Whether you’re leaping directly from Windows XP to Windows 7 or you stopped in Vista territory along the way, you’ll find that the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system handles media files in several new ways. The methods for photo and video importing, editing, and exporting have been all updated. You have new options for sharing and streaming files between computers. And media libraries become more-versatile vessels for finding and managing media files. I’ll explain how to get started with these and other entertainment features of Windows 7.
Check Out the Libraries
Windows 7 manages media files differently than previous Windows OSs did. It retains the familiar Pictures, Videos, Music, and Documents folders, but you can assign additional library locations in order to collect your media files more dynamically.
The libraries in Windows 7 organize file types to help applications find media more easily. By default, programs look to the Pictures, Videos, Music, and Documents folders instead of having to scrutinize your whole disk. Windows XP and Vista tied media libraries to those specific folder locations. For example, Windows Media Player watched vigilantly over C:Users[username]Music. Then, anytime you added new audio files to that folder, Media Player showed them in your music library. If you wanted Media Player to look for media in other areas–say, in the iTunes music folder or in another user’s music library–you had to add the new locations manually within the program.
In Windows 7, the Pictures, Videos, Music, and Documents folders are not the only doors into those libraries; you can add any other disk location you like, and library-savvy applications will automatically pool media wherever it’s stored.
Instead of manually curating media in the traditional user folders, you can turn any folder into a library. Applications will know where to find media, and you can keep your computer organized in whatever way you want.
For example, you can turn a networked folder into an auxiliary library, or even pool music files from a different user on the same PC. Or transform your Downloads folder into a library, instantly putting MP3 and video downloads into media applications. Here’s how (the process is the same for any of these situations).
Open the Start Menu, and click your username. Open the Downloads folder, and pick Include in library, Music. Then select Include in library, Movies. Henceforth, without your having to open them immediately after downloading them, your PC will automatically slurp music and movie files into Windows Media Player.
To remove the library status of a folder, open a window in the desktop and then navigate to that library folder in the left pane. In our case, the menu path is Libraries, Music, Downloads. Right-click the library-enabled folder–Downloads–and choose Remove location from library.
Get Windows Live Essentials
Windows 7’s standard installation omits some previously bundled Windows software, including Photo Gallery and Movie Maker, but you can still download these apps at the
Windows Live Essentials download page. Click Download on the right side, and save and run the file.
In the installer, mark the checkbox for each piece of software you want to add. If you’re on the prowl for useful multimedia options, check Photo Gallery, Movie Maker Beta, and Silverlight. (You’re likely to encounter Silverlight video-streaming sites such as Netflix, so you might as well add it to Windows 7 now.) Click Install, and after several minutes, okay the final prompts to exit the installation. (I skipped changing my default home page and other needy-relationship-style requests.)
You can sign up for a Windows Live ID if you wish, or just click Close. Windows 7 uses the ID to share photos and other media online–and you’ll want one for streaming files over the Internet–but it’s not required for most application features.
Import Pictures and Video Into Windows Live Photo Gallery
The procedure for importing images or video in Windows 7 is straightforward: Launch Windows Live Photo Gallery, and introduce your image source (by plugging in a camera, inserting a Flash card, loading a disc of pictures, or whatever). Choose File, Import from camera or scanner. Select the image source, and click Import.
The import option lets you pick items individually and even group them by date and time if you wish. The Adjust groups slider at the bottom of the screen lets you divide several photo (or video) sessions in one day by reducing the amount of time allotted to a single group. As a result, if you shot vacation photos at a cathedral in the morning, took a break at lunch, and then resumed snapping later, you can import the two series of photos separately.
Use these groupings to your advantage. Click Next and then click Add tags next to any of the groups. Enter a few keywords from that particular photo session, separating them with semicolons. Click Import.
If you shot RAW files, the program may prompt you to download and install an additional codec. I had to go through that process to accommodate photos from my digital SLR camera; but once you’ve installed the extra piece of software, Windows 7 can display the higher-end RAW files in the same manner as it does JPEGs.
Publish a Photo Gallery Online
Your friends and family can view your photos through the Windows Live site. After importing and arranging an album, you can upload the images within Windows Live Photo Gallery.
Within that application, right-click My Pictures, and pick Create new folder. Name the new folder. Drag in pictures that you want to publish online. Click the name of the folder within the main window near the top to select all of the pictures. Choose Publish, Online album. Sign into your Windows Live account if needed.
