Friday, April 01, 2005

WMP: Auto Playlists

I've complained about my love/hate relationship with Windows Media Player several times before. And actually, there's actually not much love there, mostly just some reluctant acceptance of its slim superiority to the alternatives and hatred for its ridiculous idiosyncrasies.

Even though I devoted half a rant to the complete lack of usefulness of Windows Media Player's Auto Playlists, I am still continuously amazed at the things that I think should be within its narrow reach only to find out that they are in fact a pipe dream.

Take for example creating an auto playlist of all the music from three artists. That seemed like a reasonable thing to want to do, I thought. Except all the criteria for a particular query is ANDed together. Thus making it impossible to say 'this artist or this artist or this artist'.

"Ah-ha", I hear you say, "But you can have more then one query in a playlist. Just make a separate query for each artist and combine them all in a single playlist".

And that would be a good idea, and kind of works. Except that the results of the queries are always just appended to each other. So if your goal was to have a playlist that always played through all the Paul Oakenfold songs in your library, followed by all the 50 cent songs, followed by Pink Floyd, you'd be in luck. But I don't think that is what most people would want (certainly you won't find many people itching for 50, Oakenfold, and Pink Floyd in the same playlist).

The problem is that there isn't any way to apply the 'Randomize playback order' criteria over the results of a union of queries in a playlist. Putting the player on shuffle alleviates this to some extent, but I haven't had good luck with the actual randomness of the shuffle feature.

This same problem (as well as the fact that once a playlist is queued its contents are static) is also what prevents you from being able to do RadioStation playlists in Windows Media Center, like you can apparently do on an iPod. Since the queries are always combined in the same order, you end up with all 200 songs that are new, followed by 100 favorite songs, followed by 100 songs that haven't been played in a while, etc. Instead of all those 400 songs mixed together in one glorious stream.

Being the computer nerd that I am, I even spent a while reading the WMP SDK a few nights ago looking for a way to write my own plug-in to generate more flexible auto playlists. But all the documentation in the SDK on playlists seemed geared towards an Internet broadcaster who wanted to merge advertising and a music playlists together. Even the documentation on the wpl format and how exactly the auto playlists work is scarce. In fact, you might even call it non-existent.

So I guess I am stuck either manually creating static playlists (a monotonous and error-prone task) or living with the rather poor randomness of using shuffle across an ordered playlist.

1 comment:

jadjam said...

Hi Steve,

It's comforting to finally find someone on the internet with the same problem with WMP auto playlists as me!

Can I ask if you found a solution short of changing media players? I really do miss the wealth of criteria itunes offers but dislike everything else.

I hope you find some time to build the plugin, I and I'm sure others would pay for it!