How to Use Windows 7 “Play To”

In this new age of digital distribution our ever growing pile of devices needs to be able to interconnect with one another unlike ever before. The time for proprietary software and voodoo tricks to get all your devices working happily together has come and gone (long gone!).  Windows 7’s new “Play To” feature may just be the first step towards this reality.

This new feature built-in to Windows 7 allows you to control the media being played on any number of enabled devices including other Windows 7 machines and Media Center.  You can find a long list of capable devices over at The Digital Lifestyle, including the capabilities of each device. Getting going with Play To should be simple and is between Windows 7 machines; the abilities of other compatible devices may vary however.

The easiest way to get started with Play To on Windows 7 is to open Windows Media Player 12. Once inside WMP we have to enable the ability to receive media streams from other devices by clicking the “Share” tab in the library view and marking the checkbox labeled “Receive media on your network.”

Recieve Media in Windows Media Player

Once you’ve enabled this feature (or similar features of non-Windows devices) you can choose which devices will have access to your media files across the network.  This will also give us some idea of what devices we might expect to see in our “Play To” list, for instance if you expect to play media to your Xbox 360 you should ensure it’s available on this list.

Select PlayTo Devices

As you can see from the picture above there are three devices listed but later on you will notice that only two are available in the Play To list.  This is due to the fact that one of the devices listed is running Windows Vista which does not currently support Play To and so is excluded.

The next step is finding the media you want to play across machines.  This is where one of the best new features of Play To comes in, if you want to play a media file that isn’t natively supported by the other device Play To will convert the file before streaming it to the other box.  Many compatibility issues will surely be solved by this simple but ever so useful feature.

Once you’ve located the media you want to play on your other Play To capable device right-click to bring up the menu and navigate to the “Play To” menu.  From here you should see a second menu listing your Play To devices.

WMP PlayTo Device Selection

After selecting your device from the list you should get a new window with a list of the files you want to send and a number of other controls.  This is going to be the area which you control the play of the other device, not the native WMP interface. As you can see below this windows has controls to play/pause, next and previous track and volume. Also in this display we can find our playlist and display of the currently playing media, this playlist will also present you with any errors that may have come up during the playback of certain files.

PlayTo Device Controller

From here you’re all set to stream your media to your other Windows PCs, Media Center and extenders through out your entire network.  This feature is one of Microsoft’s main goals with the release of Windows 7 and will surely see further development both before and after release with support for more devices and features to come.  For now, enjoy your transcendent ability to play your media from every corner of your world!

You can also check out a number of more in depth articles on the Play To feature at The Digital Lifestyle: Multiple Devices and Sync, Play To and Media Center and the List of Devices mentioned earlier in this article. 

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