Using Windows Media Player 8

The new Windows Media Player (WMP) 8 (available in Windows XP only) can be fired up via Start-Windows Media Player. In addition to being able to play movie files such as AVI, ASF, MPEG or even DivX (if you have a DivX decoder installed), WMP can play back a variety of sound formats including standard music CDs, MP3, WAV and WMA (Windows Media Audio).

RIP AND BURN

Ripping an audio CD to your Media Library (accessed via the Media Library tab) is pretty straightforward. You may wish to disable content protection of the files you create if you want to be able to play them on another computer (just be aware of the copyright issues involved). Select Tools-Options then the Copy Music tab. Uncheck the "Protect content" box. From the Copy Music tab you can also select the directory to rip the CD to and the quality of the files you want to make. A good quality versus file size trade-off is about 128Kbps. Click Apply to confirm any changes.

A third-party MP3 encoder needs to be installed before WMP can rip CDs to MP3; even then, it can only encode MP3s at a maximum of 56Kbps as opposed to a maximum of 192Kbps for WMA files. The WMA format does produce smaller files with better sound quality, but many MP3 players still don't support WMA.

Next, click on the Copy from CD tab and select the audio tracks that you wish to copy/rip from the left pane. The Get Names and Album Details buttons do just as their names suggest, assuming you're connected to the Internet, so you can access the Gracenote (or CDDB) database to obtain this information, saving you typing the details yourself.

Simply click Copy Music to begin. You should see a progress bar as each track is ripped. Once completed, you can listen to your new files by selecting them from the Media Library tab or from the location in which you saved them. By default, WMP will place the tracks in a folder called My Music, within My Documents - you can even add a thumbnail of the album art to the folder.

From the Copy to CD or Device tab, select the files to burn from the left pane, choose a CD recording drive on the right and then click Copy Music. WMP will convert each file before displaying 'Copying to CD'.

WMP is highly geared towards use with the Internet, as evidenced by the integrated Radio Tuner tab for Internet streaming radio as well as the Media Guide tab which basically serves as a portal to WindowsMedia.com and offers streaming news, views and music.

CUSTOMISATION

WMP has two types of view: Full mode and Skin mode. In the default Full mode you can access other areas of WMP such as the Media Guide, Media Library, Radio Tuner, Copy to CD or Device, and Skin Chooser.

To view the list of skins you currently have installed, make sure you are in Full mode (-1) and then click the Skin Chooser tab on the bottom left side of WMP. You can browse through the skins by clicking once on their name; a screenshot should be displayed on the right-hand side. You can download more skins from the Internet by clicking on More Skins. Double-click a skin's name to apply it, or switch to Skin mode any time with -2. When you've applied a skin, you may notice that an anchor window will sit in the bottom right corner of your screen. Clicking it will give you options such as selecting a new skin; if you're happy with the way everything looks, you can hide the anchor window.

When playing audio, a visualisation effect will run from inside the Now Playing tab that can be viewed in full screen by pressing -. You can change the visualisation type by going to Visualizations from the View menu. You can also use the left and right arrows located underneath the visualisation itself. If that isn't enough, going to Tools-Download Visualizations will allow you to download more.

On page 142 of the December 2001 issue, assigning actions under Windows XP was discussed. In this article you were guided through right-clicking your CD-ROM drive icon, selecting Properties and then clicking the AutoPlay tab. The example showed how selecting Music files from the drop-down list box of file types, then selecting the radial dial titled Select an action to perform, would allow you to choose what will happen when you place into your computer a CD containing these type of files. For example, a CD full of MP3s could be accessed automatically via WMP.

WMP can play back DVDs (assuming you have a DVD-ROM drive), but a hardware or software decoder must first be installed. Installing one of the popular DVD playback applications such as WinDVD should allow you to take advantage of WMP's DVD features like the easy-to-access chapter playlist.

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