Key Takeaways

  • Windows 11 introduces a new Media Player that replaces older media apps, making it one of the best improvements in the operating system.
  • The new Media Player has a modern design, can play videos and music, organize your collection, and rip CDs.
  • While Media Player has limitations in file format support and lacks features like DVD and Blu-ray playback, it is still a good option for most video and audio needs, especially for managing music collections.

Microsoft has included a media player application in Windows for decades, but Windows 11 has a brand new one, simply called Media Player. If you haven’t tried it, you might be missing one of the best improvements in Windows 11.

The History of Windows’ Media Player

Windows has shipped with a media player application for almost its entire history. The aptly named “Media Player” first arrived as part of an optional package in Windows 3.0, and over the years it evolved into the feature-packed Windows Media Player. In the era of Windows XP and Windows 7, it was a one-stop shop for playing DVDs, organizing your music collection, ripping CDs, and synchronizing select music players.

Windows Media Player screenshot on Windows 11

Microsoft later introduced the Xbox Music and Movies & TV applications alongside Windows 8, which were mostly intended to replace Media Player. Xbox Music later became Groove Music, but just like many other modern apps in Windows 8 and 10, many people just kept using the older application or installed a third-party alternative (like VLC Media Player).

Windows 11 introduced a new Media Player (“Windows” is not part of the name), which is intended to replace all the other media apps in Windows: Groove Music, Movies & TV, and even the legacy Windows Media Player. Groove Music is already gone (the Media Player app is an updated version), and Movies & TV is now reserved for content purchased from the Microsoft Store. The old Windows Media Player still seems to be installed by default on new PCs, but it can be uninstalled, and it’s now labelled as “Windows Media Player Legacy.”

The All-in-One Features of Windows 11’s Media Player

The new Media Player, which can be opened by searching for “media player” in the Start Menu, is a modern take on the all-in-one experience that made the old Windows Media Player so useful. It can play videos from your PC, organize and play your local music collection, and yes, even rip music CDs. The new Media Player has the same “Fluent” visual design as other modern Windows applications, complete with light and dark themes.

Media Player Video tab

Media Player is organized into your music library, video library, and playlists. Audio files from your account’s Music folder are automatically added to your music collection, and content from your Videos folder appears in the Video tab. You can also manually add folders—you might have all your music on an external drive, for example.

When you open a video, Media Player will switch to a minimal playback interface. The controls fade away during playback, and if you’re not in full screen mode, the title bar fades away as well (leaving only the window controls). There’s a subtitles button for turning captions on and off, and you can use external subtitles files if needed, which wasn’t easy to do on the old Windows Media Player.

Media Player in Windows 11 playing a video

The music screen can organize your collection by alphabetical order, release year, artist, genre, or other data, in either list or grid views. Music playback controls appear at the bottom of the window and in the Windows quick settings panel. You can also switch the app to a mini player that stays pinned above other windows, just like with the legacy Windows Media Player, iTunes, and other applications.

Media Player doesn’t have all the features found in VLC Media Player, iTunes, or other media playback applications, but it’s simpler than most of them and generally works well.

Media Player Is Great for Music

The new Media Player really shines as a music application if you have a collection of MP3 files and other music on your PC. I have a music collection that has moved with me through iTunes, Google Play Music (RIP), Plex, and Apple Music, and adding the folder to Media Player (from the “Add folder” button in the Music tab) instantly imports everything with all available metadata.

Media Player will look for files in the Music folder on your PC by default, but you can manually select any other folders. That includes folders in OneDrive or other cloud storage providers, potentially giving you a simple cloud sync solution for your music across multiple computers.

Playing music in Media Player on Windows 11

Unlike iTunes and Apple Music, your music isn’t duplicated when it’s imported—the files remain right where they are, and any changes you make to the metadata (such as the song title or album art) are saved back to the file. That makes Media Player a great tool for organizing your music and fixing inaccurate information, without having to copy your changes back to the filesystem. That also makes moving your music collection to Media Player on a new PC super easy: you just copy the folder.

I still prefer Mp3tag for editing music files because it has more options and Media Player can’t edit multiple files at once, but Media Player is good enough for quick fixes.

The Downsides of Media Player

Even though the new Media Player is great, and might be my favorite addition to Windows 11, it’s not a total replacement for other video and music players. There are some features Microsoft just hasn’t gotten around to adding yet—as with Windows 10, much of Windows 11 is a work in progress—and other functionality isn’t possible for legal reasons.

File format support is still a problem. Media Player can open most music files, but video support is still limited to MPEG-4 video, QuickTime movies, older Microsoft formats like WMV and AVI, WebM with a VP8 or VP9 codec, and MKV. You need to download add-on packages from the Microsoft Store to play HEVC, MPEG-2, or AV1 videos (due to license restrictions with Windows), and the HEVC extension costs $0.99. The built-in supported formats and free extensions will cover most of the videos you probably need to play, but VLC Media Player is still the undisputed champion when it comes to file formats.

The new Media Player also can’t play DVDs or Blu-ray discs, only music CDs. That’s not too surprising, since most people don’t watch DVDs or Blu-rays on PCs anyway (especially when places like Best Buy have stopped selling physical movie media), but the old Windows Media Player could handle most DVDs. VLC Media Player can also play DVDs, and even some Blu-ray discs, depending on the format. There are also no visualizers for music, which was also present in the old Windows Media Player.

Media Player in Windows 11 ripping a CD

Even though there are issues, the new Media Player is still good enough for most video and audio playback, and it’s especially great for managing your personal music collection. If you have Windows 11 and haven’t tried it, give it a shot.