In the past, I've written that WMP7's interface is a downgrade from the WMP6.4's interface in almost every way. But recently, I've been finding it not so bad after all. There are in fact some ups and downs depending on the use.
I've been using the classic skin since that seemed to be the most unintrusive. But I've gone back to the default, Full-mode skin, and I found the interface to be worth investigating.
Here are both WMP7 and WMP6.4:
I'll cover somethings that are about equal with 6.4, and then get to the good point, then cover the bad points.
Scores about the same
First critical thing for me WMP7's default skin does is to remember the window size & position unlike the classic compact skin, just like WMP6.4. And when you play a video, it'll zoom in to fill the window. I have it set to look like it's maximized to get all the screen realestate. I was doing the same with 6.4, and glad this works with default skin of WMP7 unlike most of its other skins and RealPlayer.
Next thing is the performance. I find that both plays back with quite similar processing load, and in fact WMP7 seem less processor intensive for MPEG4 playback.
Notice the playlist shown at the right side of the window. This playlist works exactly like WinAmp's playlist. You can drag bunch of files to the playlist to queue it up, and drag it to the main video area to replace the playlist with what you just dragged. WMP6.4 lacked this critical feature. If you drag multiple files to WMP6.4, only one of the files will play and rest gets discarded. I know it's very basic, but sometimes less is more. And this is about the best implementation of playlist I've seen in a video player. I hate their idea of media library (where it needs to scan your hard drive for media file) but the playlist works fine without going into that.
The location of the playlist is nice. Notice how there are no empty borders on the sides or top/bottom of the video area where WMP6.4 shows borders on the side. The location of the playlist is nicely filling that area. Ofcourse, this is good because the video is 4:3 NTSC ratio. Playlist can be turned off if you have wider video.
Seek speed seems to be greatly improved. On WMP6.4, seeking in ASF files were terribly slow. (that is, once you click on the seek bar, it takes a while for it to start playing) But on 7, it's are instantaneous.
File information on status bar (located on top of seek bar) now rotates to show different information such as movie title, bitrate, description, etc.
Too much wasted space. The large buttons on the left side of the window needs to be hidable. Even RealPlayer can do that. None of the buttons are of any interest to those who just wish to playback videos from their hard drive. And depending on the resolution of the screen, it could take up quite a bit of space, almost 1/4 with 640x480. Also there are wasted spaces on top of the window. Those small buttons at the right could have been moved somewhere else without taking that much vertical spaces from the entire top row. Along side the standard menu for example.
Keyboard shortcuts have been changed from very simple WMP6.4 layout to extremely arkward RealPlayer layout. Now instead of hitting space for play, you have to hit control+P. And volume control are F9 and F10 from simple up and down arrow keys. Control+Shift+F for fast forward? What kind of a shortcut is that? It should've been just right arrow. This part really boggles my mind why they needed to change all of this when WMP6.4's shortcuts were so great that most movie players copies it.
Codec property is removed all together. Removal of this section must've really kill this player for DivX users who are used to toggling the Quality (CPU) bar. Really a huge mistake to take that out.
The movie property now shows a lot less information, where before it showed movie dimension and framerate, now it shows pretty much nothing other than movie length and Windows Media specific tags. (author, title, etc.) There's no way to find out the missing information on WMV files other than loading it in other movie players like WMP6.4 and go into its property dialogue. With AVI, at least you can right click in explorer to find out it's specs.
One big improvement for me is the great playlist. It's very useful for browsing around many files. And also the interface itself isn't too bad. It could definitally improve on many areas, but it does make quite efficient use of real estate. Even though it's now skinnable, it seems to have became less customizable. And currently, there isn't a skin that's really super. Most aren't as good as the default one overall, many won't remember window size and many are made just for audio playback. My biggest gripe however have to be the disabled property dialogue followed by the keyboard shortcut. Former is quite critical, and latter makes its keyboard shortcuts almost unusable. Only keys that I find of any use are the F9 & F10, which are volume. And even that is very unintuitive. There's no way you could have guessed those keys.