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WMP, begone!

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If you’ve spent any time accessing the Internet’s multimedia content, you’ve surely run into the “WMV Wall”—the fact that a good deal of that multimedia is provided in Windows Media formats. Whether it’s streaming video on a news Web site, downloadable media files, or even just movie files sent to you by friends via email, if that content uses Windows Media format, you can’t view it without installing special software.

The route most Mac users take around this roadblock is to install Microsoft’s Windows Media Player package, which includes both the Windows Media Player application and a browser plug-in for viewing streaming media files within your Web browser. However, if you’ve ever used the Mac version of Windows Media Player (WMP), you know that it would be charitable to call it “good software.” Don’t get me wrong: WMP works, but it’s certainly no QuickTime player. You can’t scrub video; pausing and resuming playback often results in audio and video being out of sync (or one of the two never actually resuming); and you can’t even have two movies open simultaneously. The browser plug-in isn’t much better—ever tried to scrub back a few seconds to view something you missed?

Ah, if only QuickTime understood Windows Media, right? Thanks to Telestream’s $10 Flip4Mac WMV Player 1.0.2 (   ), it can. After installing WMV Player—a QuickTime component is installed in /Library/QuickTime, a preference pane is installed in /Library/Preference Panes, and two browser plug-ins are installed in /Library/Internet Plug-Ins—QuickTime behaves as if Windows Media has always been a supported format. You can open files that use Windows Media Video (WMV) format versions 7, 8, 9, SD, and HD, as well as Windows Media Audio (WMA) format versions 7, 8, 9, Professional, and Lossless, within QuickTime Player and get all the same features QuickTime Player provides for standard QuickTime media files.

QuickTime Player playing a Windows Media file

And if you open a Web page containing Windows Media content, it will be played back right there in the browser window, but with QuickTime’s familiar controls and features instead of those belonging to the less-than-stellar Windows Media Player plug-in. Yes, you can even scrub—in fact, one of the WMV Player plug-in settings even lets you force the display of the QuickTime controller when the Web site tries to hide it.

QuickTime playing a Windows Media file in your browser

The WMV Player preference pane provides several options for customizing Windows Media playback. The Plug-In tab provides access to the controller setting mentioned above, as well as settings for using the plug-in and maintaining aspect ratios (something that doesn’t always happen via Microsoft’s plug-in). You can also choose to have embedded Windows Media content opened in QuickTime Player instead of in your browser. Another useful option helps you avoid playback issues when playing Windows Media movie files located on your hard drive by importing them completely when first opened rather than on-the-fly.

WMV Player’s preference pane

It would be nice if Web sites all decided tomorrow to switch to QuickTime formats for their media. But since that’s not going to happen, Mac users may as well be able to enjoy Windows Media files, and WMV Player certainly brings us a few steps closer to that goal. Sure, Windows Media Player is free whereas WMV Player is $10, but sometimes you really do get what you pay for, and this is one of those times. Now if only Telestream would come out with “RM Player” for Real Media files...

Flip4Mac WMV Player is compatible with Mac OS X 10.3 or later and requires QuickTime 6.5.1 or higher. (WMV Player Pro requires QuickTime Pro.) WMV Player's browser plug-in is compatible with Safari; however, compatibility with other browsers may not be as complete. For example, Firefox users have reported problems using the plug-in. I recommend taking advantage of the demo to make sure WMV Player works for you before purchasing it.

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