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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Free Windows Apps I Use II - Multimedia

What's a computer when you can't even get your MP3's working? What's the 17" monitor for when you can't use it to watch your favourite movies?

A computer for playing games, duh!

But still, a gaming computer is no match against a gaming and multimedia computer. Here, I talk about free multimedia applications I use and love.

1. Audio - Nullsoft Winamp

One of the two looks of my Winamp. Its colour can be changed.

Winamp is the world's second most widely used media player, losing the first spot to Windows Media Player (grrrr). Nullsoft argues that they produce better software than Microsoft, because "Null", ie nothingness, is infinitely smaller than "Micro", a millionth.

Winamp Classic. Very resource friendly, usually consumes less than 5MB RAM.

Perhaps the signature of Winamp is its Classic spectrum visualiser. It is one of the earliest media players to include a "peak" sign in their visualisers. This feature is now shown by many other players. Better looking visualisations are available as well.

Some people prefer more aesthetically pleasing visualisers, and Winamp offers dozens of these.

One Winamp feature I particularly like is its ability to associate with global hotkeys. Global hotkeys are special keystrokes that will be recognised by an application any time, regardless of active window opened.

Global hotkeys settings.

For example, if I'm halfway through playing Red Alert 3, and I want my Winamp to skip to the next track. I don't have to pause the game, jump back to Windows (rather buggy one too), select Winamp, and click "next track". All I do is press Ctrl + Alt + B, and voila! Of course, these combinations can be changed, and multiple keys can be assigned for a single command. What's more, if you have music dedicated keys on your keyboard or laptop, they can be used as well. Winamp responses to those keys by default.

Replay Gain results.

The second feature so important that prevents me from migrating over to Ubuntu Linux is its Replay Gain. You know the awful times when a song is too soft, and you turn on the volume for it, and then the next song so loud that it could wake your deaf grandfather? This uneven volume can be made even by calculating the Replay Gain. Just select the "too loud" and "too soft" tracks, and select "Send To Calculate Replay Gain". After saving the results, you will never wake your grandfather up unintentionally again.

Never, ever tell me Winamp is unable to support lyrics.

Some people argue that they need a media player that displays lyrics, and Winamp doesn't offer that. Well, it is true that Winamp doesn't offer it by default, but it is fully customisable beyond its skins - plugins can be installed to give Winamp extra functions. A plugin called "Minilyrics" automatically downloads and displays lyrics when a song is played.

Many people with thousands of songs prefer Winamp because of its fantastic library management. There are even better library plugins available. Even without the plugins, the functionality of Winamp is so endless you'll be dead before I can even finish briefing you about them.

I don't say that Winamp is the best media player out there - iTunes is rather user friendly as well. Foobar2000, developed by an ex-programmer for Nullsoft, is also widely customisable. I personally am too used to Winamp it's too late to change my mind, but seriously, I don't care what media player you use.

As long as it's not Windows Media Player.

2. Video - Media Player Classic (MPC) Homecinema and K-Lite Codec Pack

Everybody experienced this. We have a movie in our computer, but somehow our default media player, Windows Media Player, couldn't play it. Then we get freaked out - it could play this .avi file perfectly, and played the other .avi file upside-down (seriously, I encountered this several times), and for another .avi file, it couldn't open at all.

I suggest you opt for an all-in-one media player rather than one that gives you a false sense of reassurance.

In that case, try using K-Lite Codec Pack. It is so full of all sorts of codecs that you have no problem playing any audio or video files at all. From anything as common as .avi and .wmv to extensions so unusual that would surprise you.

Check out the selected format - it's called "ratdvd"!

It can handle everything. Anything at all. Videos from Youtube. Homemade videos made using Windows Movie Maker. Videos recorded from your exotic cellphones. Uncompressed formats directly from VCDs, Video DVDs and Blu-Rays. Videos are all played in a player bundled with the installer called Media Player Classic (MPC) Homecinema.

Media Player Classic playing a flash file.

What's more, MPC's interface is so simple, you would wonder why televisions and stand-alone DVD players sell so well in the first place. Add that with the wide array of functions included, you'll be selling your TV set tomorrow, with a complimentary copy of the K-Lite Codec Pack as free gift.

Oh, and you can take screenshots of your favourite videos too. Just how cool is that?

Screenshot of my favourite cartoon character, captured using MPC Homecinema.

OK I think nobody is reading this anymore. Gone watching videos... XD

See ya next time.


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