Windows Vista & Entertainment Reviewed
Windows Media Player 11 Review
Windows Media Player 11 isn’t much of an upgrade as far as features are concerned. It’s a media player. After a media player reaches a certain level, it’s hard for it to keep improving drastically. But there are differences for those that pay close attention, and some of these can be quite useful.
- Improved Foreign Language Support People that listen to songs or audio in foreign languages no longer have to put up with spyware-ridden bloatware like RealOne, Windows Media Player 11 has finally perfected its international character support for RTL and East-Asian languages, and it looks great. This is one of the most important improvements present in Windows Media Player, and well worth the new version number all on its lonesome.
- Refined (Kick-Ass) Interface Windows Media Player has certainly come along way from the simple gray rectangle with a moving bar that it was back in Windows 95 (even if other programs haven’t *cough* WordPad *cough*). The new default album-oriented interface looks great, and more importantly, it organizes your songs in an easy-to-use way that means that you don’t spend as much time looking for the songs you want and you get to spend more time listening to them instead.
- Search Your Albums
iswas all about making information accessible, and WMP 11 is no different. With WMP 11, you can easily search (via the toolbar at the top-right) your catalog by album, artist, genre, and more (lyrics too!!). It’s easy to find what you want and even create “virtual albums” as the results of a search. Perfect for those party playlists!
- New Visualizations
Not exactly something to wet your pants over, but its something new nevertheless. We were never fans of WMP 9 & 10’s old visualizations: they weren’t random, they weren’t pretty, and they seem old school. With a bit of subtle tweaking it seems that WMP 11 actually has us enrapturing by the majority of the new (well, modified) visualizations. And if you look closely enough, sometimes the visualizations go translucent and give you a peek at what’s behind. Bug? Maybe. Cool? Definitely!
- Improved Performance
It might be placebo or it could be Vista’s enhanced networking, or maybe it’s real, but WMP 11 seems to buffer streaming music and video faster than its predecessor. That with its faster loading and improved playlist support (it doesn’t buckle under too many songs any more) makes WMP 11 a great all-around-kind of player.
There really isn’t much to be said for WMP 11. It’s really good, it looks great, it doesn’t eat too much memory, it sounds great, it has excellent audio boosts, and it’s probably the very best player out there at the moment. It certainly beats iTunes, and unless you are already in love with Media Player Classic (not Microsoft’s), then this is definitely for you.
It’s been a long time since Microsoft provided a new source of entertainment go along with an OS, but this is Vista, and entertainment is a big deal. Several new games, great graphics, and a terrific interface makes these games worth wasting your time over.
- Chess Titans Microsoft contracted Oberon Media to create Chess Titans, the first-ever board game to ship with a Windows PC. It’s your traditional chess game – but powered by Aero with glass chess men and a glossy board. It looks great (take a look at the full-screen render in that link), but it’s hard. Really hard. It doesn’t scale too well, the difference between a difficulty level of 2 and a difficulty level of 9 is that you last a couple of rounds longer. Are you up to the challenge?
- Mahjong Titans Also designed for Microsoft by Oberon Media, Mahjong Titans is takes an ancient game to a whole new playing field. Mahjong is of Chinese origin, traditionally played with ceramic tiles with colored letters and symbols. It’s a bit confusing at first, but its an excellent family pastime, like the the kid’s game “Memory” but with a twist. Again, Oberon Media have outdone themselves with excellent graphics and wonderful animations.
- Purble Palace Although people aren’t taking this game seriously right now, it certainly is a very big step for Microsoft and other software giants around the world. Forever now, the PC has been primarily a teen+ machine. For the little kinds there was nothing but paint (and maybe pinball..), but now that’s changed. It’s rare to find games like this shipping with a PC, and its nothing too special as far as kids games go, but it’s good enough.. We’re not exactly sure what the point of the game is, and it doesn’t seem to have a plot, but then again, children don’t need one. It has a memory game, a “cake baking” game, and a “make-my-face-over” game… Kids these days!
- Minesweeper This age-old game that first shipped with Windows 3.1, and hadn’t changed all the way to XP.. It’s finally been given a make-over with Windows Vista. It’s the same game, but now the excellent animations, the blue hues, the explosions of mines, and the sound effects make it look more like Battlefield; but it’s the same great game nonetheless.
