Windows 7: Fun with Windows Media Player 12

Whether you’re running podcasts or just listening to music, the Windows Media Player 12 in Windows 7 gives you plenty of options.

William R. Stanek

Have you tried Windows Media Player 12 (WMP12) yet? WMP12 is the version that ships with Windows 7. Besides a cool new look, what’s impressive about this player is that will play all of your favorite media formats—and I do mean all of them.

Not only does it play WMV, WMA, MP3, AVI and MOV, but it also plays 3GP, Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), AVCHD, MPEG-4 (MP4), DivX and Xvid files. The support for AAC and MP4 is actually a huge improvement.

Although MP3 is the audio format most everyone recognizes, AAC is nearly as widely used. This is the default format for the Apple iPod and iTunes. AAC is one of several audio-coding formats defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for MPEG. AAC was first specified as MPEG-2 AAC, and then enhanced and extended within MP4.

AAC uses a perceptual coding technique to compress digital audio files. AAC is similar to MP3, but offers a number of advantages designed to improve audio quality, including higher-efficiency compression, better handling of audio frequencies greater than 16 kHz and support for higher resolution audio at up to 96 kHz. The improved efficiency of AAC files makes the format a better choice than MP3.

The AAC format is essentially MP4. To be fully and technically accurate, AAC is at the core of MP4. It’s the codec of choice for Internet and digital audio encoded to comply with MP4. AAC is also at the core of 3GPP and 3GPP2.

Besides enhanced media support, one of the nice benefits of WMP12 is the new look for Now Playing. This new, less-is-more approach lets you quickly see what’s playing, navigate and control the current album or playlist, and return to the library if you want to. You also can keep Now Playing on top of other windows if you prefer.

Sounds Good

So WMP12 for Windows 7 is a significant improvement. WMP has always been a capable player, but it wasn’t the one I used regularly. My music and other audio files were locked into AAC and MP4. Those formats have always been the cleanest, best formats in my opinion.

Being locked in to one thing—iTunes, in this case—was a real problem considering I had digitized an entire CD library encompassing some 15GB and more than 2,000 files. Sure, I could’ve gone with WMA. WMA is a good format, especially WMA Pro. Prior to getting everything digitized at 192 Kbps under iTunes, though, my audio had been running WMP with the default bit rate (128 Kbps). There’s a major difference in fidelity between 128 Kbps and 192 Kbps.

So how did I get my iTunes audio into WMP? It was actually quite simple. In WMP, I clicked Organize, pointed to Manage Libraries and then selected Music. This opened the Music Library Locations dialog box.

In the Music Library Locations dialog box, I clicked Add, selected the base folder for my iTunes music and then clicked Include Folder. When I then clicked OK to close the Music Library Locations dialog box, WMP began importing my audio—all 15GB of it.

The import process is faster than you might imagine. My entire library was available in a few minutes, thanks to WMP12 and Windows 7. Hearing every note and chord in Dolby Surround 5.1 is something else. Of course, this makes your webcasts and podcasts sound great as well.

Worth the Effort

WMP12 does indeed sound great, but it took a bit of work to get here. Here’s how it happened: I had previously used iTunes for my music library. I like the AAC and MP4 formats, and that’s where I could use them. When WMP12 came along and gave me the option of using AAC and MP4, I decided to switch over to WMP12.

The process of converting my library into WMP12 went well. There were a few hiccups, however, and these mostly had to do with the differences between the way iTunes stores album and song information and the way WMP12 does.

After importing my media, the album covers and some of the music information wasn’t available. Normally that’s a simple fix, as the metadata is eventually imported (in most cases). You can help metadata application along by clicking Organize and selecting Apply Media Information Changes.

Either way, your options settings will determine the success of this process. You can review your options settings by clicking Organize and selecting Options. On the Library tab of the Options dialog box, a few specific options control how WMP12 obtains and applies media information.

You must allow information retrieval to get metadata. If you allow retrieval, you can either add only missing information or allow media information to be overwritten. Allowing only missing information to be added might get some of your album covers and metadata, but it likely won’t get all of them. Overwriting media information might remove custom changes you’ve made, so there’s a trade-off. Be sure to choose the option that will best meet your needs.

If the album and song information for a particular album isn’t correct, you can get the metadata manually on a per-album basis. In the Album view, right-click the Album and then select Find Album Info.

Select the album in the search results and then click Next. Be sure to match the album that has the same number of songs as yours. Afterward, match the tracks in the album. If your tracks are named sequentially, you can simply match the first listed track to the first available track to select, the second to the second and so on until you’ve matched all the tracks.

So whether you like having some music in the background as you’re doing your daily IT tasks, or you want to use it to share and play podcasts for your user community, it’s well worth checking out WMP12. It’s just another reason why your organization should consider upgrading to Windows 7 if you haven’t already.

William R. Stanek

William R. Stanek* ( is a leading technology expert and the author of more than 100 books. Find him on Facebook at and on Amazon at*