OK, so you want to play audio and video files on your computer, but you're totally confused by all the different filetypes, what players you need to play them, and all that? Well, here's a listing of some of the most common filetypes you'll run into:
- .wav - the oldest Microsoft type of sound files. Most sounds that you hear at startup and such, including "You've got mail" are waves.
- .mid - Most instrumental music on web pages are MIDI files. Rather than representing musical sound directly, MIDI files transmit information about how a song should sound that is then processed by your sound card. WAV files represent musical sound directly.
- .mp3 - these files started the current digital music revolution. Songs can be saved in near CD sound quality and they are compact, thus easy to share (much to the chagrin of the Recording Industry.
- .mpg - usually MPEG-4 Video (MP3's big brother)
- .ra /.rm - RealAudio/RealMedia (RealOne Player)
- .mov -Quicktime Movie File
- .asf - Active Streaming File. A Windows Media Audio or Video stream.
- .avi - Audio Video Interleaved. A Microsoft multimedia format used for Windows Video clips.
- .wma - Windows Media Audio File, similar to an MP3, but smaller
- .wmv - Windows Media Video file
- .ogg - Ogg Vorbis is a completely open, patent-free, professional audio encoding and streaming technology. It compresses to an even smaller size than MP3 without loss of quality. It was officially released July 2002 but it hasn't quite caught on.
There are many players that can be used to encode and play these file types. These are my favorites based on features, functionality, and accessability:
- Windows Media Player - Often ignored since it comes standard with Windows, but it's not a bad little player. If you just want to listen to mp3 and burn the occasional CD, then you already have a good tool "bundled" with Windows. The new Media Player 10 is even better, but only works with Win XP. Version 9 works with all Windows platforms. Click this link to learn more about version 9 of the Windows Media Player, or to download the player. If you're running Windows XP, click this link to get more information on version 10 of the Windows Media Player, or to download/update your player.
- WinAmp - A favorite music player of the blind. Many cool effects and features can be downloaded from the web to make it even better. Click this link to learn more about Winamp, or to download the player.
- RealOne Player - A necessity for playing most streaming content that has a .ra, .rm or .RAM file extension. This program is not great with screen readers, but it can be used. Click this link to learn more about the various Real Players, and to download a player of your choice.
- Quicktime - Many movie trailers open in this format. IE and NS both have QT plug ins so that the clips play right in your browser. This is the least accessible player of them all, but is good to have on your system in case you want to stream a movie. Click this link for more information on Quicktime, or to download the player.
You can head on over to the individual sites for all these players and compare features yourself. They all offer free downloads, however, some of them (like RealOne) make it harder to find the free version.
If you have several players and you want different players for different media file types, you should go into the settings for each individual player. For instance: I can tell MusicMatch Jukebox to be the default for my MP3's, Windows Media Player to handle WAV's, and WinAmp to do MIDI.
In Windows Media Player go to Tools/Options (if you don't see "Tools" listed at the top of the window, right click the top bar and it'll be there). Click on the "File Types" then select the media file types you want played in WMP.
With WinAmp go to Options/Preferences then go to "General Preferences". Click "File Types" (you may need to double-click if it isn't listed). Select the file types you want associated with WinAmp. You can also click "All"
MusicMatch Jukebox users can go to Options/Settings then under the "General" tab check off the media file types you want it to be the default player for.
For RealPlayer go to Tools/Preferences then under "Content" select "Media Types". Check off the file types that you want associated with RealPlayer.
Other media players should have similar methods. Look for Tools, Options, Settings, or Preferences then File or Media Types.
One other option that I feel takes a bit longer is to associate each media file type with a player through Folder Options. From any file window, or the Control Panel, click "Tools" at the top. Select "Folder Options" then click the "File Types" tab. Scroll down the list until you come to a file type (for instance, MP3). Click the "Change" tab then select the player you want to handle those files from the recommended list or other programs.
If you have Windows XP (SP2) and want one player to handle everything go to Start and look for "Set Program Access and Defaults"(if it isn't there go to "Add/Remove Programs" then click "Set Program Access and Defaults" in the left side column).
Under "Choose a configuration" click "Custom". Scroll down to "Choose a default media player". From the list, select the one you want to handle all media files. Click "OK". Keep in mind that not all file types work in all programs-that means that some will still go to their dedicated player.
Now your MP3's, WAV's, etc. should all be handled correctly.