Windows Media Player (WMP) is a digital media player and media library application developed by Microsoft that is used for playing audio, video and viewing images on personal computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system, as well as on Pocket PC and Windows Mobile-based devices. Editions of Windows Media Player were also released for Mac OS, Mac OS X and Solaris, but have since been discontinued.
In addition to being a media player, Windows Media Player includes the ability to rip music from and copy music to compact discs, synchronize content with a digital audio player (MP3 player) or other mobile devices, and let users purchase or rent music from a number of online music stores.
Windows Media Player replaced an earlier piece of software simply called Media Player, adding features beyond simple video or audio playback.
The default file formats are Windows Media Video (WMV), Windows Media Audio (WMA), and Advanced Systems Format (ASF), and supports its own XML based playlist format called Windows Playlist (WPL). The Zune software which actually is a modified version of Windows Media Player, additionally supports AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) audio, and MPEG-4 and H.264 video formats out-of-the-box.
The player is also able to utilize a DRM service in the form of Windows Media DRM.
Windows has had a media player since version 3.0 with MultiMedia Extensions. The original Media Player application used MCI to handle media files. In 1996 Microsoft released ActiveMovie, a new way of dealing with media files and streaming media (which the original Media Player couldn't handle). A wrapper was provided for users in the form of the ActiveMovie Control, allowing users to play media files on their computer.
ActiveMovie morphed into DirectShow and a new Media Player was created, known internally as Media Player 2. This player was an evolution from the ActiveMovie Control, providing a richer and more intuitive user interface. Media Player 2, like its predecessor, was also a wrapper - this time around DirectShow. Version 5.2 was the first version of this new Media Player, with version 6.x becoming widespread.
Version 6.4 was the final version of Media Player 2, by now known as Windows Media Player. Version 6.4 was included with Windows Me and Windows XP, but was dropped in Windows Vista.
There was another large revamp with version 7, with a new user interface and increased functionality. When Windows 2000 was released version 7.1 arrived. WMP7 came with the WMA and WMV codecs. With version 7.1, it was being called as a part of Windows Media Series, a collection of tools and codecs to create, serve and play media. Windows Server 2003 included Windows Media Services, a Windows Media server, for which WMP was the preferred client.
- Playback of audio, video and pictures, along with fast forward, reverse, seek and time compression and dilation.
- Supports local playback, streaming playback and progressive downloads.
- Support for any media codec and container format using specific DirectX filters.
- Full media management, via the integrated media library, which offers cataloging and searching of media. Media can be arranged according to album, artist, genre, date et al.
- Video Smoothing which upscales frame-rate by interpolating added frames, in effect giving a smoother playback on low-framerate videos.
- Includes 10-band graphic equalizer and SRS WOW audio post-processing system. Windows Media Player can also have attached plug-ins which process the output audio or video data.
- Features a taskbar-mounted Mini mode in which the most common media control buttons are presented as a toolbar on the Windows taskbar. Flyout windows can display media information, visualization or the video being played back.
- Can use video overlays or VMR surfaces, if the video card supports them. XP versions use VMR7 by default, but can also be made to use the more advanced VMR7 Mixing Mode by enabling the "Use high quality mode" option in Advanced Performance settings.
- Version 11 introduced improved support for DirectX accelerated decoding of WMV video (DXVA decoding)
- Features integrated CD-burning support for audio as well as data CDs. Data CDs can have any of the media formats supported by the player. While burning Data CDs, the media can, optionally, be transcoded into WMA format.
- Audio CDs can be ripped as WMA or WMA 10 Pro at 48, 64, 96, 128, 160 and 192 kbit/s, WMA lossless (470 to 940 kbit/s), WMA variable bitrate (from 40-75 kbit/s up to 240-355 kbit/s), MP3 at 128, 192, 256 and 320 kbit/s, or WAV uncompressed. 24 bit high-resolution CDs are also supported, if capable audio hardware is present.
- Features synchronization support with many hand-held devices. Media can be optionally transcoded to a format better suited for the target device, automatically, when synchronizing.
- Includes intrinsic support for Windows Media codecs which support multichannel audio at up to 24-bit 192 kHz resolution.
- Supports subtitles and closed-captioning, if present in the media.
- Features "Synchronized Lyrics", by which different lines of lyrics can be time-stamped, so that they display only at those times.
