How to get Windows Media Player to single-step a video


I always forget how to do this, so I'm going to write it down so I can look it up later.

When a video is playing, right-click the volume control slider and select Enhancements, then Play speed settings. (Actually, it also works if you right-click the speaker icon, the Stop button, the Replay button, or the Shuffle button, but the volume control slider is the biggest target.)

On the Play speed settings dialog, the single-step controls are at the bottom; they look like triangles.

Update: There's an even easier way.

Comments (37)
  1. blah says:

    Right-click a slider?! Talk about counterintuitive, flawed design.

  2. Joshua Ganes says:

    I've spent several frustrating minutes trying to stop a video on just the right frame (to settle an argument, no doubt). I had no idea that this feature existed. I must admit, this is one of the least intuitive interfaces I've seen.

  3. Skyborne says:

    In Vista Home Basic, the controls are largely dead to right-click, except Play/Pause has slower/normal/faster options.  I have to right-click Now Playing to get Enhancements, and then the frame controls are with the play speed settings.

    "Previous frame" seems to go to the previous I-frame, but that's understandable for performance. #nitpicking

  4. glurps says:

    How to get mplayer to single-step a video: Press dot.

    Is there some super-ninja expert mode that allows controlling WMP without a pointing device?

  5. creaothceann says:

    Why Windows Media Player? There's

    1. Media Player Classic Homecinema

    2. AviSynth+AvsPmod

    [Okay, so you're in somebody's office, and you're studying a screen capture, and then you want to single-step the video. Now you say, "Hang on a second, while I install Media Player Classic on your machine. What's your administrator password?" -Raymond]
  6. rolf says:

    It does of course depend on the video, but in my case the video is the biggest target. Actually the only place the right-click doesn't show "Enhancements" is if I click on the Play/Pause/Next/Previous buttons.

  7. Brian G. says:

    I'm amused that you post this in the blog for your personal reference.  Even more amusing is the fact that you're posting a reminder for yourself on how to access a pretty useful feature in a very popular program because the interface is complicated enough to warrant a reminder (with the bonus that it's a bit of a PSA too).

    Don't forget, if you want to use a keyboard shortcut for play/pause, it's Ctrl+P.  Smacking the spacebar does nothing, no matter how hard you hit it.

  8. John says:

    Wow.  I never would have had a chance of finding that on my own.  Also, Media Player Classic (or VLC, if you prefer) doesn't require an install.

  9. Adam Rosenfield says:

    [Okay, so you're in somebody's office, and you're studying a screen capture, and then you want to single-step the video. Now you say, "Hang on a second, while I install Media Player Classic on your machine. What's your administrator password?" -Raymond]

    No, clearly what you do if you don't know about Windows Media Player's single-step functionality is you repeatedly play the clip over and over again while trying to hit the PrintScreen button at exactly the right time.

  10. JohnCKirk says:

    Ah, that's useful, thank you! I've been using the "pause video too late, drag back slider, try again" method, but this should make my life easier.

  11. MItaly says:

    [ No, clearly what you do if you don't know about Windows Media Player's single-step functionality is you repeatedly play the clip over and over again while trying to hit the PrintScreen button at exactly the right time. ]

    Then, paste the picture taken in a Word document and send it to your address to further investigate the issue later. Bonus points if a wooden table is somehow involved in the process.

  12. Skyborne says:

    Actually, I don't even have to right-click: that little triangle under "Now Playing" is actually part of a thin strip that grants access to the menu when left-clicked.

  13. Bob says:

    Hey Raymond, can you submit a feature request on the media player bug tracker to make the right arrow key step 1 frame forwards and the left arrow key 1 frame backwards?

  14. Gabest says:

    First of all, MPC requires no installation.

    1. There was a Windows XP N version for the EU, without WMP.

    2. Internet Explorer became "optional" with the latest Windows update, we know the reason.

    Am I the only one who is seeing a bit of discrepancy here?

    [Not sure what you're getting at. "Hi, we're in your office studying this video, and oh, instead of calling up the single-step toolbar, let me close this video, download MPC, and reload the video in this other program. Yes, I know I just downloaded something off the Internet to your computer and ran it, but I'm sure you can clean it up after I leave." -Raymond]
  15. Troll says:

    Not wishing to sound like a troll (what with my obvious user name) but WMP GUI has been made totally unusable and dumbed down after versions 11 and 12 came out (en.wikipedia.org/…/Windows_Media_Player) except for remote and internet media streaming which is a very nice feature. For local playback, using it is like self-punishment.

