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Product: Plus! for Windows XP
Company: Microsoft
Website: http://www.microsoft.com
Estimated Street Price:
$29.95
Review By: Julien Jay

Digital Media Features

Table Of Contents
1: Introduction
2: Digital Media Features
3: Games & Themes
4:
Conclusion

   The most interesting stuff of the Microsoft Plus! for Windows XP pack is certainly the digital media applets included in it. Since there's a bunch of various applets installed by Microsoft Plus! for Windows XP, Microsoft has created a centralized interface where you can access all of the Plus! pack features and get help on them very easily.  

 


Microsoft Plus! Launcher (click to enlarge)

Plus! MP3 Audio Converter

As you obviously know, Microsoft has developed its own audio compression format (WMA which competes with the MP3). If the WMA format has strong advantages like better music quality for a smaller file size in comparison to the MP3, it’s clearly not as widespread as the legendary MP3 is. Despite of that fact, Microsoft assumes you’ll want to convert your MP3 files into WMA files to save a little space on your hard disk. To do so, the Plus! pack comes with the Plus! MP3 Audio Converter. When you launch the applet, a nice yellow interface is being displayed asking whether you want to convert a whole folder or select files into the Windows Media Audio format. The second step is to select the files or folders to convert before selecting the quality of the WMA and the folders where the converted files will be stored. The MP3 converter can delete MP3 files once the files are converted and add the new WMA files automatically to the media library of the Windows Media Player 8. The final step consists of converting files and folders. If you can convert MP3 into WMA you cannot convert WMA files into MP3 which is regretful.

  
Plus! MP3 Audio Converter (click to enlarge)

Plus! Speaker Enhancement

Microsoft Plus! for Windows XP adds a speaker plug-in into Windows Media Player. From this plug-in you can select the brand and model of the speakers currently connected to your computer. Once a profile is selected the Plus! Speaker Enhancement will automatically make the adjustments to the signal wavelength and frequency response to add richness, clarity and sparkle to the music you’re actually listening to. If your speakers aren’t listed by the Plus! Speaker Enhancement plug-in, don’t worry! The software offers an auto update feature that will download and install new profiles from the ‘Net. However since October no profiles have been created by Microsoft for Logitech speakers…

  
Plus! Speaker Enhancement (click to enlarge)

Plus! CD Label Maker

The CD Label Maker is another cool applet that will help you design gorgeous labels and CD stickers for your own CD compilations. Not only will your front and back CD covers will be good looking but the application can automatically write down the titles of the tracks currently on the CD so you don’t have to type them manually! When you launch Plus! CD Label Maker, the wizard first asks you to select an audio CD to use so it can retrieves the album information (artist, album and track names). In the second step you have to select the sticker format you’ll use: each template shows a reference and a thumbnail shows the cut of the paper. You can even get more CD labels by retrieving new templates from the ‘Net. In the third step, you can change the fonts used to print the track titles and change the color and image of the background. The final step asks you on which printer the covers have to be printed and you can have a full size sneak preview of the covers before they are printed. 

  
Plus! CD Label Maker (click to enlarge)

Plus! Personal DJ 

This wizard will help you create custom playlists for Windows Media Player 8. You simply have to specify your musical preferences like album name, artist name, genre and favorite tracks and the applet will automatically generate a playlist that matches your taste. You can indicate the Personal DJ to take into account special settings like the length of the selection and the size of the selection, however, you can also tell it to favor tracks that are played frequently or tracks that have been recently added to the library. The wizard can also ignore tracks that have special characteristics you’ll define: tracks with length that differs from what you enter will be ignored as well as tracks with a bit rate superior or inferior to the criteria you have entered. Once you’ve told the Personal DJ what kind of playlist you want, it automatically builds it and you’ll be able to see what cool tune the software has selected for you. Before playing the list and adding it to your library you can eventually remove manually some tracks from the list, if needed.

  
Plus! Personal DJ (click to enlarge)

Plus! Voice Command for Windows Media Player 

Here is the most innovative feature of the Plus! pack that proves we live in a lazy world. The voice command program lets you control the Windows Media Player by using the fatal weapon that is your voice. It’s no longer needed to degrade your listening experience by using the mouse to change the volume level or change the current track. You just have to tell the player to do so, and it will. The speech recognition engine is easy to set up and quite efficient but works only with the English language.  


Plus! Voice Command (click to enlarge)

Windows Media Player Skins 

The Microsoft Plus! for Windows XP pack comes with four different skins for the Windows Media Player. Skins help you personalize the appearance of the player so it can have a personality of its own. The four skins: Aquarium, Space, Nature and Da Vinci, are simply awful for me. I won’t expand on them, but those skins make the player enormous and commands are hard to find.

     


Microsoft Plus! Skins for Windows Media Player 8.0 (click to enlarge)

3D Visualizations  

To further customize Windows Media Player 8, Microsoft Plus! is packed with some 3D visualizations. When you listen to your music, animated characters and elements will groove in rhythm with your music, which is pretty cool. Xbox fans: rejoice! One of the visualizations has been made especially for you! With the 3D visualization of “Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee” you’ll see Munch rock with your music! However for some reasons, prolly a nasty bug, on my test PC I see the animated characters of the Plus! visualizations only one time on ten.

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