Microsoft Windows Media Player
At a Glance
The first thing you'll notice about the new Windows Media Player is how streamlined the interface is. Microsoft went for a much less cluttered look with this revision, playing off some of its design goals for Windows Vista, and I certainly like the result.
Instant Search is the star of Media Player 11. Even when dealing with large libraries, the search feature is amazingly fast, updating as you type each letter of your search query to help you quickly drill down through your music collection to find exactly the song, artist, or album you want. The speed of the search function helps make it a primary tool for navigating your media library, allowing Microsoft to streamline Media Player's interface further and to focus on a clean, engaging look.
The collapsing and expanding artist/album view is gone from the left pane, in favor of a navigation approach that focuses on search and on the center of the player window. Album art assumes much greater significance in this new approach. When you have numerous albums from a single artist, WMP displays stacked images of CD covers in its Artist view to give you another visual cue when you're navigating your collection.
WMP 11 uses Advanced Audio Fingerprinting--based on the waveform of the song itself, rather than whatever fragmentary metadata already exists in the file--to match the music in your collection with proper metadata (track numbers, album name, year of production, and so on) and album art. This helps correctly identify different versions of songs that appear on multiple albums. Media Player will automatically grab this information in the background, or you can elect to have it update your library all at once by choosing "Apply Media Information Changes" from the newly simplified Library menu.
Each of the main menu buttons in WMP 11 displays only the most critical menu choices, in a touch similar to Microsoft's interface design for Vista. The Rip menu, for example lets you change critical settings such as format and bit rate with just a few clicks, while hiding settings you change less frequently (like file-naming convention and the location you're ripping to) in a more traditional "More Options..." dialog box.
A couple of other nice touches: Media Player 11 features a universal back button that lets you retrace your steps whether you're browsing a subscription service or your own library, and a handy drop-down menu lets you manage other types of media in your collection. And WMP 11 will still collapse into a tiny window with just play controls if you reduce the window to small enough size.
You can choose what to sync or burn by dragging albums, artists, playlists, or tracks to the hideable right pane in the player, where a handy icon and meter show you which device you're transferring songs to and how much space you'll have left when you're done. WMP 11 will automatically spread tracks over multiple discs if you're trying to burn more tracks than will fit.
Reverse syncing and multiple PC syncing features aid you in archiving voice or FM recordings from an MP3 player or in keeping a consistent collection on multiple PCs.