Give the album a title and in the pop-up menu choose who can view the pictures. Change the value for ‘Upload size’ in the pop-up menu if you wish; Medium gives enough detail for Web viewing; Large and Original allow ample size for displaying on a big TV, printing, and otherwise downloading. Then click Publish.
After the photos have finished uploading, the program will prompt you with the option to view them. Click View Album to open the page in your Web browser. If you miss that option, click your account name in the upper right corner of Windows Live Photo Gallery, and select View your photos. Copy the link from the Web page, and share it with your friends.
If you decide to limit who can see one of your albums, visit that album’s Web page, and click Shared with: Everyone (public) at the bottom of the page. Click Edit Permissions on the following page, and uncheck the Everyone (public) box. If you’ve made friends through the Network area of Windows Live, pick the My network box instead. Otherwise, you can add individual e-mail contacts at the bottom. (Press the spacebar to speed up entry of the next address.)
Back in Photo Gallery, you can add more photos to a published group by selecting the new pictures and choosing Publish, . Hold Shift and click the first and last images to select pictures in sequence, or hold down Ctrl and click pictures to group them in any order you like.
Import Photos and Videos Into Windows Live Movie Maker
Windows Live Movie Maker eschews video capture tools in favor of relying on the rest of Windows 7. If you connect a DV camcorder to a Win 7 PC, the capture process should automatically launch outside Movie Maker.
Click the Import the entire video radio button, enter a name, and click Next. Click the Import videos as multiple files checkbox, and the tool will splice the tape into your individual shots. Approve the next windows to import the tape; the importing process will take exactly as much time as your footage does to play.
Once your PC has captured your media, you have some options for adding clips to a video in Windows Live Movie Maker. From the desktop, drag your photos and videos into the right pane in that program. If that area is blocked, drag the files over the Movie Maker icon in the Taskbar, continue to hold the mouse down, and then drop them into the right pane. Alternatively, select Add above Videos and photos in the software, select the media, and click Open.
You’ll want to rearrange and trim various clips during the editing process, but at this point all of them are part of your movie. If you added too many clips or images, delete them from the storyboard by clicking the files and then clicking Remove.
Edit Your Movie
Windows Live Movie Maker cuts the timeline view, focusing instead on arranging clips in a storyboard. Just drag and drop each clip and each image to place them in the desired order within the right pane. Since some video clips run too long, you’ll need to trim them into shape.
Click a video clip to select it; then click the Edit tab at the top of the window, and click Trim. At this point, you can adjust the in- and out-point sliders (which govern the length of the clip, by trimming from one or both extremities) at the beginning and end of the timeline. Press the spacebar or click the Play icon to view a sample from the full clip, playing only between the edited points.
If you’re satisfied, click Save and close to finish. You’ll make the edit here, but the original video file will stay the same, in case you want to reimport it later.
You can expand or contract the length of time that an image shows, too. Within the Edit tab, click the photo and adjust the value for Duration. Click the Home tab to return to the main view.
Publish Movies to YouTube
Windows Live can host your finished movie at Microsoft Soapbox, enabling your friends and family to view it from their Web browsers. But if you already have a YouTube presence, you can add a plug-in called LiveUpload to upload to that site from within Movie Maker.
LiveUpload page, and click Download Now to grab the plug-in. Save and run the file, following the installer’s instructions; the installation takes just a few seconds.
Restart Movie Maker, open the Home tab if needed, and press the bottom half of Publish. (Click on the word or below it.) Select LiveUpload to YouTube. Enter your username and password, and click Sign In. Enter a title, add a description, and complete the other details; then click Publish. Movie Maker will prepare the movie and upload it to your YouTube account. The process may take anywhere from several minutes to more than an hour, depending on the length of the video.
Stream Media Over the Internet
Windows 7 adds some great streaming tools, including one that lets you listen to your home music on another Windows 7 PC over the Internet. Like other online features, Internet streaming requires a Windows Live ID. Visit
Windows Live home page to sign up for free, if haven’t already registered there.
Open the User Accounts Control Panel, and choose Link online IDs. Select Add an online ID provider, and click the Windows Live logo in the newly opened Web page. Download the file (either 32-bit or 64-bit) that corresponds to your Windows 7 installation. Then run the installer.
