August 2, 2008

Four Alternatives to Windows Media Player

TECHTIPS - 178

Four Alternatives to Windows Media Player

By Scott Nesbitt- Sunday, July 27, 2008

Once upon a time, Windows Media Player (WMP) was a lean and not-so-mean audio and video player. It did a specific job, and did it fairly
PullQuote - 178well. It was pretty much a cheap MP3 player (and a couple of other formats, too) for your desktop computer.

But like a lot of software (not just the stuff out of Redmond), WMP got a bit too big for its own good. Now, it doesn't just play audio and video. It's also a DVD player, an iTunes wannabe, a CD ripper, an interface to MP3 players, and more. Sometimes I wonder if WMP packs a death ray or a connection to my blender that will help me make smoothies.

When I use Windows, I yearn for a slimmer media player that takes me back to the old days of WMP. This kind of software is out there, thankfully. Much of it's free and it packs the punch that most people need.

Here are four lightweight media players for Windows that you'll definitely want to check out.

 

VLC

Often called the Swiss Army Knife of media players, VLC (short for Video LAN Client) is a wonderfully compact, yet powerful audio and VLCvideo player. It supports a large number of formats — far more than any other media player that I've used. In fact, VLC has been able to play media files that other players — including Windows Media Player — have balked at. With some media files, like Windows AVI, VLC even repairs damaged files. Not always, but often better than any other desktop media player I've tried.

In addition to audio and video files that are on your hard drive or home network, VLC can also play CDs, DVDs, and streaming audio and video. With streaming media, you can use VLC to either stream audio or video on to a network or save a stream to a file. To do this, Transcodejust select File > Wizard, and then select the action that you want to take. The wizard walks you through the process. Note that your results may vary and VLC will (obviously) not save streams whose format it doesn't recognize.

Admittedly, VLC's interface is pretty dull. But what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in features. On top of that, it can run on multiple operating systems: Windows, various flavors of Linux, Mac OS, Solaris, and several variants of BSD. There's also a version of the PortableApps suite.

MPC1_IMMedia Player
Classic Homecinema

Remember what I said about Windows Media Player having moved away from its roots? Well, Media Player Classic Homecinema has tried to return to those roots. Right down to the look and feel of the old Windows application. Media Player Classic Homecinema has the speed and the sleek visual styling of the Windows Media Player that many of us knew and loved.

But it's not just a simple clone. Media Player Classic Homecinema plays more formats than the old or new Windows Media Player, and even a few that VLC can't handle. Like what? Like Real Media and Real Audio, Apple Quicktime, and Matroska (yeah, I hadn't heard of that one either).
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And, like any good media player, this one also supports CD and DVD playback. Overall, the playback isn't quite as good as VLC but it's not too bad, either. In its favor, though, Media Player Classic Homecinema is a lot smaller than VLC — the download is about 2 MB, compared to VLC's 8 MB.


Going audio only

Not everyone is a videophile. Some of us want to just listen to music or podcasts. That's where the next two media players do that and do it very well.

First up is Zinf. Zinf supports a limited number of audio formats — MP3, Ogg/Vorbis, and WAV — along with a number of streaming formats including streams from the popular SHOUTCast Internet zinfradio. It's also a serviceable CD player.

One feature that sets Zinf apart from many of its counterparts is its music browser. The browser propecia blind date is an audio file organizer. Using the browser, you can search for all the music on your computer as well as import any playlists that you've created with another application. Once you've got your music in Zinf's browser, you can create additional playlists or just play your music on a continuous loop. It's surprisingly quick and easy.

Zinf only has a couple of drawbacks. The main one, at least for some, is that it doesn't support a number of proprietary formats like Windows Media or Real Media. And the interface isn't the most attractive out of the box. Luckily, you can add themes that liven the player up more than just a bit.

Cool playerNext up is CoolPlayer. Talk about small, fast, and feisty. That's CoolPlayer. On the surface, it looks like an older version of the venerable WinAmp player. It's a lot more compact, though, and doesn't have all of the features of WinAmp (or any of the other media players mentioned in this TechTip).

Like Zinf, CoolPlayer can play MP3, Ogg/Vorbis, and WAV files. It also supports standard playlists, and  can play streaming audio (at least a couple of formats) off the Internet. Out of the box, though, CoolPlayer can't play back CDs. That said, you can download a number of plugins for CoolPlayer that really extend its capabilities. Everything from turning it into a CD player to support for a number of other audio formats.

As you can see from the attached screenshot, CoolPlayer isn't all that pretty. You can, though, download a handful of skins to make the application a little more attractive. Now if there was only something I could do about CoolPlayer’s rather sinister looking default icon …


Conclusion

If you use Windows, you're not stuck with Windows Media Player for playing your audio and video files. There are a number of smaller, faster, and to be honest, better alternatives out there. Those alternatives are more flexible, support a number of formats that Windows Media Player doesn't handle, and they're free. What more can you ask for?

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lyricsfly

I love to find lyrics to songs I like. I feel I can get a better understanding of the song or I can double check a lyric to make sure I heard it right. But the one thing I have always hated about lyric Web sites is all the pop ups you have to wade through. Well, not anymore. Now, there's lyricsfly!

And as far as lyric sites go, let me tell you, I’m in love! Not only can you search by Artist, Song, Album or Lyrics, but you can submit lyrics, correct lyrics and so much more.

You all know I love Charlotte Martin, so the first thing I did was an Artist search to see if any of her songs' lyrics made it on the site. I was happy to find Wild Horses.

