Windows Media Player (abbreviated WMP) is a proprietary 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 development of these has 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, burn recordable discs in Audio CD format or as data discs with playlists such as an MP3 CD, synchronize content with a digital audio player (MP3 player) or other mobile devices, and enable users to purchase or rent music from a number of online music stores.
Windows Media Player replaced an earlier application called Media Player, adding features beyond simple video or audio playback.
Windows Media Player 12 is the most recent version of Windows Media Player as of July 2009. It was released on July 22, 2009 along with Windows 7 and has not been released for previous versions of Windows.
Windows Media Player 11 is available for Windows XP and included in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.
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 player is also able to utilize a digital rights management service in the form of Windows Media DRM.
Microsoft Windows has had a media player since 1991, when Windows 3.0 with MultiMedia Extensions was released. This version of Windows, which was included with "Multimedia PC"-compatible machines but not available for retail sale, included the Media Player application, was capable of playing
.mmm animation files, and could be extended to support other formats. It used MCI to handle media files. In November of the following year, Video for Windows was introduced with the ability to play digital video files in an AVI container format, with codec support for RLE and Video1, and support for playing uncompressed files. Indeo 3.2 was added in a later release. Video for Windows was first available as a free add-on to Windows 3.1, and later integrated into Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0.
In 1996 Microsoft released ActiveMovie, a replacement for Video for Windows that incorporates a new way of dealing with media files, and adds support for streaming media (which the original Media Player couldn't handle).
ActiveMovie was renamed to DirectShow in 1996, and a new Media Player was created, known internally as Media Player 2.
All versions branded Windows Media Player (instead of simply Media Player) support DirectShow codecs. Version 6.4 was included with Windows Me, Windows 2000 and Windows XP, but was dropped in Windows Vista. Windows Media Player version 7 was a large revamp, first included with Windows Me with a new user interface, visualizations and increased functionality.
Beginning with Windows Vista, Windows Media Player supports the Media Foundation framework besides DirectShow; as such it plays certain types of media using Media Foundation as well as some types of media using DirectShow.
- Allows the user to connect, share and sync data with portable handheld devices and game consoles since version 7. Media can be optionally transcoded to a format better suited for the target device, automatically, when synchronizing. When deleting playlists from devices, Windows Media Player can automatically remove their contents. Devices can be formatted using Windows Media Player 9 Series and later. Version 10 and later support the Media Transfer Protocol and Auto Sync. Auto Sync allows users to specify criteria such as recently added music or highest rated songs, by which media will be automatically synchronized with the portable device and other advanced features like setting the clock on the portable device automatically, communicating with the device to retrieve the user's preferences. Windows Media Player 10 also introduced the UMDF-based Windows Portable Devices API.
- Playback of audio, video and pictures, along with fast forward, reverse, file markers (if present) and variable playback speed (seek & time compression/dilation introduced in WMP 9 Series). Items in a playlist can be skipped over at playback time without removing them from the playlist.
- Supports local playback, streaming playback with multicast streams and progressive downloads.
- Support for any media codec and container format using specific DirectShow filters or Media Foundation codecs (Media Foundation codecs only in Windows Vista and later).
- Full media management, via the integrated media library introduced first in version 7, which offers cataloguing and searching of media and viewing media metadata. Media can be arranged according to album, artist, genre, date et al.. WMP 9 Series introduced ratings and Auto Ratings. Windows Media Player 10 introduced support for aggregating pictures, Recorded TV shows, and other media into the library. Windows Media Player 12 drops the integrated library for Windows 7's libraries.
- Windows Media Player 9 Series introduced Quick Access Panel to browse and navigate the entire library through a menu. The Quick Access Panel was also added to the mini mode in version 10 but was entirely removed in version 11.
- Video Smoothing introduced in WMP 9 Series (Windows XP and later only) which upscales frame-rate by interpolating added frames, in effect giving a smoother playback on low-framerate videos.
- Includes a 10-band graphic equalizer with presets and SRS WOW audio post-processing system. Windows Media Player can also have attached audio and video DSP 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, the active visualization or the video being played back. Mini-mode was introduced as a shell player powertoy for Windows Media Player 8 in Windows XP and integrated later into WMP 9 Series. Mini-mode has been removed in Windows Media Player 12 in favor of controls in the taskbar's interactive thumbnail preview which lacks volume control, a progress bar and information displayed whenever a new song is played.
- Can use video overlays or VMR (Video Mixing Renderer) surfaces, if the video card supports them. In Windows XP, it uses VMR7 by default, but can also be made to use the more advanced YUV mixing mode by enabling the "Use high quality mode" option in Advanced Performance settings. This turns on deinterlacing, scaling and improved color accuracy. WMP 9 Series introduced native playback for deinterlacing for TV output.
- Version 9 introduced DXVA accelerated playback. Version 11 introduced improved support for DirectX accelerated decoding of WMV video (DXVA decoding)
- Features integrated Audio CD-burning support since version 7 as well as data CD burning support since Windows Media Player 9 Series on Windows XP and later. 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 and playlists can be added to the CD as well. Starting with WMP 9 Series, audio CDs can be burnt with volume leveling.
