site to find it, but there’s a Bonus Pack of tools for Media Player with handy PowerToys like the Most Recently Used Cleaner and the PowerToys skin.
They both have the Audio Converter tool for turning MP3s into WMA files and the WinAmp skin converter, but it’s almost worth upgrading to Windows XP to get the extra PowerToys like the tray control that lets you pause, skip tracks, and control the volume. The Media Library Management wizard is great for tidying up your Media Library without having to delete it and start over – it can update meta-data or find files you’ve moved, or you can export your playlists to Excel to rearrange them.
There’s a PowerToy to grab album art from the WindowsMedia site for tracks you’ve already ripped and several ways of creating playlists from your files or organising your files to match playlists you’ve already made. These are the kind of tools that should have made it into Media Player itself, but they’re free to download so grab them now.
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(http://www.futurenet.co.uk/), a Future Network plc group company, UK 2004. All rights reserved.