On the page with the lyrics, you’ll find propecia and receding hairline that you can Print, E-mail, Correct and even Delete the lyrics. You will also find that they list similar artists and sometimes, there will even be an MP3 file you can listen to.

Under the Info tab, you’ll learn about ways to better search for the lyrics you're looking for. You will also find information about the Web site and its goals.

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Stumble Audio

I love discovering new music. I get so excited when I find a new artist I like and now, I have an even easier way to do so!

To save your preferences as you listen, you’ll need to register. It’s free and very easy to do. Just click on the JoinStumbleAudio link at the top of the page. Fill out the form and you’re good to go!

I started by typing in the name of an artist I like in the search engine at the top of the page. I typed in Charlotte Martin. It found 245 similar artists that I could listen to. On the left side of the page, you’ll have a selection of artists to choose from. Simply click on one to hear them.

It will load the album in the middle of the page and the track will automatically play when it's done loading. Beneath that, you’ll see a Thumb Up and a Thumb Down button. Those let you select whether you liked what you heard or hated it.

Next to that is a Share button, which allows you to share the track with your friends and family by propecia and conception automatically copying the track’s URL to your clipboard. Just go to your e-mail and paste it in the text field. Then just address the e-mail to as many of your friends and family as you want.

Then there's the Stumble button. Clicking on that will let you discover music at random. As you rate songs with the Thumb Up and Thumb Down buttons, it will start to hone the music you hear to your preferences. The more you rate, the smarter it gets about what you like.

That’s why I recommend starting off with an artist you already know you like. But, if you’d rather, you’ll notice on the main page, there's a listing of music categories. You can also pick one of those and then Stumble from there.

The thing I love the most is I don’t have to listen to a track I don't like if I don't want to. I can just click on the Thumb Down button and move along, either by clicking on the Stumble button or by putting in a different artist and listening to something else.

This is an excellent way to discover music. You get to listen to full tracks, share the ones you like with your friends and best of all, it’s free. Check it out today!

http://www.stumbleaudio.com/

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June 10, 2008

Can you explain to me what an MP4 is?

Can you explain to me what an MP4 is? I've obviously heard of MP3, but now there's an MP4?! I'm so lost and confused. Please help!

A:
Yes, there is! I know, isn't it amazing how fast the world of technology develops? It seems like we get caught up on one thing and the next day, there's something new to learn about. I mean, we shouldn't complain, because all of the technology we're surrounded by is what keeps some of us going each day, but it definitely is a little hard to stay on top of everything that comes about.

But even though understanding everything gets a little difficult sometimes, it's not impossible. I promise that after today, you will fully understand one more computer term and you will be able to check it off your "find out what this is" list! Alright, let's get right into it!

To start with a quick definition, MP4 files are compressed video files. Their main purpose is to make video files much smaller so that they are easier to work with and support. Video files used to be very big in size and they were very difficult to work with. But now, the same files are compressed with the same material and they go by the new name of MP4s.

MP4 files work very similarly to MP3 files in that they are compressed files that do not affect the quality of sound. (In case you're not sure, MP3s are music and audio files, so an MP4 is just taking that to the next level with videos). The term MP4 is also known as MPEG-4 AVC, which stands for advanced video coding. Now, if you're still not sure how the whole MP4 technology works, make sure you keep reading, because it's going to get even more interesting, I promise!

Since MP4s deal mostly with video files, they are a little more complex than the MP3 music and audio files. But, they are still able to be compressed by using special coding procedures. For example, certain aspects of the files are minimized. Those are usually the temporal and spatial redundancies. buy propecia 5mg The motion and intra estimations of the frequencies are usually transformed as well. And last, but not least, the file goes through a lot of compression and decompression, which is referred to as codec.

Now, I'm sure you're probably wondering if there's such a thing as an MP4 player, right? Well, yes there is. It works just like any other media player. You can purchase the device at any regular electronics store and you then just hook it up to your computer or television. It really is that easy, even if it doesn't seem like it!

Of course, as with everything else, the MP4 technology has its ups and downs. Let's start with the advantages. MP4s are able to produce videos with a DVD quality at a rate of 1 Mbps or less with a broadband Internet connection. (That's blazing fast!) So, if you were to get an MP4 player, you could get your videos and watch them in a matter of seconds. MP4 players can also play older MP formats, including MP3 audio files.

As for the disadvantages, there will more than likely be several piracy issues within the MP4 technology. The MP3 format went through this as well. As you may already know, there are pirated versions of movies on the Internet that are ready for download at any time. So, with MP4s mainly dealing with videos, the piracy problems are sure to get out of hand as this technology becomes more and more popular. Just keep an eye out for that!

So, there it is. The MP4 technology explained for you in as simple of terms as I could come up with. I do hope you have a better understanding of this now and who knows, maybe you'll be the next person to start MP4ing around!

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June 9, 2008

Audacity

For this week's download, I have found a great one called Audacity. It is a program used to edit and enhance audio files and it has so many features, it would be impossible to list them all here.

But, to give you a little taste, a few of the features include cutting and trimming audio files, reducing static and interference, recording custom MP3s, amplifying sounds and mixing audio tracks, among others. It's kind of like a mini recording studio!

I personally use Audacity for mixing audio tracks for videos I record, but there are hundreds of other uses for this program as well.

Also, be sure to check out the add ons for Audacity. They add even more functionality to this awesome free program!

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You can download Audacity and all of its add ons right here. Have fun with this one!

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