Quick Overview of the Media Player

Some developers haven't ever tried the Media Player, probably because it looked drab and uninteresting at the outset. Even the version of the Media Player that originally shipped with Windows 2000 lacked appeal. Microsoft has added so many improvements to the Media Player that you'll hardly recognize it the first time you see it. Figure 11.1 shows a typical example of this utility with a CD loaded. Notice that the Media Player automatically identifies the CD and provides track information. The following sections describe how to use the Windows Media Player.

Note For those of you who were looking for the venerable CD Player with its interesting quirks, this particular utility was not included with Windows XP. You'll find that the Windows Media Player does a far better job than the CD Player could ever do. However, if you absolutely must have the CD Player to feel comfortable, the version from Windows 2000 works just fine under Windows XP.

Figure 11.1: The Windows Media Player sports both new looks and updated features.

This section of the chapter provides you with a general overview of the capabilities of the Media Player. You'll learn about general operation and some of the special features that it provides, including Internet Support. However, given that this is a programming book, I'll leave it up to you to learn about some of the more interesting features that it would be hard to use in development. For example, the Media Player supports audio CD creation—a feature we won't discuss in this chapter. Once you complete this section, you might find that you want to give the Media Player a second look as a new source of entertainment for your system as well as a means to make your applications more usable.

The purpose of this section is to show you the capabilities of the Media Player from a user perspective so that you can appreciate the opportunities it provides to you as a developer. If you're already familiar with the Media Player, you can probably skip this section and get right into the programming examples. All of the sections that follow do have developer-oriented counterparts and we won't spend a lot of time on this overview. Consider this section one of the fun parts of the book.

Windows Media Player General Operation

You can adjust every aspect of your Media Player experience. For example, you can adjust the graphic in the center of the display. Click Select Visualization or Album Art (the button with the asterisk in the lower-left corner of the display area). You'll see a list of visualizations, plus an Album Art option. Interestingly enough, Media Player was able to display the album art from quite a few of my CDs, even though I didn't supply this information to the computer, nor did I supply any other information about the CD. Choose the visualization you want to see (or the album cover). If you choose a visualization, you'll see two arrow buttons next to the visualization button. Click these arrows to see different versions of that visualization. If you want to see your visualization full screen, click View Full Screen in the lower right corner of the display area. This is the button with a window in the center and four arrows pointing outward from the edges of the window.

Tip If you choose the album art visualization and then click on the album art, a copy of

Internet Explorer will open. You'll go to the http://windowsmedia.com/ site where you'll see a list of all the albums available by the same group. The site will help you explore these other options. For example, you can play samples from many of the albums to determine if you'd like to hear more. You can buy the albums directly online if desired with a few additional clicks. (The site links to CD-NOW.)

At the bottom of the screen, you'll see a set of 10 controls. These controls allow you to control the current position in the CD using pause, stop, next song, previous song, a position-seeking pointer, a rewind function, and a fast forward function. You can also control the volume of the music and mute it when necessary. The final button, Switch to Skin Mode, changes the appearance of the Windows Media Player to the selected skin. Figure 11.2 shows just one of many skins you can choose.

Figure 11.2: Select the skin that suits your personal preferences.

Yes, that's a Picasso-like picture and all of the painted buttons do work. You'll find quite a few skins for your Media Player, and I anticipate that people will want to create their own. In fact, one of the examples in this chapter will demonstrate how you can create skins for users of your applications. This feature has a lot of uses, including marketing your company. A well-designed skin could advertise your services or simply act as a means for people to remember your company name.

Three of the four buttons at the top of the display control the window display. The Show/Hide Menu Bar button controls the window surrounding the Windows Media Player. Normally, this window is invisible so you can see the effect of the skin. The Show/Hide Equalizer and Settings in Now Playing button displays a window immediately below the visualization window shown in Figure 11.1. This new window can display SRS WOW effect, graphic equalizer settings, video settings, media information, captions, and lyrics. The Show/Hide Playlist in Now Playing button shows a list of the songs you plan to play. Double-clicking a song in this list automatically changes the player to that song. The fourth button at the top, Turn Shuffle On/Off, automatically selects tracks at random when set to on. This means the CD won't play end-to-end; it will continuously play random selections.

The playlist has a lot more to offer than allowing you to select the tracks on the CD and add lyrics. The context menu contains options to play the selected song, enable sections, and disable selections. The Media Player will skip a selection that you have disabled when playing the CD in random or sequential order. The Edit option allows you to change the name of the song in the playlist. You can also change the order of songs in the list using the Move Up and Move Down options. The context menu contains several other options that we'll discuss as part of performing other tasks.

Internet Content

We haven't discussed many of the buttons on the left side of the Windows Media Player yet. You'll find that several of them enable you to find media on the Internet. The main Internet button is Media Guide. Click this and you'll go to WindowsMedia.com. This is Microsoft's main site for all things media.

The Radio Tuner feature also relies on the Internet. You click this option and after a few seconds, Windows Media Player displays the radio station page of WindowsMedia.com. Select a radio station and Windows Media Player will begin streaming content from it.

The Internet content functionality provided by the Media Player also has potential for developers. For example, this option could help you create better tutorials that wouldn't suffer from the problem of being out of date with patches for your application. Because the user would download the tutorial from the Web site each time it was needed, the content would always provide the latest information about your application. The same approach works for help desk and other support needs. You could even add to the application media features that would change over time to meet specific user needs or even provide a mood. For example, consider an application that would automatically dress itself up for Christmas or New Years.

Using the Media Library

The Media Library helps you organize all your media. The first time you select it, you'll see a dialog box that asks if you want to search your hard drive for media. Click Yes and Windows Media Player will begin the search. Of course, you can always conduct the search later using the Tools 0 Search for Media Files option (you can also press F3). After you click Yes, Windows Media Player will ask where to search for media on your system. However, unless you click Advanced, you won't see the additional options shown in Figure 11.3.

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Figure 11.3: The Windows Media Player helps you find media on your system.

Figure 11.3: The Windows Media Player helps you find media on your system.

Select the search criteria you want to use for searching. The default settings may not work in all cases. For example, you may want to keep track of your sound bites in the library. The size options may prevent this by excluding files that are too small yet fit within the sound bite category.

Notice that the default search criteria doesn't include system folders. If you want to include Microsoft-supplied media in your list, you'll want to check the Include System Folders option. In some cases, you might want to add files that you play to the media library even if they're smaller than the limits you set. The Search for Media Files dialog box also includes an option to address this concern. Once you're happy with the search settings, click Search and Windows Media Player will begin searching your system for media. After the Windows Media Player finds all of your media, you'll need to click Cancel to exit the Search for Media Files dialog box.

The Media Library will categorize your audio and video data using a hierarchical format like the one shown in Figure 11.4. Notice that this library shows the video clips by author. The other category selections present the data in other ways.

Figure 11.4: Use the Media Library to organize your media selections.

Creating a database of your media selections makes it easier to see what you have and to work with the data. You can play everything in your library. The Windows Media Player also allows you to copy the data to an audio CD or work with it in other ways. For example, you can use this screen to create and manage playlists.

Note Some of the elements on the left side of the hierarchical list don't support a context menu. The choices for the selection normally appear at the top of the window, so you need to highlight the element before you can do anything with it. For example, if you want to create a new playlist, you have to highlight My Playlists and then click New Playlist at the top of the window.

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