Sweating the small stuff in Windows 7 Media Center

There’s a tendency among Media Center enthusiasts to focus on advanced features, especially those that are related to TV. As the owner of two CableCARD-equipped Vista Media Center PCs and a slew of extenders, I know I think of Media Center as strictly a high-end living-room device.

For Windows 7 Inside Out, I’m responsible for the digital media chapters, including our coverage of Windows Media Center. In using the program on my desktop PC I’ve been extremely impressed so far by the little stuff that you don’t notice until you have used a program for a while.

In particular, I like the way that the Media Center team has enhanced the way I can tag songs and pictures as favorites (using a scale of 1-5 stars) and then filter my playlist or slide show to just those items. New in Windows 7 is top-level menu placement for a Play Favorites option, which replaces the Play All option in both the Music and Pictures strip.


To choose which items from my library get played as favorites, I can use high rating (4 or 5 stars), or create a custom playlist or slide show, or designate a folder full of photos. Here, for example, is the Favorite Music setup screen:


That’s nice, but the killer addition is the improvement in the way you tag songs or pictures as favorites. As I noted back in January 2008, it takes seven cumbersome steps with the remote control (or a  mouse) to rate a song or picture in Windows Vista Media Center:

Isn’t that overly complicated? You should be able to get to the rating screen for any song with no more than one or two button presses.

And now you can. The first time you rate an item in Windows 7’s Media Center, you see this option:


Press OK to enable shortcuts, and from that point on the number keys on the remote control (or the keyboard) allow you to instantly add ratings to the current song or picture. You’re listening to a song and you hate it? Pick up the remote and press 1. Love it? Press 5. I especially like the ability to go through a folder full of newly imported photos and rate each one with a single button press.

This kind of improvement doesn’t get much notice in first-look reviews. But in day to day use, it’s one of those things you quickly learn to appreciate. I’m actually seeing a lot of small but genuinely useful improvements like this as I dig into Windows 7.

11 thoughts on “Sweating the small stuff in Windows 7 Media Center

  1. what’s not nice is the way you go through the trouble of rating songs with 1-5 stars in WMP and MCE, but the Zune has the heart/broken heart rating system….who needs consistency.

  2. Actually, Opuntia, the Zune rankings translate into WMP stars nicely. If you use the Zune software to marlk a track as broken heart/dislike, it gets set to 1 star, and the heart/like gets set to 5 stars. If you use WMP to set star ratings, a 1 or 2 star shows up as broken heart/dislike in Zune, and 4 or 5 star ratings show up as heart/like. The two systems actually interchange quite nicely.

  3. Really? What happens to a three star rating? Interchanging nicely is not the same as consistency.

    Lets pick one standard system for ranking media and let’s apply to all software and hardware.

  4. Ed,

    I would say they worked out a compromise between the two….MS has developed a system for converting the rating systems between the two applications, but it’s not perfect and there is a trade-offs that could be avoided if they used the same rating system. For example, in the photo in your post MCE considers “Favorites” as 4-5 stars, but for the Zune that would translate over to a 5-star, and to me, there’s a difference between 4 and 5 stars. When it comes to ratings, my ipod works better with MCE than the Zune does.

    Either way, I have my work around and I look forward to Window 7’s MCE…it looks like a winner.

  5. A three-star WMP rating appears as blank, neutral, no heart, no broken heart. Which is what it logically means, being right smack in the middle.

    I don’t agree that one side or the other has to win. The Zune team has one philosophy, the WMP/Media Center spproach uses another (which happens to be the same as what iTunes uses, imagine that). They have designed the systems so they interoperate very gracefully. But clearly, if you want to apply highly granular ratings, you don’t want to use the Zune software.

  6. By the way, I was just reading a newsgroup discussion where some passionate digital media enthusiasts were arguing that the five-star scale isn’t granular enough. They want a 100-point scale, with algorithms that automatically adjust ratings based on whether and when you play tracks.

    100 points! That’s way too granular for me, but if someone wants to design a system that lets them do that, more power to ’em.

  7. Any improvements in Album art quality? In VMC I have to add my music from a read-only share to prevent WMP11 to reduce my artwork from 600x600px to 200x200px. As VMC is reading my music from a read-only share I doubt I will be able to use the rating feature.

  8. I think back to Clark Tisdale’s CD Max for XP (not avbl for Vista — too bad)where I had complete control of naming CDs; I could input what the CD and songs were called, what artists were involved, dates.

    Is there a way to do this now or must I live with unrecognized oldies or incorrect labels?

  9. Hey Christian,

    Actually ratings will work for read-only music. We’ll store the ratings in WMP’s database and just won’t write the ratings out to the files.

    Program Manager, Microsoft

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