Windows Media Player 12 Review

wmp main Windows Media Player 12 Review

With Windows 7 just out , Windows Media Player 12 is slowly making its way onto PCs everywhere, replacing outdated version of a software mane – including me – haven’t really had much love for. Considering the amount of people using default applications, and WMP12′s ability to use Windows 7 features out of the box, I decided to take a closer look.

Media Library

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Music library

WMP12 supports the Windows 7 library feature, which means that by default it will look for music in the music library folder – which is a virtual folder made up by multiple user defined folders from various places on the computer. This means that the music consolidation is handled by the OS, not the music program, and that again means you can manually tinker with the files and still have everything in (seemingly) one place.

When the music is imported (which is handled automatically as long as the Windows 7 music library folder points to your files correctly) you can browse music and videos (from the video library folder) in a variety of ways. The navigation sidebar can be customized to include thing like year, composer and folder, with artist/album/genre as the default options. The folder option is pretty nice, as it gives you the ability to browse by folder from inside WMP itself, complete with info on the folder path, number of songs and albums in the folder and the total duration. The other options work as you’d expect, sorting by artist, year etc. There’s also a search field, which instantly pulls up hits as you type.

Video library

The video library works more or less like the music library, giving you options to browse by folder as well as metadata like actors if the files support this. WMP12 supports formats like Xvid and h264 out of the box, which means it will pick up pretty much any file on your computer and display them – with thumbnails – in the video library.

Photo library

Like with videos and music this gives you a library of files that can be browsed by metadata like date and tags and show up in a grid of thumbnails like videos do. Not the most advanced photo organization tool out there, but then again WMP isn’t a photo organizer.

External devices

WMP12 will pick up external devices automatically, including removable drives and MTP based MP3 players. External devices can be browsed by various metadata like the internal library, and you can also sync content from external devices to other external devices. MTP devices are a bit different, and while you can browse them you can’t play back anything from them. I also noticed that the iTunes-bought DRM-free .m4a-enclosed AAC files showed up under videos on my Sony S540, which is a weird bug since .m4a is audio only.

Network media

Windows 7 has a built in home network feature that makes sharing media extremely easy. WMP12 immediately picked up both my Vista Home Premium laptop and my Windows 7 Ultimate desktop, the latter of which I browsed through WMP12 with ease. I was able to browse and play back music just fine, although video streaming took a few seconds to start – most likely due to my slow wireless network. It still worked, and when it started it played the video just fine. The one limitation I found with network media was that it would not let me add any of that media to the sync list as it will only stream, not transfer. I doubt this will be a problem for anyone as there are other ways to connect to network devices to get files off them, but still a tad annoying.

Music store

WMP12 has a built in music store feature that basically opens an internal browser window and sends you to a music store. This feature doesn’t seem to work properly here in Norway as I could browse but not buy, so I wasn’t able to try it out fully. The help file also says you can add music stores yourself, so if you could interface this with Amazon MP3 that would make for an awesome feature.

Playback

Music

Music playback is pretty much as seamless as it can be in WMP12. You can run it while doing other things in the program, minimize WMP12 to a window, run the playback screen fullscreen etc. Unlike older versions it has no problems switching between these modes and there’s no skipping when doing so. You have the standard options for music playback, as well as options to display equalizer, SRS WOW and other sound settings in a separate box. While the SRS WOW features built in border on completely useless as they distort the sound way too much, I’m glad to see they’re taking a more WinAmp-style approach to playback windows with the settings boxes.

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One thing to note is that while the graphical (CPU intensive) visualizer was pretty much the center of attention with music playback in older WMP versions, this is a rather hidden feature in WMP12 with album art as the main focus.
I’m not complaining.

