written by: Jennifer Claerr•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 6/4/2011
Windows Media Player is a software program that you can use to watch DVDs, listen to CDs or music files and shop for online media. Learn all about this powerful multimedia software program.
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What is Windows Media Player?
Windows Media Player is free software that is available to users of Windows 95 and later versions of the Windows operating system. There are several different versions of Windows Media Player, including version 11 for Windows XP and Vista, and version 12, which comes with Windows 7. Windows Media Player is a highly versatile program that can be used to view videos, listen to music files and streaming audio such as Internet radio. You can also use Windows Media Player to rip your CDs to your computer's hard drive, to burn CDs or DVDs and to sync files to a portable device such as an MP3 player. Windows Media Player creates a library from your music, videos, pictures and recorded TV. The Windows Media Player Media Guide provides an interface where you can download free media and purchase media online. Windows Media Player also has advanced features such as the ability to create playlists and synchronize with external devices.
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Windows Media Player is a full-featured player that plays back audio CDs, audio files, DVDs and videos. It can also play some audio and video streams directly from the Internet. You can see the selection that's currently playing in the "Now Playing" tab. There is a wide range of visualizations that you can watch as music plays in Windows Media Player. You can also use the graphic equalizer within the "Enhancements" sub menu of the "Now Playing" menu to get the best sound quality. Other enhancements include a "Color Chooser" which alters the appearance of Windows Media Player, "Crossfading and Auto Volume Leveling" which reduces the volume differences between songs, and "Quiet Mode" which reduces the volume differences within a song.
Windows Media Player can also search your hard drive for audio, image and video files that are already in your library. Your media library will then be visible from the "Library" tab along with the accompanying album art and information. You can use Windows Media Player to rip audio CDs to Windows Media Audio (WMA), MP3 or WAV format. You can also burn audio CDs or data CDs or DVDs. You can use the "Sync" feature to copy your media library to a portable device.
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Pros and Cons
Windows Media Player comes with Windows operating systems such as Windows XP, Vista and 7. In some ways, this is both a benefit and a detriment. Windows Media Player is ready to use when you set up your computer, but it can't be completely uninstalled and reinstalled should it experience problems. If you have installed a later version of Windows Media Player, however, you can roll back to the earlier version.
Windows Media Player offers intuitive navigation of the audio and video library. You can organize your songs by album, genre, year, rating or artist. Videos can be organized by actors, genre or rating. One of the most useful features of Windows Media Player is the ability to create playlists. You can mix up songs from different albums or unrelated videos in any order in your playlist, then save your playlist for future use. Later versions of Windows Media Player also include access to the Media Guide, a website where you can browse for music, movies, TV and Internet radio. You can watch music videos, streaming TV and movie trailers, download music files, play games and listen to streaming Internet radio through the Media Guide.
One of Windows Media Player's biggest disadvantages is that it often doesn't stream video properly, especially over slow DSL connections. Windows Media Player is also limited as to which portable devices it can sync to. For example, it won't sync to an iPod or even Microsoft's own Zune. Also, the classic Windows menu is disabled by default. You must right-click the toolbar to access these menus, or you must select "Show Classic Menus" to gain access to them above the toolbar. Although the tabbed interface is fairly intuitive, many people don't think to check the down arrows for the drop-down menus, and thus can't access many of Windows Media Player's advanced features and options.
Although you may encounter a few annoyances with the program, the fact remains that Windows Media Player is free for anyone running Windows. Overall, when you examine all its features, Windows Media Player comes up a winner.