- Card Games All the traditional Windows card games and the new ones that came with Windows XP are there in Windows Vista. And all of them have been given a major face-lift. 3D hi-res card faces are the craze, and the animations and light sound effects just make the whole game playing experience a bit more thrilling and a lot more interesting. They’re all there: Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, Hearts, end even FreeCell – and they all look great.
- InkBall Technically it’s a game for those unloved Tablet PC users, but it’s OK for a normal guy looking to pass the time. InkBall’s not difficult on a normal PC, and it would be even easier on a Tablet PC, but at least its not another card game. It looks like a good game, and just like the rest of them it has a polished interface and smooth light and sound animations.
- Pinball It’s not there any more. Since it’s not there, it technically doesn’t deserve it’s own section here, but then again, why would Microsoft dump one of it’s most popular games ever without even a good excuse? They could have left it as it was, they could have had Oberon Games improve the effects; but instead Microsoft just pulled the plug.
Windows DVD Maker
When Windows XP first came out, it didn’t even have a decent CD burning wizard, and people were forced to use pitiful supplements like Roxio’s buggy CD-Burning Suite. But Windows Vista seems to be prepared and with the times. No, this OS won’t be the first to natively support Mt. Rainer for drag-and-drop mountable CD and DVD authoring interfaces that let you treat a CD like a hard drive, but it does provide an easy and reliable way to author DVDs (and CDs too if you still use them!) any way you like. Together with Windows Movie Maker (see the next section), Windows users can finally easily burn any type of data to a DVD.
If you want to a simple montage of pictures and movie clips then you can use the Windows DVD Maker to put them in the order of your choice and save them as DVD image ready for burning (natively via Windows). If you want to save documents or files to a CD/DVD, the procedure hasn’t improved much over Windows XP’s in-built CD-burning wizard. You open “
My Computer,” select the CD/DVD writer, open it, and copy the files you want burned to the folder. Then you click burn and you’re done.
However, as far as we can tell this is where the similarities end. The IMAPI service, long one of XP’s weak points, has been completely overhauled. CDs burn at much faster average rates than before, sessions no longer fail (thus far anyway), and the service no longer consumes > 60% of the CPU nor does it cause system instability. At the end of the day, Windows’ DVD burning facilities don’t stand out too much, but they’re adquate for most purposes, and there really isn’t much room for criticism here.
Windows Movie Maker
The complement to Windows DVD Maker, Windows Movie Maker is the tool of choice for amatuer home movie making. It provides a lot of the higher quality effects provided with intermediate-level movie editing like Sony Vega or entry-level products such as Sonic MyDVD. It looks decent, it provides an easy-to-use “time-line graph” for piecing the bits of the movie together, and most importantly, it burns the DVDs (with menus) perfectly every time.
While screensavers may not exactly be the highlight of an operating system (no more than Windows Vista’s stunning wallpapers at any rate!), they’re considered entertainment for some of us, so here’s the list (click the names for a screen capture):
- Aurora A (really ugly?) dark screensaver that is supposed to instill nostalgia in the hearts and stomachs of everyone in the room. If it’s your style..
- Bubbles A play on the old Windows 95 Plus! screensavers that didn’t actually hide your desktop but just added effects to the stuff on it. The bubbles look great, and are a perfect display of Vista’s graphics animation power… They’re really purty.
- Mystify It’s the bars screensaver with a twist.. New motions and animations make this subtle screensaver a really nice thing to have.
- Ribbons The Windows 2000 “Pipes” screensaver? Take that, remove the 3D pipe and the 90-degree angles. Looks ok, adds a bit of a flare to your desktop.
- Windows Energy
This one is part of the Aurora suite, it’s the same theme, different animations, same sick feeling in the gut.
- Windows Logo Screensaver
Every recent version of Windows has shipped with a logo screensaver, but this one’s different. Between every time the flag disappears and reappears something know as the “Aero Flare” shows up, and it’s a nice, flashy effect to watch. It’s also random, so that makes it a bit more .. umm.. interesting. (The screencapture is modified to show the two phases and the fade-effect in between)
There really isn’t much to be said.. After all our ranting about WordPad and ancient font dialogs, Microsoft told us there might be some improvements for Paint lined up down the line, but it seems that it’s not going to happen – unless Microsoft pulls another Windows XP on us between RC and RTM and does some major changes to non-core components (such as the design and extra apps like this). But, but, there is one change: the paintbrush colors are now at the top!