Windows Media Player 12 has an answer to the iTunes store via its online store browsing capabilities. You can browse Microsoft's own Windows Media Guide to check out free trailers, music videos and singles from top artists directly in Windows Media Player 12. Or you can visit other online content services, such as eMusic and Audible without ever leaving Windows Media Player 12. This capability gives you access to dynamic content, including featured artists, Internet Radio and sneak peaks of box office movies alongside the videos and music saved locally on your hard drive. In this tutorial, we'll show you how to choose a store, browse online stores, download and stream songs and navigate the Windows Media Guide.
How to Choose a Store
To choose an online store in Windows Media Player 12, click the arrow to the right of the 'Online Stores' or 'Media Guide' icon just below the Navigation Pane. Choose 'Browse All Online Stores'.
Note: If you do not see the 'Media Guide' or 'Online Stores' icon, click File and make sure that 'Work Offline' is unchecked. If it is selected, uncheck it and then restart Windows Media Player 12.
Alternately, click View and choose 'Online Stores' for the same options as if you were to click the icon below the Navigation Pane.
Okay, we all on the same page now? Great. After clicking on 'Browse all online stores' you should be looking at the 'Choice of Online Stores' screen. As of now, the pickings are relatively slim, consisting of Audible, eMusic and some Latino stores. Microsoft will likely add more down the road. Though it's unnecessary for now, you can sort the stores by media type by clicking the hyperlinks.
Now might also be a good time to point out that the Media Guide and the online stores are essentially just webpages being viewed within Windows Media Player 12. For those of you paranoid about hackers and viruses, this does introduce a security issue, though no more than browsing in Internet Explorer might. To put you at ease, Windows Media Player lets you know your web location in the top-right. You can click this to refresh the page as well.
When you click on a store, Windows Media Player 12 will double check to make sure you want to select it. Say Yes.
Before we move on, click the arrow to the right of the 'Online Stores' icon (actually, now it should be displaying the icon of the store you're viewing). You can click 'Add Current Service to Menu' to save yourself a step later.
Next time you click that arrow, you'll see this online store (and any others you've added) included in the drop-down menu. If you want to get rid of it, simply click 'Remove Current Service from Menu'.
How to Browse Online Stores
Now that you've selected a store, you can start browsing their online content. Like we mentioned, all of this is just a glorified web browser. So, when you switch, you will simply be taken to the website of the service you chose, though it may be spruced up a bit for viewing in Windows Media Player 12. Some of these services have free content but most will require you to at least register.
With that being said, these sites are typically optimized for use in Windows Media Player 12, so you can usually play previews and clips right in Windows Media Player 12. For example, in this screenshot, I'm logged into my eMusic account and previewing an album directly in Windows Media Player 12.
All the online stores will have their own interfaces and navigation schemes, so we'll leave it up to them to show you the ropes. But just so you know, any transactions you make through the online store will be handled by the respective vendor and not Microsoft. Your account will be with eMusic or Audible or whoever you choose to sign up for, in spite of the fact that you are accessing the store through Windows Media Player 12.
How to Download Content
In addition to streaming content, you can also purchase downloadable content. Again, each service has their own system for managing your purchases and downloads. But occasionally, clicking a downloadable file will pull up the default Windows download dialog. Here, you can choose Open to play without saving to your hard disk. Or, you can click Save to keep the file.
When you click Save, simply save the file to your Music Library or another folder that's being monitored by Windows Media Player 12. If you forgot how to setup your Music Library folders, go back and read Windows Media Player 12 - What's New and How It Works.
Windows Media Guide - How to Use it
The Windows Media Guide is separate from the online store but works in largely the same way. Here as well, you're just using Windows Media Player 12 as a souped-up web browser to visit WindowsMedia.com. The Windows Media Guide has more Windows Media Player 12-friendly content, however, including free movie trailers, featured artists and Internet Radio. The movie trailers and free music videos work the same as they do on the other online stores--simply click to view them instantly in Windows Media Player 12. For example, clicking on this Robin Hood advertisement will play the trailer instantly in Now Playing mode.
When the video is done playing, you can return to the Player Library to go back to the Media Guide.
How to Listen to Internet Radio
The Internet Radio feature in Windows Media Player 12 is particularly apt. You can browse radio stations by genre and click Listen to begin streaming instantly. You can also click Visit to be taken to the station's website. This will open the website in your default browser.
On the right, Windows Media Player 12 will keep track of your recently listened stations.
You'll also see an option that lets you choose between low and high stream speeds. Your current choice will be bolded. We suspect you won't need this feature because A) does ANYONE have dial-up these days? and B) Windows Media Player 12 auto-detects your speed by default when it initiates the stream. I switched it on my cable broadband connection and didn't notice a difference.
Note: If for some reason you want to disable auto-detect of your connection speed, click Tools and choose Options. From the Performance tab, click 'Choose connection speed' and choose a speed on the drop-down menu. You can also change the buffer, if you'd like. This is handy if you have a very slow connection that produces choppy sound. Setting the buffer higher will pause the playback until a certain amount of content has been loaded to reduce choppiness. We recommend sticking with the default settings unless you're having serious performance issues. Click Apply and then OK once you're all set.
How to Search the Windows Media Guide
In the top-right corner, you'll notice a search box. You can search the Windows Media Guide from here by typing in an artist, song or album name or some other key term. In this example, I've run a search for Cat Stevens. You'll get two sets of results: those at the top will open in Windows Media Guide within Windows Media Player 12. The remaining results located below the fold are from around the web (such as YouTube and DailyMotion) and will open in your default browser, if clicked.
Through Windows Media Player 12, you can browse through the Windows Media Guide and other online stores. From here, you can instantly download songs, play streaming content and listen to Internet Radio. Although the interface is largely the same as viewing these sites through Internet Explorer, the online stores and Windows Media Guide pages have been optimized to play well with Windows Media Player 12. The overall effect is a browsing experience that is a little more free form and immersive than iTunes but lacks a centralized account through Microsoft for paid content. With that being said, if you already have an Audible or eMusic account, then Windows Media Player 12 lets you seamlessly integrate your library with your purchased content. All in all, Windows Media Player 12 offers an easy and convenient way to explore and purchase new music.