- Windows Explorer shell integration to add files and playlist to the Now Playing and other playlists can be controlled from the Windows Explorer shell itself, via right-click menu.
Windows Media Player 11
Windows Media Player 11 is available for Windows XP as well as Windows Vista. This new version features many changes. The Media Library no longer presents the media items (such as albums and artists) in a tree-based listing. Rather, on selecting the category in the left panel, the contents will appear on the right, in a graphical manner with thumbnails featuring album art or other art depicting the item—a departure from textual presentation of information. Missing album art can be added directly to the placeholders in the Library itself (though the program re-renders all album art imported this way into 1x1 pixel ratio, 200x200 resolution jpegs). Views for Music, Pictures, Video and Recorded TV are separate and can be chosen individually from the navigation bar. Entries for Pictures and Video show their thumbnails. Windows Media Player 11 also includes the Windows Media Format 11 runtime which adds low bitrate support (below 128 kbit/s for WMA Pro), support for ripping music to WMA Pro 10 and updates the original WMA to version 9.2.
- Stacking - Stacking allows graphical representations of how many albums there are in a specific category or folder. The more items there are, the larger the pile or stack is.
- Word Wheel - Searches and displays results as characters are being entered, without waiting for Enter key to be hit. Results are refined based on further characters that are typed.
- CD Burning - CD Burning now shows a graphical bar showing how much space will be used on the disc.
- URGE - The new music store from Microsoft and MTV networks is integrated with the player.
- Global Status - Global status shows a broad overview of what the player is doing. The information presented includes status information regarding buffering, ripping, burning and synchronization.
- Improved synchronization features for loading content onto PlaysForSure-compatible portable players. WMP 11 supports reverse-synchronization, by which media present on the portable device can be replicated back to the PC.
- Support for ripping audio CDs to WAV format.
- The Spikes, Ambience, Particle, and Plenoptic visualizations have been removed. :(
- Media Sharing (via Windows Media Connect) allows content (Music, Pictures, Video) to be streamed to and from Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) AV enabled devices such as the Xbox 360 and Roku SoundBridge. This includes DRM protected PlaysForSure content. WMP 11 on Windows Vista can also connect to remote media libraries using this feature; this is not available on the Windows XP version.
- Integrated web-browsing support to browse online music stores.
- Disc spanning splits a burn list onto multiple discs in case the content does not fit on one disc.
Microsoft released the first public beta of Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP (excluding Media Center editions before 2005) on May 17, 2006 and subsequently released the second public beta on August 31, 2006. Then on October 30, 2006, the final version of Windows Media Player was released to the public. Windows Media Player 11 was included in Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista operating system when it was released in November 30, 2006 (for volume-licenses) and January 30, 2007 (for worldwide retail availability); the Vista version includes some features not found in the XP version. As a result of a European antitrust ruling, Microsoft will also be required to produce "Windows Vista N" editions which do not include Windows Media Player for the European Union market.
The License Management tool available in prior versions of Windows Media Player has been removed since version 11. This prevents users of music download services from directly using Windows Media Player to back up their licenses and restore them to another computer. The user now must directly use the store's license restoration services.
The Quick Access Menu, which enabled browsing the library via a pop-up menu, has been removed. As a result of this, the library cannot be browsed when the player is in toolbar mode, but files and playlist still can be dropped to play it.
Microsoft has also released versions of Windows Media Player for other platforms including Pocket PC / Windows Mobile, Mac OS, Mac OS X, Palm-size PC, Handheld PC, and Solaris. Of these, only the Pocket PC / Windows Mobile edition continues to be actively developed and supported by Microsoft.
Pocket PCs and Smartphones
Windows Media Player for Pocket PC was first announced on January 6, 2000, and has been revised on a schedule roughly similar to that of the Windows version. Currently known as "Media Player 10 Mobile", this edition (released in October 2004) closely resembles the capabilities of the Windows version of WMP 10, including playlist capabilities, a media library, album art, WMA Lossless playback, support for DRM-protected media, video playback at 640x480 with stereo sound, and the same Energy Blue interface aesthetics also seen in recent versions of Windows XP Media Center Edition. It also supports synchronization with the desktop version of WMP 10, and additionally supports synchronizing and transcoding of recorded television shows from Media Center. Media Player 10 Mobile is not available as a download from Microsoft; distribution is done solely through OEM partners, and is typically included on devices based on Windows Mobile.
