Facts & Figures
Home & Pro Differences
Behind the New Wheel
Folders & Special Folders
Looking at 'My Pictures'
Windows Media Player 8
Internet Explorer 6.0
Backup & Restore
Hardware and Setup
Will Your Programs Run?
Playing with Windows Media Player 8
Although it was a significant upgrade with a wealth of new features, the last version of Media Player
Down the left side of the WMP8 window there's a slew of buttons for browsing the main functions. "Now Playing" brings up the current selection, including a visualization option, or a sort of strobe-like image that changes in time to the music. "Media Guide" opens the WindowsMedia.com homepage. "CD Audio" lists the current CD tracks (if there's one in your CD drive). "Media Library"
Pop in a CD and you can play it directly. Or convert it to the WMA format and store it on your local system or a portable device. It took about one minute to copy a four-minute song at the 96kbps conversion ratio, and if the album information is available through the All-Music Guide, attributes like the song and album title are recorded with the file. MP3 ripping is also supported, but only at 56kbps. Copy protection for WMA files is enabled by default, but you can turn it off.
Navigating the wealth of menus can be a little bewildering, and sometimes counterintuitive. For instance, the drop-down menu at the top-left of the WMP8 window shows the current disc in the drive when there's a disc there, leading me to think it once contained an Explorer-type tree for the system. But in Beta 2, all it contains are the options "All Audio Clips," "All Video Clips," "Radio Presets," the current media, and the current playlist. The three buttons near the drop-down also seem kind of haphazardly chosen: Equalizer toggle, Playlist toggle, and Shuffle button (which randomizes the playlist order). You can reorganize the buttons with new skins, but most of the skins packaged with MP8 aren't all that attractive, and they still use up a lot of screen space. (Of course, maybe we don't know how to have fun!)
To sum up, Windows Media Player 8 is a big step up from the rather shaky bootprints of its predecessor, Windows Media Player, which debuted with Windows Me. If you're a no-frills type of person, NullSoft's WinAmp is still a better choice. On the other hand, WMP8 has a lot going on, and you make it look and work like you want it to.