Last time we looked at the ever-popular collection of PowerToys that Microsoft released for Windows XP. Now we take a look at another Windows XP add-on, the Windows Media Bonus Pack. There are some fantastic goodies in this pack, which all multimedia aficionados will appreciate.
Plus! MP3 Audio Converter LE: This MP3 audio converter has been hijacked from the Windows XP Plus! pack (which we looked at in the September 2002 PC World magazine issue). If you have a lot of MP3 files that you wish to convert to Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, then this tool will be of great assistance. All you have to do is select the MP3 files you wish to convert, right-click, and from the ‘Convert to Windows Media Audio’ option select the bit-rate you desire (see here for a screenshot). This is where a major flaw in this feature appears: the maximum bit-rate you can choose is 96Kbps. This can produce remarkably smaller file sizes when converting MP3s encoded at the popular 128Kbps standard, but the music quality will be reduced. The inclusion of this ‘lite’ audio converter may be a Microsoft ploy to drive users to purchase the $67 Plus! pack.
Media Player PowerToys: This is certainly the pick of the bunch from the Windows Media Bonus Pack. There are about half a dozen toys in this collection, my favourite being the Tray Control feature. The Windows Media Tray Control can be run at Startup and with a quick click on the icon any music can be instantly paused. Right-clicking on the System Tray icon will bring up a menu with all the important controls. The features provided by the PowerToys Skin are quite handy, but are presented in an unusual fashion. You can apply the skin by opening Media Player in full mode and selecting Skin Chooser from the left menu. After selecting the PowerToys Skin, a menu will display options such as creating playlists from all albums, all artists or from random songs. Be aware that after selecting an option it can take a few minutes to process, depending on how many songs you have.
The Media Library Management Wizard allows you to clean up, update, and organise the music and information in your Media Library. This is a must-have utility if you think the automatic updating of the Media Library is lousy (see here for a screenshot). Before running the wizard, make sure that Windows Media Player is not running, and if you wish to update track information or album art then connect to the Internet.
Creativity kit for Movie Maker: The Windows Movie Maker is a very limited program but with this creativity kit you can add a bit of flair and professionalism to your movies. This collection of sound effects, music loops, clips, title videos and images will allow you to create the perfect movie for every occasion. After installation you will be able to access these new features by importing them into WMM. Select Import from the WMM File menu and navigate to where the Windows Media Bonus Pack was installed (usually in the Program Files folder on your hard drive). There you will find all the additional media elements you need to create a Hollywood blockbuster… or, at least, a better-than-average home movie.
New for Media player: Windows Media Player’s Visualizations tool doesn’t do much, but it looks cool. If you like to watch — as well as listen — to your music, these are for you. There are some half a dozen new visualisations, including MSN Photos picture viewer, Dungeon Siege, and Trilogy. Also, Media Player has included new skins; they may not be very exciting to everyone, but try them out if you like them. The Personal Licence Update Wizard is only required if you copy music from CD using Media Player 7.0 or 7.1.
Where to get it
You can download the Windows Media Bonus Pack as either the full install (18MB), or the Bonus Pack Net installer which will download only the components you select. Get it from www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/download/bonuspack.aspx.
When the download is finished, double-click the file and follow the instructions. After installation you will find some of the components in the Start menu, but others will only be available through their associated programs.