Jump lists is another Windows 7 feature that relates to the new taskbar. Jump lists are basically menus accessible directly from the taskbar. For WMP12, there are two such jumplists: The first one is accessible by right clicking the WMP icon and brings up a list of last used files along with some options top open WMP, play all music or play from where you left off. The other jump list is accessible by hovering over the icon (or left-clicking if you have multiple WMP windows open) and provides you with playback buttons directly in the taskbar. With Windows Aero activated this includes album art, whereas with Windows Basic themes get only the playback buttons.

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Video

Video playback can’t run in the background (as there would be only sound) and automatically makes WMP12 enter playback mode with a very slim window displaying the video. As mentioned before it supports several new formats including Xvid and they play back just fine. A somewhat more hidden feature is the built in support for hardware decoding with the help of Windows 7, which means it can use the GPUI (graphics card) for video playback in places where programs like VLC still rely on the CPU only. For my netbook for instance, it supports DXVA (DirectX Video Acceleration) which means that WMP12 can play back 1080p h264-based video on a computer that is barely fast enough to run notepad properly. GPU acceleration is getting more and more common, and it’s nice to see this working so well with Windows 7 and WMP12.

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Photos

Since there’s a photo library, there is of course also a way of viewing photos. Clicking a photo opens the playback window where the photos will start showing as a slideshow. I personally can’t stand slideshows and prefer controlling the photo viewing myself, but if you like slideshows at least you have the option.

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Syncing

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Since this is an MP3 player website, the main reason to review software is to see how it holds up when given the task of managing your player. WMP12 supports syncing to both UMS and MTP devices, as it clearly showed by hinting for me to sync my SD card while testing the program. While it’s annoying to see every single removable drive as a «device» in WMP12, it couldn’t be easier when you have a device you actually want to manage.

When I first connected my Sony, I tried dragging various files to the sync list to the right and sync them. When that «synced» and I realized it hadn’t actually don’t anything, I tried the «configure sync» options you get when right clicking the device in the sidebar. After accepting WMP12 to sync it, I tried to sync again and it started working. I didn’t think of all the videos in the library and after letting it run for a while and getting puzzled over the time it took to sync, I looked a bit closed at the sync list and saw that it was converting my entire video library to work on the player. To make it sync only music I had to right click again and then find the real sync options (that should frankly have popped up the first time I did that) which let me remove videos and photos from the list. After another sync it transferred only the music and everything worked fine (and it didn’t delete anything that was on the player already).

Playlists are also very easy to create and transfer using WMP12, all you do is create a playlist, drag files to it, and drag the playlist to the sync list. It will transfer it over and it will show up on your player, unless the player has playlist issues (*ehem*Cowon D2*ehem*)

Basically syncing is flawless. It will sync everything and even try to convert files that the player can’t read if there are any. Third party software will however be better for converting files, so I recommend having everything sorted out before adding it to the library.

Options and other features

WMP12 is massive, including features like CD ripping, playing to network devices, streaming, plug-ins, DVD playback, TV recording, Internet radio etc. As with converting video and music files, I recommend an external application for ripping music – EAC – so I didn’t include that feature here. The rest are more related to using WMP12 for media center features and so not directly related to using it for music organizing.

MTP drivers

WMP is also responsible for the MTP drivers on a system, which means that having it installed also gives you the best MTP support even if you never use WMP itself. This includes format aware file transfers (where it will let you know if you transfer files that aren’t supported), options to convert files, playlist creation within Windows Explorer and so on. This means that if you ha
ve a MTP player, you will notice the effect of WMP12 on your system even if you don’t use it.

Performance

The last music playback program I tried was pretty much not usable on a slower computer due to it being very demanding on system resources. WMP12 is not, by any means. WMP12 ran fine on a 1.33Ghz netbook under-clocked to 800Mhz (power save mode) while it was syncing to my Sony player, playing music and with Photoshop running. At no point in the testing of the program did I come across lag caused by WMP12, which is simply very very good considering the slow system I tried it on.

