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Using Windows Media Player (part 2) - Working with Playlists

3/14/2011 2:29:27 PM

4. Working with Playlists

A playlist is a customized list of digital media files that Windows Media Player can play back as a unit, in either linear or random order. If you want to combine tracks from multiple albums or rearrange the order of tracks on a CD, you use a playlist. Windows Media Player 12 also supports (indeed, requires) using playlists for creating custom CDs and for synchronizing files with a portable device.

You can build a playlist on the fly for a specific purpose—to cue up music for a party, for example, or to burn a custom CD to play in the car. After the task is done, you can clear the list or save it for reuse. Saved lists are stored by default in the Playlists subfolder of the current user profile's My Music folder. You can also create and save Auto Playlists, which are essentially saved searches whose results are updated automatically each time you open them.

Inside Out: Separate duplicate albums in different formats

Your library might contain multiple copies of the same album (or of different tracks from a single album). If you download a group of tracks from the Zune Marketplace in WMA format or from the iTunes Music Store in AAC format, you might decide to make an MP3 copy for ease of use with devices that don't support the original format. By default, Windows Media Player sorts these duplicates for you, as shown here. If you don't like this behavior, you can disable it by opening the Choose Columns dialog box (shown in Figure 12-5) and clearing Include File Extension In Default Sort Order.

4.1. Creating and Editing Custom Playlists

The current playlist appears in the list pane at the right of the player window. (If the list pane isn't visible, click the Play tab; click the Play tab again to hide the list pane if it's currently showing.) Use the navigation pane, the search box, or another playlist to choose which tracks you want to include, and then use any of the following techniques to create a custom playlist:

  • Drag individual songs, albums, playlists, or artists from anywhere in the details pane and drop them in the list pane.

  • Select one or more tracks, albums, or artists; right-click and then click Add To, Play List. The shortcut menu also includes options to send the current selection to the Burn List or Sync List or to add the selected items to any existing playlist.

  • Double-click any album. It begins playing, and its contents appear in the Now Playing list in the list pane, where you can add or remove tracks or rearrange the order of tracks on the album.

  • Select one or more supported media files in Windows Explorer, and drag them into the list pane; or right-click and then click Add To, Windows Media Player List on the shortcut menu. Click the Play or Burn buttons in the Windows Explorer toolbar to add the selected tracks to the current playlist or burn list, respectively.

  • To remove tracks you've added to the playlist, select one or more items, right-click, and click Remove From List.

You can drag items up and down in the list to change their order. When you're satisfied with their arrangement, click Save List at the top of the list pane, enter a descriptive name, and press Enter.

Use the drop-down List Options menu at the top of the list pane (shown in Figure 5) to sort list items, randomly shuffle the list, or save the playlist as a file in a location of your choosing. Use the Clear List button to start fresh, removing the list contents with no warning.

Figure 5. Use this drop-down menu to sort, shuffle, or save the current playlist. Clear the list to start over.

Windows Media Player 12 introduces a nifty option for handling items you skip while playing back an unsaved playlist. This option might be useful if you've created a large playlist from a diverse selection of albums and randomly shuffled its contents. As you play it back, you skip individual tracks that don't fit with the flow of the playlist. When you eventually click Save List, Windows Media Player displays the dialog box shown next.

Note that skipped items within the list appear in gray. You can save the playlist exactly as it appears in the list pane or remove the skipped items before saving. The Skip During Play back option doesn't affect the saved list; instead, it tells Windows Media Player to remember which items you've skipped during the current playback session and skip them if you replay the list. If you close or clear the list, all indications of skipped tracks are discarded.

Saved playlists appear at the top of the navigation pane. By default, the Playlists section of the navigation pane shows only the five most recently used playlists. You can customize the navigation pane to show all playlists or none. (See Section 12.2.3 on Section 12.2.3 for instructions.) When you select a playlist from the navigation pane, the items that make up the list appear in the details pane, where you can edit the properties of individual items or assign star ratings. In this view, you can right-click and use the Remove From List option on the shortcut menu to winnow the list down; you can also sort by any heading and manually change the order of items in the playlist. Any additions, deletions, or changes in track order that you make to the list in the details pane are saved immediately.

4.2. Using Auto Playlists

Playlists you create using Windows Media Player can retrieve results dynamically, based on criteria you define. Unlike regular playlists, which are static and define a list of specific tracks in a specific order, Auto Playlists are saved searches that return different results depending on the current contents of your library. You can use Auto Playlists to find tracks that you've added recently but not yet rated, for instance, or to create a playlist of tracks from a specific genre or by a specific artist that you've also rated highly. Details of each Auto Playlist you create are stored in an XML file in the default Playlists subfolder. Copy that file to another computer and the Auto Playlist will be available on that computer as well.

To create a new Auto Playlist from any library view, click the down arrow to the right of Create Playlist on the toolbar and then click Create Auto Playlist. Enter a name in the box at the top of the New Auto Playlist dialog box and then begin clicking to add criteria to your search. By default, every new Auto Playlist includes Music In My Library as the first criterion. Start with the first green plus sign and use drop-down lists to define criteria. After you click OK to save the list, you can right-click and choose Edit to adjust the criteria. In the example shown in Figure 6, we've created an Auto Playlist that includes songs that are performed by a trio of our favorite female artists and are all rated 4 stars or better.


If you used Windows Easy Transfer to migrate your Windows settings from Windows XP, your collection includes a group of preset Auto Playlists, all of which are stored in the My Playlists folder. Windows Media Player seamlessly combines the contents of these two lists in the library. In fact, selecting Playlists from the navigation pane shows all saved playlists from any folder in any monitored location.

Figure 6. Build an Auto Playlist one criterion at a time. Enter each criterion in its own branch, and click OK to save.

Note when creating an Auto Playlist that all criteria within a single group must be satisfied for the Player to add matching items to the playlist results. When you create different groups of criteria, the Player combines them with a logical OR. Thus, any track that matches all the criteria within any one group gets added to the list. The group of criteria at the bottom of the Auto Playlist window allows you to restrict the playlist itself to a maximum size, number of items, or playing time.


The file name for a playlist doesn't match its display name

When you create a playlist (regular or Auto), the text you enter before you first save the list is used in two places. The playlist title appears between the <title> and </title> tags in the XML file that contains the playlist definition. The player also uses that text as the file name that gets saved into the Playlists folder. You can rename the saved playlist within Windows Media Player (for an Auto Playlist you can also change its name in the Edit Auto Playlist dialog box). In either case, however, your change is written only to the XML file; the file name remains the same. To rename the file itself, right-click the playlist name and click Open File Location; then rename the file in Windows Explorer.

4.3. Importing and Exporting Playlists

When you click the Save List button, your playlist is saved as an XML file in Windows Media Playlist format, with a .wpl extension. You'll find the file itself in the Playlists subfolder of whatever folder is set as the save location in your Music library. If you use the Save List As choice on the List Options menu, you can choose M3U Playlist (.m3u) as an alternate format. This is a wise choice if you suspect you'll play your playlists on a different device or in a program that doesn't support the Windows Media Playlist format.

Windows Media Playlist files use XML tags to specify the file name of each track in the list. Each track also includes the Globally Unique IDs—the two long alphanumeric strings—that define the track and its associated album. By contrast, M3U files are plain text. In either format, the saved playlist uses relative path references for each track that is saved on the same drive as the Playlists folder. Any track stored on a different drive (including shared network folders) is represented by its fixed file path. When you move a playlist to a new computer, Windows Media Player might have trouble locating the files you're trying to play if they're in a different location than they were on the other machine.

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