Tuning into Winamp3

The Winamp media player has long been one of the most popular freeware downloads on the Internet. It’s up to you to decide if the new features introduced in Winamp3 are worth the update or simply constitute bloat-ware, and with so many new options it can sometimes be a little overwhelming. That’s why we've decided to take a look at what’s new, as well as ensure that favourites, like old playlists, will still work if you update.

When you first install and launch Winamp3 you’ll notice that there are quite a few new windows in the overall interface. On the top left you’ll find the redesigned main Winamp controls, and underneath you’ll see the new ‘Thinger’ bar which provides one-click access to many of Winamp3’s features such as the Advanced Visualisation Studio (AVS). Continuing down, you’ll see the new Playlist Editor and on the right you’ll see the new Winamp Browser (replacing the old mini browser), which makes it easy to find streaming radio as well as Winamp3 skins and plug-ins. It also finds links about the artists you’re currently playing.

New interface

Each Winamp3 window features a ‘+’ button in its top left that, when clicked, allows you to set the individual scale (window resize with a standard size of 100 per cent) and opacity (100 per cent being standard, 10 per cent being highly transparent). Opacity only works for Windows 2000 or XP and it should be kept in mind that older skins will not support it.

The button in the top right of each window in Winamp3 will close that window. The areas of Winamp that have what looks like a minimise button (called Windowshade mode) can be minimised to a thin bar to save screen space. On the flip side, the size of the main controls in Winamp3 can be increased by pressing -D, and windows can also be resized by clicking and dragging on their bottom right.

Although you can still use the standard playback controls, next to these you can now select to crossfade tracks into one another as well as randomise and repeat tracks from the playlist. The ML button will bring up the Media Library and the PL button will bring up the playlist window if it is closed. The EQ button brings up the Graphic Equaliser and when you select the Advanced button (next to the Equaliser’s Windowshade mode button), you can also adjust balance and crossfade options.

Winamp3 uses a new XML-based playlist format (.b4s) but old playlists such as .pls and .m3u files can still be loaded by clicking the Playlist button in the Playlist Editor’s bottom right and selecting Load Playlist. The left-hand side of the Playlist Editor will display its tracks while the right-side column allows you to load multiple playlists. You can bring up tracks that match a keyword by entering what you’re after into the Select: field, as well as add, delete and sort tracks using the buttons found underneath. Bring up more options by right-clicking in the playlist. Pressing -3 will allow you to view or edit a particular track’s file and ID3 tag information.

Media Library and Winamp Video

Any content you play through Winamp3 will be added to the program’s new Media Library — be they audio files, CD tracks, Internet streams or video files. You can then search through these files using the Search For: field and drag your results to the playlist or create a new playlist by clicking the Send Results To... button. You can also sort your library information by album, artists, comment, genre or year.

The new video window, accessed by right-clicking on the main window of Winamp3 and selecting Video or by choosing Video from the Thinger, can play .mpg/mpeg, .avi, .wmv, .asf and .nsv (NullSoft Video) files. I tested playback of a DivX .avi file and that seemed to work fine, too. The seek bar can also be controlled using the back 7s and skip 30s buttons, and full screen mode can be entered into by clicking on the button of the same name or by pressing -Enter.

Preferences and plug-ins

Press -P to enter Preferences. From here you can tweak Winamp3 as much as you like, adjusting everything from associated file types and playback buffers to colour themes, audio and visual add-ons, and skins that allow you to change the look of Winamp and, in some cases, even add functionality. You can download and find more information on a vast variety of skins at www.winamp.com. The default page in Winamp3’s browser has a skins link that makes it easy to find and install skins and plug-ins.