The host PC (the PC that holds the media files) must be set up in a Home network and a HomeGroup. If yours isn’t configured this way, click the Stream menu and select Turn on media streaming with HomeGroup. Follow the prompts, or skip this routine if you already have a HomeGroup.
Select Stream,Allow Internet access to home media. If you don’t see that option listed, choose Link an online ID. The User Accounts Control Panel will open again. Select Link online ID, enter your log-in info, and press Sign In. Click Close.
Back in Windows Media Player, select Allow Internet access to home media, press Yes, and click OK. Leave this computer running whenever you want to share media.
Repeat these setup steps on the remote PC: Link the account with your Windows Live ID, and activate streaming. Once you’ve finished, the home media will appear under the ‘Other Libraries’ heading. You can browse and stream music, pictures, and video there. Note that corporate firewalls may block this streaming service if you are at work or on some other high-security network.
Control Media Streaming on Your Local Network
Windows 7 simplifies the process of local streaming with the help of HomeGroup networking. You’ll let only trusted devices into your HomeGroup (your local network), and they’ll have unfettered access to media files.
You can manage these settings within the HomeGroup section of the Networking and Internet Control Panel, including deactivating checkboxes if you want to share only certain kinds of media files. Your Documents folder, for example, remains private by default.
You can turn on streaming in the Networking and Internet Control Panel, too: Select Stream my pictures, music, and videos to all devices on my home network. Otherwise, you can activate local streaming within Windows Media Player: Select Stream, Automatically allow devices to play my media. Then choose Automatically allow all computers and media devices. Networked libraries will show up under the ‘Other Libraries’ heading within Media Player and Photo Gallery.
Play DVDs and Blu-ray Discs Within Windows 7
Most Windows 7 editions include the codecs for natively playing back many standard video formats, including .mov, DivX, and DVDs. (Starter and Home Basic omit this extra.) If you want to watch a movie, just pop in a DVD and start it with AutoPlay options, or within Windows Media Player or Windows Media Center.
Blu-ray discs don’t work natively in Windows 7, so you’ll have to add Blu-ray-capable software, such as CyberLink PowerDVD or ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre. You can watch high-definition discs within those playback applications, or you can launch Blu-ray discs from within Media Center. (Media Player only works with DVDs.)
Activate Media Center after installing the necessary third-party software; then navigate to the heading, and activate that third-party option. If it’s the first time you’ve played a Blu-ray movie, the extra software may still launch to complete installation. Otherwise, you can watch the Blu-ray disc from within Media Center.
Activate Windows Media Player Lightweight Playback Mode
I often leave Windows Media Player running in the background while I work or surf the Web. But jumping to that app when I want to change a music track, check the name of a file that’s playing, or otherwise interact takes a few extra steps.
Here’s how to proceed: With Windows 7, begin playing a file, and click the icon at the lower right. The Media Player window will shrink, and you can move it into a corner of your display while it continues to run. That way, you’ll have all of the controls and information nearby.
Alternatively, you can interact with media from within the Taskbar. Just hover the mouse over the Media Player icon. You’ll instantly preview the current file and gain control through simple playback buttons.
Push Media to Network Devices
If you sometimes stream media to networked devices, you may be able to push media directly to your speakers, TV screen, or both. For this purpose, Windows 7 includes a new Play To function that instantly broadcasts media without your having to dig through any menus on those devices.
This feature works with recent DLNA-enabled streaming devices, though you should check with your specific hardware company to ascertain compatibility. For example, even though the Xbox 360 isn’t DLNA-certified, you can still reach it with Play To.
You can activate the Play To feature on HomeGroup PCs from within Windows Media Player. The process is handy if you have a PC hooked up to a TV or stereo, or if you want to push media on a networked computer in some other way. Here’s how to enable Play To.
On the host PC, open Windows Media Player, pick Stream, Allow remote control of my Player, and click Allow remote control on this network. Henceforth, on the remote system that shares the HomeNetwork, you’ll be able to right-click a playlist or file, select Play to, and choose the name of the remote system or media streaming hardware. You can even select Play to by right-clicking within the desktop, instantly starting a file running without additional setup.
For comprehensive, straightforward advice and tips that can help you get the most out of the new operating system, order PC World’s Windows 7 Superguide, on CD-ROM or in a convenient, downloadable PDF file.