Finally, More Windows Ultimate Extras [Updated]

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One of the big selling points for Windows Vista Ultimate, aside from its integration of the features of Vista Home Premium, Enterprise, and Business in a single (expensive) Vista edition, has been the promise of exclusive content packs, known as Windows Vista Ultimate Extras. Unfortunately, these bonus applications have been very slow in arriving.

The Ultimate Extras Scene, Up Until Now

Although the first Ultimate Extras, Hold'em Poker and BitLocker Drive Preparation tool with EFS enhancements, were introduced in February 2007, along with DreamScene Preview , a beta of its live-video wallpaper, it took much longer for additional content to surface.

More DreamScene live-video wallpapers showed up in March 2007 as part of the DreamScene Content Pack , but it wasn't until September that Microsoft rolled out the completed version of DreamScene . The 34 language packs also developed to enable Vista Ultimate users to use the Multilingual User Interface have been offered at various times (and withdrawn), but are available again with the advent of Service Pack 1.

So, What's New?

This week, Microsoft has rolled out a third set of live-video wallpapers for DreamScene, as well as two new sound schemes: Glass and Pearl . To get Ultimate Extras, use Windows Update.

Listening Closely to Glass and Pearl

First, I installed the new Glass and Pearl Sound Schemes. Windows uses the default sound scheme to play sounds for various events, such as emptying the Recycle Bin, starting and closing Windows, and many more. To modify a sound scheme or select one of the optional sound schemes in Windows Vista, use Control Panel's Personalization menu, available in the Hardware and Sound category.

According to Microsoft's new UltimatePC website (the replacement for the original WindowsUltimate website), the Glass sound scheme "makes the sounds seem like they are played on 'glass' instruments," while the Pearl sound scheme features "a richer, milky, more percussive sonic palate."

[following sections updated 4-25-08]

It's easy to hear the differences for yourself, but not if you listen to the same event in different sound schemes without listening to a different event first. As reader ericlinna points out in his comment, there's a glitch in the way Vista handles event sounds when you're using the Test function. His solution? Play a sound event in the Default scheme, switch to the Pearl or Glass scheme, play a different sound event, then play the original sound event in the new scheme. There's a big difference, all right. Kudos to ericlinna ! Note to Microsoft: please fix the glitch, OK?

You'll have to judge those descriptions for yourself. When I used my office's 2.1 speaker system to play a variety of sounds in the Windows Default, Glass, and Pearl schemes, it was very difficult for me to tell one scheme from another, especially at low volumes. However, if you connect your PC to a high-quality 5.1 surround audio system with good speakers, a headset, or your home theater system, you might hear more significant differences.

Giving DreamScene a Closer Look

If you're new to Windows Ultimate Extras, you need to download and install DreamScene before you can download any of the content packs, including the new #3 Content Pack. Make sure your system has a Windows Experience Index of at least 3.0 if you want to use DreamScene.

DreamScene includes one animated wallpaper (vid1337, an animated version of the default img24 Vista wallpaper). The DreamScene Content Pack adds four additional animations: vid8897 (wild clover in a field), vid8898 (raindrops falling on a puddle at night), vid8899 (water flowing over rocks in a stream), and vid9899 (a computer-generated wall of fire). The DreamScene Content Pack Favorites adds vid1999 (an aura glimmering around a Vista icon-shaped planet), vid8896 (a waterfall and rapids), and vid9898 (marbles moving past machinery). The new DreamScene Content Pack #3 includes vid7997 (water dripping from a leaf), vid7999 (autumn leaves blowing gently in the breeze), and vid8895 (water dripping from an icicle). Here's how they look in the Desktop Backgrounds menu:

To select a DreamScene animation, right-click the desktop, select Personalize, click Desktop Background, select Windows DreamScene Content, and click the animation you want to use. DreamScenes are designed for widescreen displays, so if you use a 4:3 (TV-format) display, select the Center or Maintain Aspect Ratio options for most pleasing results.

Summing Up

If you don't have a terrific speaker system, high-quality headphones, or if you usually turn off the Default Windows sound scheme, you might not find it worthwhile to try the Glass or Pearl sound schemes. However, DreamScene makes a big difference to your desktop.

If you like audio indications of what's happening on your system, the Pearl and Glass sound schemes add your choice of sophisticated touches to your audio environment.

DreamScene videos are relaxing, have minimal impact on most system tasks (provided your system has a Windows Experience Index of at least 3.0), and can be paused and restarted. To pause DreamScene, right-click your desktop and select Pause DreamScene. To restart animation, right-click your Desktop and select Play DreamScene.

If you like DreamScene, you can make your own DreamScene videos by downloading Stardock's DreamMaker .

[updated 4-25-2008]

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