- Audio CDs can be ripped as WMA or WMA 10 Pro (WMA 10 Pro in WMP 11 and later) at 48, 64, 96, 128, 160 and 192 kbit/s, WMA lossless (470 to 940 kbit/s) (9 Series on XP and later), WMA variable bitrate (from 40-75 kbit/s up to 240-355 kbit/s), MP3 at 128, 192, 256 and 320 kbit/s, or uncompressed WAV (WAV ripping in WMP 11 and later). Since WMP 9 Series, 24 bit high-resolution CDs (HDCDs) are also supported, if capable audio hardware is present. Audio can be ripped using error correction and ripped audio can be protected with Windows Media DRM. Ripping to MP3 is supported only in Windows Media Player 8 for Windows XP and later if a compatible MP3 encoder is installed. Windows Media Player 10 included the Fraunhofer MP3 Professional encoder.
- Information on CDs such as album name, artist and track listings can optionally be automatically downloaded from the online Windows Media database when the CD is inserted.
- Includes intrinsic support for Windows Media Audio Professional codec on Windows XP with WMP 9 Series and later which supports multichannel audio at up to 24-bit 192 kHz resolution.
- Can play files in WMA, WAV or MP3 media formats. However, it will not play MP3 files that contain compressed ID3 headers ("tags"); trying to do so results in a "The input media file is invalid" error message. MP3 playback support was built-in beginning with version 6.1 and audio CD playback was natively supported with version 7.
- Supports subtitles and closed-captioning for local media, video on demand streaming or live streaming scenarios. Typically Windows Media captions support the SAMI file format but can also carry embedded closed caption data.
- Windows Explorer shell integration to add files and playlist to the Now Playing pane and other playlists can be controlled from the Windows Explorer shell itself, via right-click menu. The My Music folder also includes a separate My Playlists folder where playlists are maintained. When the player is closed and reopened, simply clicking the play button restores the last playlist even if it was not saved. Starting with Windows Media Player 10, the playlist pane is also visible from the Library view. AutoPlay handlers in Windows expose various Windows Media Player tasks.
- A fully featured tag editor was featured in versions 9-11 of WMP, called the Advanced Tag Editor. However, the feature was removed in Windows Media Player 12.
- Features static lyrics and "Synchronized Lyrics", by which different lines of lyrics can be time-stamped, so that they display only at those times. Synchronized Lyrics also were accessible through the Advanced Tag Editor.
- Has skinning support since version 7 and includes a color chooser since version 8. Not all functions are usually exposed in skin mode. Windows Media Player 10 allows setting the video border color. Color chooser has been removed in Windows Media Player 12.
- Since WMP 9 Series, the player features dynamically updated Auto Playlists based on criteria. Auto Playlists are updated every time users open them. WMP 9 Series and later also supports Auto Ratings which automatically assigns ratings based on the number of times a song is played. Pre-populated auto playlists are included in Windows Media Player 9 Series. Custom Auto Playlists can only be created on Windows XP and later.
- Includes Background plug-in, window plug-in and Now Playing plug-in support to control media playback besides DSP and renderer plug-ins. Plug-in support was introduced in Windows Media Player 9 Series.
- Supports visualizations and Info Center View (Info Center View in WMP 9 Series and later) which displays media metadata fetched from the internet. Full screen visualizations are supported in WMP 9 Series and later.
- Windows Media Player 10 and later feature integration with a much larger number of online music stores and selecting a music store switches the Info Center view, radio and other online features to use services from that store. Purchased music from a particular store appears in a separate library node under the respective category.
- Features universal brightness, contrast, saturation and hue adjustments and pixel aspect ratio for all playable video formats.
- Since Windows Media Player 9 Series, the player supports crossfading, audio dynamic range (Quiet Mode) for WMA Pro and WMA Lossless, and auto volume leveling for certain media which includes volume level/gain information such as MP3 or Windows Media.
- Activates DVD and Blu-ray playback functionality with support for menus, titles and chapters, parental controls and audio track language selection if compatible decoders are installed. DVD playback features minus the necessary decoders were integrated into Windows Media Player 8 for Windows XP. MPEG-2 and Dolby Digital (AC-3) decoders were included beginning with Windows Media Player 11 on Windows Vista (Home Premium and Ultimate editions only).
- Integrates web-browsing support to browse online music stores, shop for music and tune to internet radio stations since version 7.
- Supports extensive configurable privacy and security settings.
- Full keyboard-based operation is possible.
Features new to Windows Media Player 11
Windows Media Player 11 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. The navigation pane can be customized for each library to show the user selected media or metadata categories. 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). There are separate Tiles, Icons, Details or Extended Tiles views for Music, Pictures, Video and Recorded TV which can be set 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. Other features include:
- Instant Search - Searches and displays results as characters are being entered, without waiting for Enter key to be hit. Incremental search results are refined based on further characters that are typed.
- 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 and WMA 10 Pro formats.
- 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 PS3, 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.
- Disc spanning splits a burn list onto multiple discs in case the content does not fit on one disc.
- Portable devices appear in the navigation pane of the library where their content can be browsed and searched.
- Shuffle Sync to randomize content synced with the portable device, Multi PC Sync to synchronize portable device content across multiple PCs and Guest Sync to synchronize different content from multiple PCs with the portable device.
- The List pane includes an option to prompt the user to remove items skipped in a playlist upon save or skip them only during playback.
- CD Burning - CD Burning now shows a graphical bar showing how much space will be used on the disc.
- Stacking - Stacking allows graphical representations of how many albums there are in a specific category or folder. The pile appears larger as the category contains more albums.
- 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.