The latest version of Windows Mobile (6.0) includes a copy of Windows Media Player Mobile 10 but with a similar (but not quite identical) theme as Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP.
The Zune software is actually a modified version of Windows Media Player. Unlike Windows Media Player, which requires third-party DirectShow filters for playback of AAC, MPEG-4 and H.264 media, the Zune software comes with additional free DirectShow decoders for AAC (Low complexity) (.mp4,.m4a,.m4b,.mov), MPEG-4 (.mp4,.m4v,.mov) and H.264 (.mp4,.m4v,.mov) and thus natively supports playback of these media file types out-of-the-box.
Mac OS X
Version 9 was the final version of Windows Media Player to be released for Mac OS X before development was canceled by Microsoft. WMP for Mac OS X received widespread criticism from Mac users due to poor performance and features. Developed by the Windows Media team at Microsoft instead of the Macintosh Business Unit and released in 2003, on release the application lacked many basic features that were found in other media players such as Apple's iTunes and QuickTime Player. It also lacked support for many media formats that version 9 of the Windows counterpart supported on release 10 months earlier.
The Mac version supported only Windows Media encoded media (up to version 9) enclosed in the ASF format, lacking support for all other formats such as MP4, MPEG, and Microsoft's own AVI format. On the user interface front, it did not prevent screensavers from running during playback, it did not support file drag-and-drop, nor did it support playlists. While Windows Media Player 9 had added support for some files that use the WMV9 codec (also known as the WMV3 codec), in other aspects it was seen as having degraded in features from previous versions.
On January 12, 2006 Microsoft announced it had ceased development of Windows Media Player for Mac. Microsoft now distributes a third-party plugin called WMV Player (produced and maintained by Flip4Mac) which allows some forms of Windows Media to be played within Apple's QuickTime player and other QuickTime-aware applications. Mac users can also use the free software media player VLC, which is also able to play WMV-3 / WMV-9 / VC-1 Windows Media files.
|Date of Release||Description|
|June 25, 1998||Windows Media Player 6.1|
|November 22, 1999||Windows Media Player 6.4 for Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 (Also included in Windows 2000 and Windows XP as mplayer2)|
|April, 2000||Windows Media Player 1.2 for Palm-size PC|
|July, 2000||Windows Media Player for handheld PC|
|July 17, 2000|| Windows Media Player 6.3 for Mac OS|
Windows Media Player 6.3 for Solaris
Windows Media Player 7 for Windows 98 and Windows 2000
|September 14, 2000||Windows Media Player 7.0 for Windows Me bundled with the operating system|
|December 12, 2000||Windows Media Player 7 for Pocket PC|
|July 24 2001||Windows Media Player 7.0.1 for Mac OS|
|October 25, 2001||Windows Media Player 8 for Windows XP bundled with the operating system on its release|
|January 8, 2002||Windows Media Player 7.1 for Mac OS|
|June, 2002||Windows Media Player 8 for Pocket PC 2002 and Smartphone 2002|
|January 27, 2003||Windows Media Player 9 series for Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows 2000, and Windows XP RTM/SP1|
|June 23, 2003||Windows Media Player 9 series for Pocket PC and Smartphone (Windows Mobile 2003 operating system)|
|November 7, 2003||Windows Media Player 9 series for Mac OS X|
|August 10, 2004||Windows Media Player 9 series for Windows XP Service Pack 2 bundled with the operating system on its release|
|October 12, 2004||Windows Media Player 10 for Windows XP bundled with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005|
|May 9, 2005||Windows Media Player 10 Mobile for Pocket PC and Smartphone. Included in Windows Mobile 5.0|
|October 30, 2006||Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP|
|November 8, 2006||Windows Media Player 11, included with Windows Vista|
|October 22, 2009||Windows Media Player 12 included with Windows 7, 8 and 8.1|
European Commission case
In March 2004, the European Commission in the European Union Microsoft antitrust case fined Microsoft €497 million and ordered the company to provide a version of Windows without Windows Media Player, claiming Microsoft "broke European Union competition law by leveraging its near monopoly in the market for PC operating systems onto the markets for work group server operating systems and for media players". The company has made available a compliant version of its flagship operating system under the negotiated name "Windows XP N", though the product has not been very successful. Windows Vista is also available in "N" editions.