Windows Media Player: The end-all, be-all software for displaying most multimedia on your system. It’s an inescapable part of the Windows experience. While, sure, it seems as if there are as many alternative song library apps, video playing utilities, and music-blasting programs as there are pages on the Internet, it’s hard to resist the urge to turn to the simple, no-fuss attraction of good ol’ WMP. It works; it’s there; it’s quick to load and it plays your files without hassle.
With any multimedia application, there are always going to be ways to tweak your experience. Some are inherent to the program itself, some require a modification or a tweak to unlock, and others can be seen as a kind-of total converstion: a third-party application that works in tandem with your multimedia app to bring forth some kind of awesome new functionality.
We’re fans of all three scenarios at Maximum PC. And let’s face it: Windows Media Player might be entrenched inside of your operating system worse than a camper in Call of Duty: Black Ops, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t build it up into the Greatest Media Player Ever with a few (or more) helpful tips. We’ve split our list into sections based on the difficulty of the tweak—let’s get started!
No, we’re not trolling you. It’s important that we mention, right off the bat, that Microsoft’s other multimedia player is really a stronger selection when it comes to playing music. It’s prettier, the interface is light-years beyond Windows Media Player in terms of raw elegance, and it effortlessly connects up to the Zune Marketplace for your music-grabbing needs. Or video-grabbing needs. Or podcast-grabbing needs.
Simply put, Zune is the closest Microsoft has to its own iTunes. You just aren’t going to find this kind of functionality within Windows Media Player, nor will you really find any kind of social or recommendation-based tips for music management (or acquisitions). Windows Media Player—as the name implies—plays media. That’s it.
Just because you’ve gone and made it through Windows Media Player’s default configuration screens (upon first launch of the app) doesn’t mean that you’ve scratched the surface of this app’s powerful capabilities. Case in point: Media Streaming.
Not only is it in your best interests to make sure that your system is set up for Homegroup sharing (click “Stream” and the “Turn on media streaming…” option), but you’ll also want to enable the back-and-forth connections that allow WMP to automatically see other devices on your network (and vice versa). Hit up the Network and Sharing Center via your Control Panel and click on “Advanced Sharing Settings” on the left side of the window. Turn on Network Discovery and Media Streaming.
If you’ve successfully set up WMP to find and share its contents within your home network, it’s worth your while to go back and perform those same series of steps on all the other applicable devices attached to your home router. With one addition, of course: Click on the Stream button within WMP and select the “Allow remote access…” option. In the case of consoles like the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, be sure to enable whatever their versions of media streaming happen to be.
Why’s that? Within WMP, you can right-click on a given file and select the “play to” option (provided the software can see other sharing-friendly products on your network). And when you do that, you’ll be blasting your song on over to whatever device you’ve selected—music to your ears, indeed!
The default WMP screen doesn’t lend itself to much eye candy. When you start to jam a song, click on the tiny icon in the bottom-right of WMP’s library screen (hovering over it will cause “Switch to Now Playing” to appear. Do that, and you’ve just fired up WMP’s built-in visualizations engine. Right click on the miniature player window to select new effects via the “Visualizations” submenu.
You can download new visualizations (and plugins—their more data- and effects-related counterparts) by using the CTRL+1 hotkey to jump back to your library, then mashing CTRL+T to access your Tools menu. From there, select the “Download” submenu to hunt down more cool things to mash into your player!
Nothing is more embarrassing than chugging on over to your friend’s house, hopping on his or her computer to jam the latest Maximum PC podcast, and finding that the “most frequently played” or “recent files” listing accidentally lists a ton of videos of an unsavory nature that, perhaps, your friend would not like you to know about.
Don’t be that friend.
To keep WMP from archiving a list of your most frequently played media—whatever that media happens to be—be sure to hit up its options window (under the Tools menu). When you’re in there, click to the privacy tab and uncheck all four options at the very bottom of the screen—music, video, pictures, and playlists!
Transferring media to and from a CD couldn’t be easier in Windows Media Player. Or could it? Instead of having to toss a disc in, click on over to the disc, and select the “rip music” option, you can easily transform WMP into an auto-ripping machine. Just click on the Options link under the “Tools” menu and navigate on over to the “Rip Music” tab. Make sure your settings are exactly how you want them to be, then check the “Rip CD automatically” box.
