Windows 7 ships with the new Windows Media Player 12, which looks and feels very similar to Windows Media Player 11, but with a few new tweaks and additions. The interface has been somewhat pared down and that tabbed navigation of Windows Media Player 11 has been replaced with a separate 'Now Playing' view and a collapsible, tabbed list pane on the right-hand side for playlists, burning and syncing. Perhaps most significant is the functionality with the Windows taskbar, which lets you control playback with the Windows Media Player 12 minimized. Check out the hands on tour below for a brief overview of the main features of Windows Media Player 12.
First Time Setup of Windows Media Player 12
When you first run Windows Media Player 12, you'll be asked to choose some settings. You can use the 'Recommended settings' if you plan on using Windows Media Player 12 as your default media player and don't mind sending usage data to Microsoft, but if you want a little bit more control, choose 'Custom settings'.
When you choose 'Custom settings', you'll be brought to the 'Privacy Options' tab. The 'Enhanced Playback Experience' options are handy for retrieving album artwork and other artist info, and if you have purchased music, you can choose to download the usage rights automatically when you play the file.
You can also edit the Cookies settings (will bring you to the Internet Explorer preferences) and opt out of sending usage data to Microsoft. If you plan on viewing any shameful or top secret media (It's okay, having a vast collection of show tunes doesn't make you less of a man), you can choose not to store your history for Music, Pictures, Video or Playlists. Before clicking next, click the 'Privacy Statement' tab, if you're interested in some dense reading.
Lastly, you'll be asked to choose file types for Windows Media Player 12. We highly recommend choosing the file types manually, unless you plan on using Windows Media Player 12 for every movie, audio, video and picture file (which isn't infeasible).
However, as you'll see from the list, there are some files that you'd rather have a more qualified program handle, especially since there are occasionally issues with codecs. Select the extensions you want to open with Windows Media Player 12 and click on Save.
Adding Files to Your Windows Media Player Library
After you finished with the setup, you'll automatically be brought to the Library view. This is your main command center and, for now, will only have the tunes that come standard with your Windows 7 installation.
To get your music library involved, click Organize, 'Manage Libraries' and choose Music (or Videos, Pictures, Recorded TV).
The next window will show you your library locations. For Windows Media Player 12 to find your music, simply add the folders where your music is located. Click 'Add…' and browse to the folder. Add as many as you'd like then click OK.
Next, click Organize again and click 'Apply media information changes'.
At this point, you may want to go grab a sandwich, depending on how extensive your music collection is. When you come back, you'll see your library, replete with all of your tunes.
Views, Browsing and Search Through Your Library
You can browse your Music Library by Artist, Album or Genre and use one of three views: Icon, Tile and Details. Details is particularly useful for sifting through vast libraries or using the Search feature, but the Icon and Tile views add some eye candy, especially if you have all your album covers downloaded.
You can cycle through the different views simply by clicking on the 'View options' button or you can choose one from the drop-down menu.
If you want to browse through your entire library quickly, click on Music on the left-hand side and then type in a term in the search box. If you want to search only by Artist, Album or Genre, choose the appropriate view.
In addition to music and video, you can organize pictures and recorded TV shows by adding them to the respective libraries.
Creating Playlists, Burning and Syncing
You can create playlist by clicking the 'Create playlist' button along the top or by dragging an Album, Artist or Genre onto the Playlists icon on the left.
You can also create an auto playlist from the 'Create playlist' menu. This automatically builds a playlist based on certain criteria, such as play count, genre and rating.
For burning and syncing, you can use the list sidebar on the right. Simply click on one of the tabs in the upper-right to pull it up, and then drag files into the sidebar to add them to your play list, burn list or portable device.
Give it a name by clicking 'Burn list' and typing in a new title. Then insert a blank CD and click 'Start burn'.
The Now Playing View
One new feature of Windows Media Player 12 is the new 'Now Playing' view which is used for videos (but can be used also for music). You can also switch to 'Now Playing' by clicking on the button in the bottom right-hand corner. Switch back by clicking the same button in the top-right of the 'Now Playing' window.
This view comes up automatically when playing a video. Click the button in the lower-right to go to fullscreen. The playback controls disappear after keeping the mouse still for a few seconds.
Whether you're in the 'Now Playing' view or the Library view, you can control playback simply by hovering your mouse over Windows Media Player 12 in the taskbar. This opens up the controls as well as a preview of the screen.
That about covers the basic functionality of Windows Media Player 12. As you can see, it is incredibly quick and intuitive to use. With its search feature and Library layout, it's a worthy contender to iTunes. There's even a Microsoft Media Guide which lets you browse popular artists and listen to previews of songs, much like you can in the iTunes store.
Beyond its basic functionality, Windows Media Player 12 has great potential for managing your entire home's media by organizing your recorded TV shows and accessing networked libraries. Stay tuned for more in-depth guides on these topics.
Discovered a cool feature in Windows Media Player 12? Miss something from Windows Media Player 11? Tell us about it in the comments.