Next-Gen Windows Media Player Leaks to the Web

A beta version of Windows Media Player 9 leaked out onto Internet sites Friday, providing an early glimpse at Microsoft's upcoming Windows Media 9 Series platform. Although the leaked build -- numbered 2601 -- appears to be from late January, its new features showcase Redmond's digital media plans.

Version 9 appears almost identical to its predecessor on the outside, but adds DVD copying, improved encoders and better plug-in management. Cross-fade and normalization plug-ins have been included as standard offering in the new Windows Media Player.

The biggest changes come with a new focus on audio and video subscription services. A "Services" button has been added to the menu bar, which leads to a page with options for removing a service and selecting a default - although neither are currently functional. The feature suggests Windows Media Player will integrate with online services such as Pressplay and MusicNet, allowing users to easily download music directly to their libraries.


Besides listing subscriptions, the Media Library now supports Microsoft's new XML-based Windows Media Metadata and "Smart Playlists." This metadata can be used to view and sort music and video by a variety of different categories, along with creating rule-based playlists. The search tool has received more prominent placement in the Media Library, and now supports advanced rule-based searches.

To facilitate editing of Windows Media Metadata, Microsoft has included a new tool called Advanced Edit. For each song or video, users can input a massive amount of details such as mood, beats per minute, Web sites, multiple comments, pictures and even synchronized lyrics.

While in the past it has kept away from the issue, Microsoft has included support for file sharing from within the Windows Media Player 9 beta. A "Send to Friend" option allows users to send a song or video to others on MSN or Windows Messenger with a simple click of the mouse. Such a feature could spark immense controversy, as Microsoft may be one of the few companies with pockets big enough to fend off the Recording Industry Association of America.

For home users, a big addition to Windows Media Player 9 is the ability to copy DVD movies to disk. It is unclear whether version 9 will also be able to create DVD movies, however in early January Microsoft licensed DVD recording technology from Sonic and has begun pushing Windows Media-enabled DVD players with hardware partners.

What features make it into the final release of the next-generation Windows Media Player will not be known until a public beta of Windows Media 9 Series launches on September 4 in Los Angeles.

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