Microsoft – Plus! Digital Media Edition review

audio-visual add-ons for Windows XP
Photo of Microsoft – Plus! Digital Media Edition

One of the many ways in which Windows XP differs from previous versions of the Windows platform is in the way it handles digital media. Significant improvements have been made in managing digital images and audio files, burning to CD and even creating your own movies. Microsoft has recently introduced a new Digital Media Plus! pack, a cost-effective set of tools and utilities that adds some new features and several enhancements to the existing XP platform.

Included in the pack is a new “Photo Story” application that enables you to combine digital photos with background music and your own commentary. The resulting video story uses Windows media compression to produce a file small enough to e-mail without too much loss of quality. If you use the Windows Media player to view video and listen to your music, then you’re in for a treat with a new set of “Skins” for the player. These include a full-screen, secure skin called “Party Mode”. This turns your PC into a virtual jukebox and enables guest users to select tracks without having access to the rest of your computer.

Fifty new effects and transitions are provided for the Windows Movie Maker and include functions such as pixelate, texture and colour warp, however you’ll need to update to version 2 of the software to access these. This is available for download from Microsoft’s web site.
Movie Maker 2 is a great improvement over the original version bundled with Windows XP and well worth the download in its own right.

For audio buffs, a new utility will enable you to record from an analogue source like tape or vinyl; this includes a built-in noise reduction feature to remove background hiss and pops from scratches on vinyl or tape recordings. A track splitter will save individual tracks during recording, which is useful if you’re transferring your music collection to CD. Also included is a CD label maker application for designing your own labels and automatically including track and artist information.

Several other utilities are included; a musical alarm clock, an audio file converter with somewhat limited formats (Microsoft’s own, mainly), a fun, on-screen “Dancer” with different characters that dance in time with your music, and finally the new “Sync & Go” utility, which will enable you to upload your favourite music and video from the Media Player directly to a Pocket PC.

Company: Microsoft

Contact: 0870 601 0100

Most of the features offered by these new utilities can be found in other forms on the Web, either as shareware or freeware, however at around sixteen pounds the Plus! pack is a neat set of utilities that will be guaranteed XP compatible. It isn't going to break the bank and adds some useful features to Windows XP.