With each successive release of Windows, Microsoft bundles yet more third-party functions. Audio, for instance, became an integral part of Windows 98 with the addition of Media Player. XP brought us a whole lot more: remote access, digital still and video imaging, CD burning, and file compression, to name but a few.
So, what could possibly be left to add? Why, more multimedia, of course. Enter the Digital Media Edition (DME).
The whole package, for around $45, carries more than a hint of frivolity. Among the more novel provisions are a CD labelling add-on, more skins for Windows Media Player, an alarm clock that can be set for timely wakeups or reminders, and a selection of 3D dancing desktop characters that very quickly become only marginally less annoying than Clippy the know-it-all paperclip Office assistant.
Movie Maker add-ons
The inclusion of a video-editing package in Windows XP took the complexity out of the genre and brought fast, effective filmmaking to the desktop. Version 2.0, available to all via the Windows Update Web site, ironed out some glitches to turn Movie Maker into a truly useful tool. Media Edition adds 50 editing options to the mix, with effects ranging from the artistic Watercolor to the exotic Color Warp, and a collection of transitions that let you drain, erode and evaporate clips from every conceivable direction. It’s a bundle that will no doubt be welcome to most users, though, as ever with such effects, beware of overuse.
The idea behind Photo Story is that, while your images might not move, you can pan and zoom around them to create a still ‘film’ consisting of a series of static shots. Add sound, titles and credits to compile a mini-movie, and e-mail the resulting WMV file to friends or colleagues (see here for a screenshot).
Photo Story is certainly an appealing alternative to attaching a bunch of digital photos to an e-mail, and it saves having to throw a post-holiday slideshow evening, but Movie Maker already allows this kind of approach with still images. Furthermore, not only is Movie Maker free but it also provides much more flexibility than Photo Story’s very basic ‘advanced’ panning and zooming options.
Photo Story is nevertheless a neat extra, even if you already have one of the many free photo viewing utilities such as IrfanView or PhotoExplorer. Those unsure of making their first steps into digital video editing will appreciate the simplicity of Photo Story’s stripped-down functions and automated approach. Its integration with the Windows platform can’t fail to make slideshow sharing that bit easier, too.
Audio Converter and Analog Recorder
For music fans, Microsoft has partnered with Sintrillium (maker of Cool Edit Pro) to bring DME users analog recording and audio conversion software. Audio Converter lets you change the format of music files to and from MP3, WAV and Microsoft’s own WMA — a handy feature for those who use a variety of devices for music playback. The software is again wizard-based, handholding you through the conversion process and taking care of the more technical aspects of the procedure to guard against loss of quality.
If you are looking for a quick, easy solution for getting all your vinyl records and tape cassettes onto your PC, you’ll welcome Analog Recorder. It’s another conversion tool, which this time allows you to copy your ageing analog audio into digital format, and eliminates background hisses and pops into the bargain. In keeping with the other utilities in DME Audio Converter it’s nice and simple, automating most of the process for you.
Party Mode lets you use your PC as a jukebox, utilising Windows Media Player in full-screen skin mode to stream a continuous playlist from your hard drive. There’s the option to add a scrolling message, too — perhaps a note to welcome guests as they arrive. Importantly, you can choose to block access to your desktop while in Party Mode but allow partygoers to reorder tracks just as they might control the comings and goings of CDs in and out of your hi-fi.
No shindig would be complete without some dancing, and Digital Media Edition throws in a selection of choreographed performers to turn your desktop into a dance floor. You can download more from Microsoft’s site, as well as medium and large versions of these real-life twirlers. Be warned, though, even at the smallest size these video files run to megabytes.