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
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.