Now, the second you slap a fresh piece of musical media into your optical drive, WMP will go about the enjoyable process of stealing its contents down to your hard drive. Rinse, wash, and repeat for as many discs as you want Windows to deal with. And if you want to get really speedy, check the “Eject CD After Ripping” option as well.
If your only experience with Windows Media Player is via its Library screen, you’re missing out. Jam CTRL+3 to jump into the “Now Playing” window and, from there, right-click anywhere within the screen and select the “Enchantments” submenu. Click on any of the listed tweaks to get started.
In short, this series of screens (which you can navigate through using the right- and left-facing arrow buttons at the top) is where you enable and disable the various auditory effects built into WMP. Toggle auto-volume-leveling and cross-fading on and off, tweak equalizer bands, adjust playback speed, and set up the integrated SRS WOW effects for maximum, software-created bass and field-expansion effects… amongst other features, of course!
Sometimes, you need to turn to a third-party developer to really unlock the best combinations of productive hacks for a particular piece of software. That’s not quite the case with the add-on package Windows Media Player Plus—even though it sounds like its own piece of software, if not a downright unlock, it’s actually just a really helpful amalgam of add-ons designed to maximize your WMP experience.
How? It builds a new tag editor, instant search capabilities, and automatic playlist-loading on startup right into WMP, amongst other useful features. Give it a shot!
Good question. If you go to play a movie file on your hard drive, only to find that Windows Media Player is giving you the soundtrack instead of the visual picture to go with it, then odds are pretty good that you lack the appropriate digital resources to decode your file into an actual video. In short, you’re missing the right codec.
Rather than get trapped in the big, “should you install them or not?” argument when it comes to codecs, we will leave you with this: the Combined Community Codec Pack is easy to install, simple to set up, and comes with no external trappings, obtrusive toolbars, or annoying clutter. If you want to watch every video under the sun, install it!
And here you thought we were done with the file-sharing chit-chat. Nope! A lesser-known feature of Windows Media Player 12 is its ability to allow you to share your music library with approved systems across the Web. That’s right. You can jam to your personal collection at work all the way up until your boss signs the pink slip.
Click on the Stream button within WMP’s Library view and select, “Allow Internet Access to Home Media.” You’ll have to sign up for (and download) a file from Microsoft in order to link your Windows Live ID to your actual desktop system. But once you’ve done so (on two different computers, that is), your personal radio station of-sorts will be good to do.
Let’s face it. Life is short. One doesn’t always have time to pause a sound file or otherwise stop one’s jam session when more important issues beckon for whatever reason. That’s where the third-party app MonitorES comes into the picture. If you have to jet away for a period of time, just lock your PC (with the handy Windows Key+L shortcut combination, to note). MonitorES will not only pause your music in Windows Media Player, but it’ll also flip your monitor off and set the status of your instant messaging clients to whatever you’d like. Easy as pie.
It’s not that difficult to use Windows Media Player’s built-in hotkeys to control elements like song playback, rewinding, looping, et cetera. So what’s the problem? You have to actually switch over to the application in order to use said shortcuts—you can’t just jam CTRL+P inside any window to pause or play a particular song in question.
WMPKeys fixes that by giving you new, global hotkeys for a few of WMP’s more commonly used features. Mash the correct combination and you’ll be able to skip tracks, play music, and even rate songs no matter what window or application you’re staring at.
BM Productions is two-for-two in this little Windows Media Player tome of knowledge. The creators of the aforementioned Windows Media Player Plus! Application are at it again, armed this time with a plug-in that gives your common application access to even more file formats than it could previously support!
Yes, that’s right. Their plug-in called WMP Tag Plus will unlock the ability to add MPEG-4, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, and WavPack files into your WMP library. You won’t be able to play them, however—check out some of the “additional packages” that BM Productions recommends if you really want WMP to be your default audio gateway for your massive FLAC collection. Shoot, we were happy enough to be able to edit FLAC metadata within WMP.
If you’re a fan of subtitles within movies, then you are likely not a fan of Windows Media Player 12’s less than stellar support for printed text you want to arranged overtop movies. That’s fine. Grab the add-on DirectVobSub to open up access to a bevy of popular subtitle formats. So long as the plug-in is working and enabled, all you have to do is make sure that the corresponding subtitle file follows two rules: It’s named exactly the same filename (minus the extension, obviously) as the file of the video you’re trying to watch, and it’s located in the same folder as said video. That’s it!
Maximum PC's David Murphy is a total multimedia junkie. He's probably watching a movie right now, in fact.