Organizing Music for Origami Experience

Along with the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced Origami Experience, a new media player and program launcher specifically designed for touch-screen UMPCs. Since upgrading my eo v7110 to Vista Ultimate, I have been using Origami Experience as my primary music player.

As I have mentioned in some of my previous posts, the large hard drive capacity on the v7110 was a big motivator for me when I choose that model. With a 160GB hard drive, I actually carry around my entire, rather extensive music collection on my eo. My music collection (mostly MP3s at 128 or 192 mbps) takes up nearly 85GB on my hard drive and represents around 1,500 different albums.

In this article, I’m going to share tips in a couple key areas for effectively managing a music library to make it work well with Origami Experience.

Music Tagging

Origami Experience is really a front-end to Windows Media Player 11 for media playback, using the media file’s tags as the main organizational structure. In order to effectively be able to find and select music with the software, it is important to make sure that the tags are generally accurate and complete.

The music library section of Origami Experience lets you select music by Album, Artist, Genre, Playlists, or from a full list of all tracks in your library. You can also designate tracks as “favorites” from within Origami Experience and an additional tab gives you access to all tracks so designated. Unfortunately, the current version doesn’t allow for broader hierarchical navigation than each individual selection navigating you to a list of tracks. For instance, if you go to the “Genre” tab and then select “Pop”, it will then list all tracks under that genre. There is no way to easily find all albums or artists that are under the “Pop” genre. As my music collection is dominated by types of music that tends to be played an album at a time (such as classical, film scores, and musical cast albums), I rarely use anything other than the “Album” tab when selecting music.

It is very important to be aware that album and artist tags generally work together in the Windows Media Player library, which means that multi-artist albums may not show up grouped together unless the tags have been set up correctly. The “Album Artist” tag is usually needed to force multi-artist albums to be grouped together properly. When the album artist is not set (or not set correctly), I’ve found two common behaviors. Most frequently, the album will simply show up multiple times in the list, with each separate “album” containing only the tracks with common artist tags. The other situation that I have seen is where it will correctly list only a single album, but the tracks will not play in the correct order. In these cases, it seems to play the tracks alphabetically by artist name instead of sorting them by track number. Either of these problems can usually be fixed by making sure that both the album name and album artist tags match exactly for all tracks.

Other than designation of “favorites” and adding new file directories to the library, Origami Experience does not have any built-in mechanisms for organization of music. Instead, it is necessary to go into Windows Media Player itself (or some other tag editor) to organize your tracks. The album view in Windows Media Player should directly mirror what you will see in Origami Experience, so it is pretty easy to get the tags in order there.

Album Art

Both the music selection interface and the “Now Playing” screens in Origami Experience are very visually-oriented with album art providing a key visual cue. Most newer CD ripping tools (and certainly most download services) will generally place album art into your tracks automatically, but if you have a lot of older or fairly obscure tracks, you probably are going to want to try and track down album art for them.

I tracked down and added album art to my tracks using a descriptively-named freeware tool called Album Cover Art Downloader. This tool will search several sources (including Amazon.com, Yahoo Images, and Walmart.com) and present you with likely matches for your albums. There is a fully-automatic mode that you can use as well, but it probably will generate a lot of mismatches unless your album collection is very mainstream with very clear tags. If the software’s search mechanism does not find an appropriate match, the tool also allows you to drag and drop images from your hard drive. Once you have selected the appropriate image, it will then apply it to the music using the most common methods for that audio format.

Even with a fairly non-mainstream collection, I was able to find a fairly large percentage of my album art using Album Cover Art Downloader’s built-in search mechanism. The rest of the album art took some searching to track down, but through effective use of Google, sites for various music labels, and a few specialty sites (including SoundtrackCollector.com, which is a great source of album art and other information on movie soundtracks), I was able to fill in my collection. Of course, a scanner and the original CD cover (if you have it) is another option, if you can’t find a digital image that is already available online.

Music Sources

As the music player for Origami Experience is really just a front-end for Windows Media Player, your digital music needs to be in a format compatible with that player in order to use it. Without any special plug-ins, that generally means MP3 or WMA files. Other formats might work if you install third-party plug-ins for WMP, but I haven’t tried that. My own collection is almost entirely MP3 files ripped from my own CD collection.

Many people now purchase and download music from various music services. Any music purchased from a service that is compatible with Microsoft’s “Plays for Sure” digital rights management (DRM) system should play under Origami Experience, aas long as the computer has been authorized on that service. This includes such prominent services as Napster, Yahoo Music, Musicmatch, Wal-Mart, and MTV’s URGE. In most cases, this does require that you download, install, and authorize the player offered by each service before you can play the music from that service. You might even need to play the track once in the service’s own player before WMP can find a license for it.

The largest and most successful digital music service, Apple’s iTunes Music Store, uses its own proprietary DRM system that is not compatible with Origami Experience. A few other stores, including Sony’s Connect and Real Network’s music store also use incompatible proprietary systems. Most services do allow you to burn audio CDs of purchased tracks, though, which can then be re-ripped in a non-protected form. You shouldn’t lose any significant sound quality in this process if you re-rip them in the lossless WMA format, although this will generate files that are quite large. Since the music was already compressed when it was sold to you, re-ripping into another compressed format (such as MP3 or non-lossless WMA) will further degrade the quality, although this could be pretty hard to notice unless you are connecting your UMPC to a really high-end audio system.

Until the music industry either gives up on DRM or decides to standardize on a single, interchangeable format, my advice is actually to stick with buying CDs whenever possible. The audio quality is still better than what you get from most download services and there generally aren’t compatibility issues. For those occasions when music you want is only available from a download service (or for music already purchased), your best results in Origami Experience will probably come from burning the tracks to CD and re-ripping them in an unprotected format.

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