Conclusion

Windows Media Player 12 is a very competent program, a lot more so than I’d ever have guessed. The annoyances from previous versions are gone and what remains is a music playback and organizing program that I have a hard time finding any negative aspects with. I do wish there was a podcasting feature included as it already have features like streaming and TV recording, but I’m starting to realize this isn’t at the top of anyone’s list of priorities. The strength of WMP12 lies in the full compatibility with the new Windows 7 as well as the «it just works»-aspect which is frankly very unusual for a bundled Windows application. I’m especially surprised how well it performed on my netbook while multitasking at the same time, and also the ease of use with syncing to devices – once you find the right options to click to stop it from syncing all your videos. WMP12 stays true to the Windows 7 mentality of a better OS out of the box, and for many people this will be the only playback and organizing program they will need on their computer.




24 Comments

freedoms_stain on October 24, 2009 10:52 AM

Windows 7 has some very very impressive media features. If you look in the music library in explorer there is now a view that displays the metadata for mp3 files rather than just the bog standard filename, size, date etc etc, it’s nice to see the artwork, artist, album and song title laid out cleanly in explorer.In the Video Library you can boost up the thumbnail size so you can actually see the preview frame without squinting.Still no in-explorer previews (that I saw, didn’t look too hard mind-you) of media, which would be appreciated. Ubuntu has this excellent feature where hovering over a music file for a second or 2 starts the track playing in the file browser without launching an external application.Media Center has a cool “Wall of albums” selector view too.Unfortunately Microsoft are apparently still ignoring the existance of Ogg Vorbis, so although my mp3 collection looks nice in their libraries, my vorbis collection, which I consider to be my primary collection now, does not. It was the same with Windows search on XP, Ogg Vorbis files would turn up in the “other” results section at the bottom of the search box rather than up top in the “music” results.Hopefully someone will come up with a patch of some description that teaches Windows 7 what Ogg Vorbis is all about.

Ahmad on October 24, 2009 1:35 PM

Include some info about streaming to the Xbox 360 if you have one.

Andreas Ødegård on October 24, 2009 4:39 PM

@Ahmad: You dont need wmp12 to stream, just share the media normally in windows and your xbox will pick it up and stream from it that way.

DaHarder on October 24, 2009 5:26 PM

Windows 7 So much good stuff! Thanks for the comprehensive review.

Hypernova on October 24, 2009 10:29 PM

@freedoms_stain: If you really want to see “Wall of albums” with ogg (and all types that supported by foobar for that matter), you can use foobar and UPnP plugin. I know it’s silly to have one player streaming to another JUST to have that wall of album. But it works, if you really want it to, which sometimes I do too.

naoan on October 26, 2009 7:16 AM

I found it annoying that EVVERYTIME i start it up it scan the entire music library.if anyone know how to stop this wasteful behaviour please do tell… in the meantime i’ll just use AIMP

Jason on October 26, 2009 12:36 PM

One of the early betas of wmp12 had an option to show visualizations behind album art. Anyone know if there is a way to turn this back on, or if it has been removed completely.

ericgt on October 26, 2009 4:51 PM

Does it go out to the internet to 6-7 sites 3rd party sites to check licences and codec updates, EVERY time you use it? Just like WMP10-11 does, spyware.rant. Annoy library functions ect, I know where my media files are I put them there.

Jim on October 27, 2009 8:39 AM

Yeah, I like WMP 12 as well, and like you, think it would have been perfect if it included an audio and video podcast aggregator.Ah well.

tveita on October 28, 2009 4:35 AM

It should be pointed out that album art in the “now playing” view is pure garbage compared to wmp 11 – seems to be the 200×200 folder.jpg resized, and badly, to 240×240. No workaround to display full size art, unlike in 11. For this alone, I’m trying to get 11 into 7!This guy explains it well:http://dalepreston.com/Blog/2009/08/laughable-album-art-craziness-in.html

NeilT on October 29, 2009 9:10 AM

Second the negatives about WMP12 album art. What we don’t realize about the background library scan is that WMP12 is slowly going through your library and converting your files so that they can no longer use any larger than 200 x 200 embedded Album Art – even in another OS operating WMP 11 or WinAmp. This combined with the dropping of the Advanced Tag Editor means I’ve had to hack Windows 7 to go back to WMP 11.How can Microsoft sell a product with LESS features than its predecessor!!

