Dale Preston's Web Log
  
Sunday, August 16, 2009
 

Laughable Album Art Craziness in Windows Media Player 12

October 6, 2009 Note: You might have noticed that this blog article was changed from the original version. Upon the objection of someone I quoted in the original article, I removed the quote along with any text that would imply the quote. Otherwise, the content remains the same. Thank you for your understanding of this minor edit.

Introduction


Let me just prefix this post by saying that this is going to be a long article with a lot of pictures. The way Windows Media Player 12 in Windows 7 handles album art is just so (in my opinion) absolutely crazy that it is going to take a lot to describe it. There are several pictures here; I recommend looking at all of them - even clicking on the reduced image to look at the full size image. Only by viewing this full size can you really grasp exactly why I think this is so laughable - and let me tell you I have really been laughing out loud a lot; this is just that crazy.

To get this really in perspective, it might be helpful to read my previous post at Windows Media Player and Album Art.

Windows 7 and Windows Media Player 12


Well, Windows 7 has finally gone to manufacturing. Of course since most of my own development is around Windows Media Player, I was anxious to test my current apps on Windows 7 and Media Player 12. It took me a few days to get things ready and to have time to get test media copied to my Windows 7 box but today I finally got it done.

When copying media to my Windows 7 PC, I made sure that Windows Media Player was NOT running. I copied the media over and then the first thing I did was use my AlbumArtFixer program to lock down the album art so that Windows Media Player could not change my Folder.jpg files. So far, so good. Next I opened my Music Library and added the folder in which I had stored my test music. Windows Media Player did its thing and detected the files and added them to my Media Player library.

I went into my music folders to make sure that Windows Media Player 12 had not gotten past my security settings to wipe out my custom album art. So far, so good; I won. My custom album art was intact. The next thing was to play a few tracks and examine the art again after Windows Media Player had touched the files. Still good. At least I knew that using AlbumArtFixer to secure my custom album art had succeeded in preventing Windows Media Player from intentionally destroying my files.

Laughing Out Loud


Next I switched to the "Now Playing" view with the Album Art visualization so I could see my embedded album art in the Album Art visualization. This is where I just laughed out so loudly that my wife nearly jumped out of her chair.

Readers of my blog will know that up to Windows Media Player 11, the Album Art visualization uses any custom embedded art rather than the Folder.jpg image. This was an easy way to get a more reasonable sized album art.

Well, Windows Media Player 12 closed that loophole (more on this in a minute). I have album art embedded in my media files at 1000x1000 pixels so that it shows up as big as possible in my own media player shell that I wrote for Windows Media Player. Windows 8, 9, 10, and 11 all displayed my large art in the Album Art visualization - even when it was too large for the screen WMP just showed what ever portion would fit on the screen instead of resizing the picture to fit the available space.

I expected the same behavior in WMP 12 but, instead, this is what I saw - and yes, this one is full size just like you see it!



The maximized Windows Media Player window reduced itself to that. All that available screen real estate on my 1680x1050 pixel 22" monitor and what Windows Media Player 12 gives me is 240x240 pixels of album art! Hey, I shouldn't complain. Windows Media Player 11 tried its hardest to limit me to 200x200 pixels. Apparently the Media Player team realized that 200x200 pixels was just too small so they gave us an upgrade... of 40 pixels.

At this point, I wasn't sure how WMP 11 came up with the postage stamp sized album art. Had they finally closed the embedded art loophole? I used my AlbumArtExtractor to extract some album art for verification. My 1000x1000 pixel embedded art was intact.

So where did they get the postage stamp? To test, I used my AlbumArtFixer to replace the Folder.jpg and the embedded art on an album with an incorrect picture. I left intact the hidden 75x75 and 200x200 art that Microsoft creates in album folders but everything else now had the wrong image. Playing the album again in Windows Media Player showed that the Album Art visualization must use those hidden files. The art showing in the Now Playing List was the newly-added, intentionally-incorrect art but the Album Art visualization still showed the 240x240 pixel correct-even-if-low-quality art.

From this test, I also deduced that the Album Art visualization takes the 200x200 pixel art and stretches it to 240x240 pixels. Even that small stretch destroys the quality of even the poor quality hidden art images Microsoft created.

Maximizing Album Art


Ok, so let's try maximizing this shrunk down window and see if I get bigger art. No luck. This is what I saw:



More laughing out loud. A LOT more laughing out loud.

