Windows Media Player 11: Not Impressive

Post ImageOn Monday, Microsoft released the latest update to Windows Media Player, affectionately known as version 11. Apparently the release was supposed to happen a week earlier, but was delayed due to concerns about the quality.

They should have delayed the release even longer.

I wrote about Beta 1 and Beta 2, and in general, the final release hasn’t changed my opinion about the software. Here’s what I like about it:

  • The interface is clean and looks modern and attractive.
  • Searching is excellent, and really becomes the main way you interact with your media library.
  • Synchronization with portable devices is superb.

And pretty much everything else falls into the “indifferent” or “don’t like it at all” categories. They have tried to make the app easier to use, but as a result, they have taken out some of the functionality that advanced users such as myself want. The best example here is adding media to the library. I want to have explicit, tight control over what goes into my library and what stays out, so forcing me to monitor folders or play a file completely sucks. Give me multiple different ways to manage this kind of thing!

What else: lots of visualizations are missing, there aren’t any Canadian stores supported, sometimes it appears to freeze, and a bunch of other minor things.

The biggest problem of all? Windows Media Player 11 is not an “oh my god you must get the latest version” kind of update to previous versions. As far as I am concerned, WMP11 is the first such release of Windows Media Player. I think WMP9 was an excellent improvement, and WMP10 was better still. It sucks that I can’t say the same about WMP11. I was really hoping for something better.

I guess I’ll have to wait for version 12.

Read: WMP11

REVIEW: Windows Media Player 11 Beta 2

Post ImageThe second beta version of Windows Media Player 11 has been released. I downloaded and installed the update yesterday, expecting to see something amazing! I was thinking, “ah beta 2, let’s see some great new features!” Alas, I got nothing.

With the exception of a few minor UI details, beta 2 looks a heck of a lot like beta 1. I can only hope this release contains some under-the-hood improvements to justify it’s existence. Performance seems pretty much the same as beta 1. Features look pretty much the same as beta 1. And beta 2 is still missing the things I want most:

  • Why can’t I add a single file without playing it? Give me a damn “Add file to library” menu option that lets me select a specific file! Sometimes the folder monitoring takes a while (especially when you have as many songs as I do) and I just want to add a file. Why this was removed from version 11 is beyond me (it existed in v10).
  • My favorite visualization, Plenoptic Vox, is still missing.
  • Statistics! I liked how in v10 I could click “All Music” and eventually it would show the total number of tracks in my library. That feature is now gone (or if it does exist, I can’t find it). Why not give us a great statistics view that tells me everything about my library?! It can’t be that hard, seriously.

Podcasting is also nowhere to be found, as a few people have noted.

If you’d like, you can read my review of beta 1 here. My advice remains the same – despite the fact that I am running beta 2 pretty much 24/7, I still recommend you wait for the final version (or at least a release candidate).

Read: WMP11 Beta2

REVIEW: Windows Media Player 11 Beta

Post ImageAs I mentioned a few days ago, I recently downloaded and installed the new Windows Media Player 11 beta to test it out. I use WMP almost all day, every day, so it’s an important application for me, and I’d say I am somewhat qualified to offer a review.

Let’s start with the bad shall we? Importing the 20,000 or so items from my WMP10 library took a very long time, so installation wasn’t incredibly quick. The installer also offered to setup a music store, so I chose Urge, the brand new MTV-sponsored service. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work outside of the United States (when will companies launch things for Canada and the US simultaneously, I mean seriously!). Missing from this beta are the visualizations that would not support full screen controls, thus my favorite (“Plenoptic Vox”) is nowhere to be found. Also missing is the ability to browse for a single file and add it to the library – the only ways to do this now are by monitoring folders, or playing a file and setting the player to automatically add played items. All of the auto-playlists I had in WMP 10 are gone, except the ones I had created manually, and they are now combined with normal playlists in the tree. Album art is everywhere in WMP11, but it seems to be quite slow at downloading it.

Some of those things are really annoying (such as not being able to add a single file) but they aren’t deal-breakers as far as I am concerned. And fortunately, the good is well, really good. I would upgrade to WMP11 for the new search capability alone – it is light years beyond previous versions! As soon as you start typing, WMP11 finds matching artists, songs, and albums (in the Music tab anyway) and displays them instantly. In WMP10, any search would take at least a minute to complete, it was brutal. Aside from the search, the new UI is absolutely beautiful. I love the layout, the colors, the graphics, all of it! The look of the player is a huge improvement over previous versions. The organization is better too – there is a really defined distinction between Music, Video, Pictures, Recorded TV, and Other. The most beautiful part of all: icons for albums, artists and songs, meaning you can display items in a details list, or with tiles. It looks great! I like the black mini-player on the taskbar too.

Here are some other things to note:

  • Synchronization with my Zen Touch worked flawlessly, and no settings were lost from WMP10. I really like the new Sync UI too, much more clear.
  • Using the player effectively really means using the search functionality. I find myself going to the tree on the left to find an artist, only to realize they aren’t listed there anymore! Once I get used to typing in the search box, I’ll probably find I navigate much more quickly than with the tree anyway.
  • I haven’t tested ripping or burning in the new version, but I would expect them to work very similarly to previous versions.
  • The visualizations seem really buggy on my three display setup. Sometimes they work fine full-screen, other times they jump to a different monitor, it’s very strange.
  • The player has crashed on me maybe three or four times so far. Sometimes it seems to slow up for a second or two, but it’s fairly solid for the most part.
  • I am not sure if WMP11 updated Windows Media Connect or not, because the service uses an insane amount of memory. Maybe I just didn’t notice it from before? WMP11 itself only uses about 25 MB when I have music playing with the window open, and even less when minimized.

Some people, notably Todd Cochrane, are upset that WMP11 does not contain any podcasting features. I don’t think it makes a big difference – podcasting is going to grow with or without Microsoft baking support into WMP. And I would argue that Todd would end up using something else anyway, as any podcasting support in WMP11 would probably be incredibly basic.

My verdict: wait for the final release. There’s still too many bugs in this beta for most people to use it, but I think WMP11 is going to be awesome. I’ve been using the beta nonstop for a few days now, and overall I am quite impressed. I’d love to see it on Windows Vista too, but that will have to wait for another day.

Read: WMP11 Beta