TomK on November 4, 2009 10:16 AM

A huge problem, at least for me, is that WMP12 seems to have lost the ability to downconvert high-quality encoding formats such as WMA lossless to moderate settings (ex. 192). This worked just fine in WMP11. Anyone know how to get around this?

nintendo ds r4 on November 6, 2009 12:53 AM

Great and easy to use.I think you need to update this oage as it works with vista now.I have it for 2 mths on vista and works great.

Rich on November 11, 2009 3:40 AM

No advance tag editor….cross fading doesn’t work anymore.Please fix ASAP!!!

Taylor Carrington on November 22, 2009 11:09 PM

Loving Windows 7 on my new dell studio, just moved from xp. like some of the updates to media player but do not like the no recently added folder and the crossfading seems to be having problems? any sugguestions media player is my backup music source for dj gigs

Jon on January 28, 2010 5:05 PM

C’mon, no advanced tag editor?? For most users the features added to WMP 12 don’t offset what they’ve taken away from WMP 11. I’ve downgraded back to 11 on my Windows 7 Pro install and I’m much happier running 11.

Johnny on October 22, 2010 12:04 PM

I’ve used WMP for a long time, and only just realised that all the time I spent organising my music with it was pointless – it didn’t tag any tracks, so my mp3 player shows the music as entirely different. I had to download Windows media player plus! to get this feature, as well as download support for flac and ogg support, and tag support for those formats. All this, added to the lack of podcast support means I’m really sour on WMP now – I only use it for lack of anything as visually intuitive.

Delia on October 30, 2010 10:34 PM

DOes anyone know how to play a DVD in WMP12 in aloop. Even my $35 DVD player can do that but WMP12 does not.. As far as I know Windows Media Player for WINDOWS 7 SUCKS!

PETE G on December 7, 2010 11:26 AM

ANYONE know how to stop wmp12 adding every file with any sort of pic or video on it. ITS very annoying.
CHEERS

lex on February 13, 2011 10:06 AM

Wmp 12 is the worst player ever. No tagging, , no crossfading, no subtitle support and why doesn’t it use third party codecs anymore , etc. To the man who wrote the review above: How much did they pay you to write such a review? Shame on you! i’m sickentired of those lying marketing morons …

Johnny on February 17, 2011 1:39 PM

I used WMP12 for a very long time and was quite happy with it, but its tagging is just atrocious. It has no advanced tag support and causes problems with new tag formats. It sounds like a small issue, but organising a 50g library of music becomes a real pain. I now use it in conjuction with foobar. Nevertheless, it’s one major flaw short of being the perfect media player.

Joe on April 4, 2011 6:34 AM

Windows Media Player is one of the most unfriendly, non-intuitive products I know. I am a very experienced computer user but WMP is so unfriendly. Why do I have to create a play list before I can burn a CD? However, if I start the burn from Windows Explorer suddenly I don’t need a play list.
None of the controls or terminology seem obvious. If there was anything else I would use if (but I am not so desperate that I would use an Apple produce – they are total control freaks and then some).

Joe on April 4, 2011 6:42 AM

WMP doesn’t even comply with Windows standards for a program – e.g. access to help, access to information about the product, access to information about up-dates. What kind of organisation publishes a program that doesn’t even comply with its own standards? Does that say that those standards are rubbish? Or that the non-compliant program is rubbish?

Joe Merieux on April 7, 2011 12:49 PM

Windows Media Player is a useless piece of software. Yet again I have manually entered the details of an album, and instantly WMP wipes out the data. This product is total rubbish – totally un-inituitave and with a totally unhelpful interface. It uses terminology which is unfamiliar to me – what does “rip” mean – isn’t that something that surfers need to know about?

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