Working FLAC and Vorbis Support in Windows Media Player

Hot off the heels of the “SMOOTH Processor” debacle, I’m faced with the task of reapplying one of my favorite Windows 7 configuration tweaks. Namely, the addition of FLAC (and also Vorbis, Speex, and so on) support to Windows Media Player. Now I know there are a variety of free media players that have this built-in, and for the longest time I would actually use Winamp3 (along with the quite awesome queue-sidecar plugin) to handle all of my media playback needs. But as time wore on and operating-systems evolved I didn’t have the patience to continue coaxing my Winamp3 install into working with the next latest and greatest OS version, nor the tolerance for its sporadic but annoying random crashes, and when Windows 7 rolled out I was presented with a compelling reason to ditch Winamp3 (and every other alternative) in favor of Windows Media Player: Homegroups.

Homegroups allow for much simplified sharing of multimedia and other content between computers on a network. There is very little explicit configuration needed, and when an application integrates with the Homegroup properly there is really no noticeable difference between a local resource and one that’s being streamed from some other computer on the Homegroup. This makes for a very cool experience when it all works, and in Windows Media Player it works seemlessly. My media library can be distributed across several systems, and yet from each one I can access the entire volume as if it is all local to that particular machine. And it just works, flawlessly, with no onerous setup or manual cajoling needed on my part. This is what good software is supposed to do; merge invisibly into the background so that the user can accomplish a complex task as if by magic, and currently only Windows Media Player does it.

I’m sure that situation will change in the near future, but at the moment its seamless Homegroup integration makes Windows Media Player the only media player that I am interested in using. And that means that some of its other shortcomings, such as a complete lack of support for a variety of free and open codecs and file formats, need to be dealt with. Now there are a number of tutorials on this subject already, but many of them give inaccurate or incomplete information. In the interest of having a complete set of instructions that actually work, if you want to enable FLAC/Vorbis/etc. support in Windows Media Player, do the following:

  1. Install the DirectShow filters/codecs.
  2. Install the Tag Support plugin.
  3. OPTIONAL: If, like me, you included your FLAC folders/files in your library before installing the above packages, then you also need to rebuild your Windows Media Player library. Make sure you close Windows Media Player and shut down its network sharing service either by stopping it under ‘Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Services‘ or by killing the ‘wmpnetwk.exe‘ process in the Task Manager before attempting to delete or rename its configuration folder.

And that’s really all there is to it. You may or may not end up with the ability to seek within and/or see the duration of FLAC files. I’ve seen it happen both ways on occasion, it seems like it either works or not depending upon the mood that Windows Media Player happens to be in when these plugins are installed. But the important bit is that all the previously unsupported files will now show up correctly in your library, and also (of course) that they are now playable.

And in other news, the rebuilding continues, slowly.

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