Syncing Windows Media Player and iTunes

We've talked about me being an iPod owner and we talked about me building a Media Center PC - we did talk about that right?  Maybe not!  Well that's the topic for another post but for now let's take a step forward.  Initially having an iPod locked me into the M4A format.  When I bought my iPod nearly 2 years ago I had a choice :

a) Keep my format "open" and encode everything in MP3.  Because I care about quality, 128 MP3 doesn't do it for me so I'd have to go 192kbps

b) Use the proprietary M4A format from Apple which I'm happy with at 128kbps and free up 50% more space on my iPod

THe whole reason I own an iPod is so I can carry an obscene amount of music with me so that extra space was attractive.  So I selected option b) and went about encoding my existing CDs and all CDs since then to 128kbps M4A.

And then I got my Media Center PC ...

One thing I LOVE is having all my media in one place and one interface.  Media Center uses Windows Media Player which doesn't support M4A so I had a problem.  How do I get all 10000 or so M4As to show up in my Media Center PC?  And I found a solution.

The first part of the solution concerns enabling Media Player/Center to play M4A files.  M4A files are AAc encoded and while a number of freeware AAC codecs exist none of them really did too good of a job.  In the end I bought a codec pack from www.3ivx.com who enable general MPEG4 support including both audio and video.  The great thing about their product is that it installs the decoder and registers the file type with Media Player making it very easy to setup.

THen I hit upon another problem.  Using this method, Media Player cannot read the tags from the M4A files meaining that my Media Player library was a mess.  Songs were listed by filename and all infomration about album, artist and full track name were lost.  Bummer!  With 10000 songs it becomes pretty hard to work with just a list of filenames.

After a considerable amount of searching I stumbled upon Music Bridge (http://www.thegreenbutton.com/community/shwmessage.aspx?ForumID=26&MessageID=94304).  Music Bridge does a pretty good job of solving my problem.  Rather than making Media Player able to read the tags in the file so it can build the library, it uses the programming interface in both iTunes and Media Player to synchronize library information from one to the other.  Net result is that now Media Player and hence Media Center have album, artist and song name information for my files and I can navigate more easily.  Music Bridge is able to sync bidirecitonally and can sync album art and playlists in addition to tag information.

MusicBridge is currently free.

I still have  acouple of outstanding gripes and issues :

* MusicBridge isn't flawless, it sometimes gets choked but the developer is responsive and committed to fixing issues
* When I rip new CDs I need to remember to run MusicBridge again, it's not automated
* Media Player won't pick up ALL my files ... it knows about 9200 of 10000 so for some reason it's choking on a few, I haven't investigated that yet.