Winamp 5 makes a comeback

Winamp launched a disappointing version 3 in late 2002, and many Winamp users either stuck with their earlier versions or tried rival jukebox software such as iTunes www.itunes.com, Jet Audio www.jetaudio.com and Windows Media Player 9. Skipping a version number altogether, Nullsoft’s new Winamp 5.02 finally makes a comeback with a range of compelling new features. Is it worth a second look?

Winamp 5 has a noticeably improved interface. By default, the Main Window/playback controls and Playlist Editor reside in the top half on the left and right of the application (as seen in screen shot), re-spectively, and one of the new features — Media Library — takes up the bottom half.

Initially, Winamp 5 will inform you that you have no items in your Media Library. You can elect either to add files at this time or add them later using File-Add Media to Library. Select a folder at a time and click OK to add the files; depending on the size of your collection, this may take some time.

Using the Media Library

A welcome addition is Winamp’s ability to make searches from the search field at the top of the Media Library area when viewing saved media such as MP3s. When searching, as you type an artist name or track title the search fields are refined as each letter is inserted. (This function is also found in iTunes.)

You can sort the Library’s listings by clicking any of the column headings — you may need to scroll across to see them all — which include by default Artist, Title, Album, Length, Track, Genre, Year, Rating, Play Count and Last Played. To customise the headings, right-click on a column header and select Customize columns.

An information window at the bottom right automatically searches the Web for information on the artist currently playing. This is a great little feature but it can slow down the program, so you may elect to click Hide Info. The artist write-ups appear to be sourced from the All Music Guide www.allmusic.com but you can find more information by clicking on the Now Playing option in the view options column at the left of the Media Library.

Also in that column, clicking on Local Media will bring back the view of your entire Library content. You can also opt to view your Library in terms of Audio, Video, Most Played, Top Rated and more.

To rate any track in your Library, right-click it, select Rate items and give it a star rating out of 5. View and edit the ID3 tag information of a file by selecting View file info from the right-click menu (or pressing <Alt>-3).

The left-side view options column is where you can access the dedicated Internet Radio and Internet TV views. You can search through a listing of Internet Radio stations (that use Winamp’s Shoutcast service — www.shoutcast.com) by keyword, genre or bandwidth requirement.

For Internet TV, you’ll initially need to select the rating of TV content you wish to list, then you can click on a stream to access it. Once you find a stream you like, right-click it and select Send to-Add to bookmarks. It’ll then be stored in your Media Library’s Bookmarks view.

Ripping and burning

The two remaining options in the Media Library view options column are Playlist (import playlists for easy access and in readiness for CD burning) and Devices (CD drive listing for ripping CDs). Performing each of these tasks is straightforward and simple.

Unfortunately, the free version of Winamp allows CDs to be ripped at only 2x and in only the AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) format. AAC delivers better sound quality than MP3s of the same file size, but isn’t supported by many Walkman-style MP3 players, except the iPod. Also, the free version of Winamp will burn audio CDs at only 2x. In order to rip CDs in MP3 format or to burn audio CDs at speeds up to 48x, you’ll need to pay $US14.95 for Winamp Pro. At press time, Winamp Pro didn’t offer MP3 CD burning.

Make it your own

You can close the Media Library (ML) and Playlist (PL) windows (using the x at the top right) in order to go back the more simplified Main Window view — just click the ML and PL buttons when you need them. You can also minimise things further by clicking the Windowshade Mode button between the Main Window’s minimise and close buttons.

Winamp 5 plays video (most formats are supported) and visualisations (new modes are included) in a display attached to the Main Window. You can open a full screen by double-clicking on this display.

If you’re wondering where the equaliser has disappeared to, just click on the Config button at the bottom right of the Main Window, and it should reappear.

To obtain more skins, go to the Options-Skins menu. To change the colours of the current skin, go to Options-Color Themes.

A huge range of plug-ins (including one for iPod users), visuals and skins can be downloaded from the Winamp Web site.

This version of Winamp isn’t perfect. It does use up system resources and the free version won’t replace your current free CD ripping software, but it does mark a solid return to form. It’s available on this month’s cover CD so try it for yourself.

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