Get Your Magnifying Glass


Now look up into the upper left corner of the image above. You can faintly tell that something is written there - in nearly microscopic font. It says "Les Paul & Friends", the name of the album artist entry in the CDDB database. Rotating into that same screen space are the artist name, as you can see, then the track name, and then the album name. Now, I don't usually like marquees or scrolling/changing information in a user interface. I don't like having to wait several seconds trying to catch the piece of information I want to see. But really now. How could I expect the Windows Media Player product team, even using that microscopic font, to find a way to fit all three pieces of information on the screen at the same time, especially after having stretched the picture all the way up to 240x240 pixels. I mean really now. There just is not space in what's left of that screen to add any more information.

Is that crazy or not?

Upsizing Maximized - or Full Screen


Ok, so what's larger than Maximized? Full screen.

Pressing F11 generally will toggle between full screen and not full screen for Microsoft apps. I hadn't actually thought to do this test but as I was showing all this craziness to my wife I must have accidentally hit the F11 key - or clicked the Full Screen icon on the player. Suddenly I find myself looking at this full screen window:



What's wrong with this picture?

Think about what using Media Player in full screen means. It most likely means that you're not sitting at your computer. You can't write software in one window while having WMP in full screen. You can't edit a document in Word and you can't browse the Internet in Firefox. Full screen means you have only Windows Media Player on your screen. Since you can't do anything else while WMP is in full screen, going to full screen probably means you got up from the PC to do something else.

There is nothing else on my Windows desktop or screen I can use any space for. All the space is fully dedicated to Windows Media Player's Album Art visualization. And they took the 240x240 pixel album art and upgraded me to... (more laughing out loud - lots more) 130x130 pixel art. On this screen fully dedicated to one thing, displaying album art, and they REDUCED the sized of the art to sub-postage stamp size!

And what gives with the location of the microstamp album art? Suddenly it is way to the upper-left in full screen. I don't understand that. I guess it doesn't matter if the white dot on the screen is in the center or the upper left but this change in perspective definitely drew even more laughter. I just really don't get that one.

But they gave me something in return. With all that screen real estate they recovered by reducing the album art from 240x240 pixels to 130x130 pixels they managed to squeeze all three data points - album name, track name, artist name - onto the screen at the same time. And the track name font is now almost 1/4 inch high! I can read it a full 3 feet away from my screen!

Of Course I Predicted This


Earlier I mentioned that WMP 12 closed a loophole that allowed you to use larger album art. Here's the rest of the story.

In my post Windows Media Player and Album Art I predicted that the embedded art loophole would be closed in WMP 12. I did expect them to close it by reducing the size of the embedded artwork but they actually closed it by simply ignoring the artwork, as my tests documented above point out.

My solution to this problem, going way back to Media Center 2005 and Windows Media Player 8, was to write my own shell around Windows Media Player. This shell uses Media Player in the background to play the tracks but it provides a much more sensible view of what's playing, in my opinion, than any Microsoft product. It starts with album art as large as I cared to make it and fills all available space up to the size of the image, reducing if necessary to fit a smaller screen.

This is my shell in full screen mode:



When you're looking at full screen, which makes more sense? Microsoft's 130x130 pixel album art (more laughing out loud here) or mine? Here's theirs and mine, side by side. Pretty easy to tell which is people would rather have.



Hmmmm...


An interesting, at least to me, note about the changes to WMP 12 is that after a few seconds of idle, the player controls go away - and they should. If you're not using them, get them out of the way so they aren't obstructing that wonderful custom album art you created. Notice that the first two WMP pictures above have the controls showing. In each of those views, if you wait a few seconds, the controls hide:





That's a feature I've had in my player for several years.

What's it all mean?


Finally the Windows Media Player team has won. You cannot use custom album art with Windows Media Player without having that art ignored or destroyed. There is simply no way to display album art of a reasonable size. Going from 200x200 pixels to 240x240 pixels appears to be the one concession that the Windows Media Player product team is willing to make for their customers.

Apple's iTunes, by the way, will give you 600x600 pixel album art. Not big enough for today's highest resolution monitors but a heck of a lot better than Microsoft's postage stamp art. Your only choice is to use something other than Windows Media Player if you want to view album art on a PC.
Comments:
Interesting read. I don't think it would be too hard to write a WMP visualization plug-in that acts like the Album Art visualization, but gives precedence to the embedded art like previous WMP versions. Of course, this still doesn't justify Microsoft's bad decisions. And it's probably not really needed anymore, as you have already written your own WMP shell :p
 
Is there anyway I can get hold of your shell - it looks awesome to me.
 
I have found an interesting "loophole" that allowed me to get the large album art back - by adding Unsynced Lyrics in the mp3 file itself. Have a look, a picture speaks a thousand words.

Check this out:
http://img16.imageshack.us/img16/2742/88228747.jpg
 
Something more to add, which I forgot in the previous comment.

I noticed you stating that WMP12 displays the album by reading the folder.jpg in the corresponding folders. I first noticed that when I played songs from my assorted songs folder, e.g. Korean Songs, where playing any song with an album art will generate folder.jpg in the Korean Songs folder if it didn't exist in the first place. Then, all of the songs in the Korean Songs folder, even those with proper album art embedded to them, will have the same album art, which is the folder.jpg generated by WMP12 after it knows its absence.

However, I then discovered that by copying the Korean Songs folder out of my music library to say, D:\Korean Songs, the problem did not happen again, even if there's folder.jpg in the folder, WMP12 reads the embedded album art in the audio file, which is displayed crispy sharp at 240x240 instead of upscaled folder.jpg. Each songs in the Korean Songs folder have its own and correct album art, not affected by folder.jpg anymore.

So, out of curiosity, I removed my own music folder from the Music Library (D:\My Music), and miraculously, it did fixed itself like I speculated. Each audio file have their own sharp album art, and folder.jpg is ignored. So I decided to add the folder back to my Music Library, and mysteriously, this time, the previous issue did not occur and I still get the correct and sharp album art for all files.

Is this black magic of WMP or what?

Hope this is able to give you some lead. =D

Thanks.
 
Thanks for the tips, Plexeon. I'll try those out and see if I can duplicate your results. The community will be glad to have the workaround.

Fruitloop, check back from time to time. Right now I am just way too busy at work to package up my player and to either remove or complete some half-completed features and all of that will have to be done before I can publish the app. It's on my list.

Dale
 
Hi Dale

Any updates on Plexeon's suggestion? I tried mine but not working. I have been searching the net on how to go around and fix this.

Thanks!...
 
Interesting Article.

I have one question. I let WMP12 download its own album arts from the Internet. The problem is that it doesn't embed the album art in the tag, it only saves it in the folder as a hidden JPEG. I want it to embed them because when I sync music with my phone, the album arts don't show. BTW, I don't use AlbumArtFixer.
 
You have two choices for embedding album art. You can either drag the jpg image onto the album in WMP 12, one album at a time (or the same thing in iTunes) or you can use a third-party tool like AlbumArtFixer to do your whole library at once. You don't have to use AlbumArtFixer; there are other tools around that do the same thing.
 
Let me just add, the thing that makes AlbumArtFixer unique is that it also sets security on your album art so that WMP won't destroy it. That's critical to many people. Since you already use Microsoft's downloaded album art then you'll get no benefit from that feature.
 
hey i think i may have a solution to the folder.jpg being overwritten. not for the crappy display size, but at least all the file you put there are not resized.

http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=75461

let me know if you can get it to work.
 
@Plexeon
How did you go about adding the Unsynced Lyrics? I used Mp3tag but all I get is a black image with the lyrics below. The 200px cover art returns when I select Off from "Lyrics, captions and subtitles" and replaying the song.
 
I am disappointed with window media player 12 design.
It also doesn't include "Advanced Tag Editor".
WMP12 have some design issues.
I think window media player designer is a lack of skills.
Microsoft need to update the WMP12.
 
I just upgraded to W7 and have been happy with the video codecs that now show all my videos without thirdparty codec packs. I then turned to my music library which I have spent countless hours fixing album art to using Media Monkey. It worked ok in WMP11 on Vista but now it sucks again in WMP12. Glad to find your blogg so that I know that it is no use persuing the issue. However, which most of you probably know already, the Windows 7 MCE is really improved. To my surprise when I tried it today I discovered that all my "high resolution" art work was not wasted. It shows up fine in MCE. I have a mix of WMA Lossless and MP3:s and so far it seems that the embedded artwork works on all files.
 
i don't even bother with WMP anymore... i use winamp and CD Art Display (CAD). there are many CAD skins with full screen.
 
i got fed up with WMP 12. Luckily I fould Winamp and Cd Art Display (CAD). CAD will display embedded album art and won't create hidden album art like WMP
 
i got fed up with WMP 12. Luckily I fould Winamp and Cd Art Display (CAD). CAD will display embedded album art and won't create hidden album art like WMP.

my setup:
regular - http://img683.imageshack.us/img683/5387/pic1p.png

fullscreen - http://img707.imageshack.us/img707/2088/pic2kg.png
 
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