  16. Anonymous Coward says:

    To single-step a video, right click the volume control slider… what is this I don't even…

  17. John says:

    @Raymond:  Your argument is based on the assumption that the user actually knows the feature exists.  That's a pretty big assumption considering its discoverability as evidenced in the comments.  It also doesn't help that the entire point of this article was to remind yourself how to actually access the feature in the first place.  "Here, use this feature that nobody knows exists or how to access."

    [My argument is "Here's a tip for using Windows Media Player." To most people, "Don't use Windows Media Player" doesn't count as a tip for using Windows Media Player. -Raymond]
  18. Doh says:

    If frame stepping control is obvious, then there's no point for Raymond to blog about it. So why all the complaints on this hey-thought-I-would-share-something-helpful entry? Direct your anger to the WMP team.

  19. @John says:

    And the user in this context is no one but Raymond. Thought that was obvious.

  20. Roman R. says:

    Even if it is not even close to user friendliness, it is good to know the feature is there.

    Good luck with trying to step back through .MKV files though (perhaps all files there WMP would fall back to DirectShow to play the file).

  21. Evan says:

    @John: I'm not sure I saw Raymond argue that the feature makes sense or anything like that, just that downloading and running software on someone else's computer isn't exactly great etiquette.

    [It seems that many people confuse "Here's a tip on how to do something with X" with "X is awesome, I love it and you should too!" See also: Batch files. -raymond]
  22. MPC HC 4-ever! says:

    Not using WMP is the best tip anyone could get. You should thank EU for removing this piece of junk.

    Downloading MPC HC is easier than downloading wmp (which requires activation & WGA).

    [The presumption was that you were already using Windows Media Player and just wanted to find the single-step controls. I can't believe I have to write this. I never learn my lesson: "Never write Tips/Support articles." -Raymond]
  23. Rick C says:

    "I never learn my lesson: "Never write Tips/Support articles." -Raymond"

    Good job, morons, you did it again.  Raymond's blog is NOT the place to complain about stuff like this.

  24. Kyte says:

    What, nobody ever looked for the equalizer and found the other windows to play with? WMP might not be the best player ever built, but it's perfectly serviceable and the interface is not at all undiscoverable. It's a simple right-click. Anywhere (Almost).

    Don't you Power Users right click everywhere, anyways?

  25. Evan says:

    BTW, this isn't the only such really undiscoverable feature. Under older versions of Excel (pre-2007), you could *shift-click the edit menu* and get some extra options, including "copy picture" which you could use to copy a graph to the clipboard. I think I've seen a couple other of those shift-click features but I don't remember anything else being that useful.

  26. Jeff says:

    @glurps: to control WMP using the keyboard while it is playing a video press the Tab key four times. The controls will appear with a focus outline around one of the controls. You can navigate to the other controls by pressing tab or shift/tab. To access the context menu (and the Enhancements menu that Raymond mentioned) you can press the menu key on the keyboard (just below the right side shift key).

  27. 640k says:

    Unfortunately windows experience index (winsat) is dependant on media files shipped with WMP, and fails without displaying any message if the files are not present. How is this a enhancement for EU residents?

    [I don't believe I ever claimed that it was. I would call that a bug. -Raymond]
  28. El Dorko says:

    "I never learn my lesson: "Never write Tips/Support articles." -Raymond"

    Please don't let the dorks get to you, this was a very valuable tip, on of many I've gotten here. Keep up the great job!

  29. Cloud says:

    I'll add my thanks for this post as well.

    Trying to find a single frame(or even controlling playback speed) is a common task users come up against. I had never been able to find the setting in WMP and had assumed it simply didn't exist. Mostly because the interface for accessing that setting is very easy to find under VLC(and other MP).

    So thanks, I'll defiantly be making good use of this tip.

  30. 山田太郎 says:

    Raymond, please do not stop posting entries like this one. Instead, just turn off comments for "sensitive" posts entirely. It's just not worth it. The low percentage of comments that actually contribute something worthwhile does not justify keeping them turned on.

    I only found this feature once before; years ago and totally by accident. Now I finally know how I did it — thanks to you.

  31. Neil says:

    @Matteo Italia: The wooden table is where you rest your camera to take the screen shot, of course.

  32. Skyborne says:

    @Raymond–actually I'm grateful for this post as well. In my search for Enhancements on my WMP11 install, I discovered that *each tab has a menu on it,* full of things just begging to be clicked.

  33. Jolyon Smith says:

    I've stumbled across those frame step controls before but seem to have a recollection that they would be disabled for some videos but not others.  Is their function (or lack thereof) determined by the codec ?  i.e. some codecs simply can't be frame-stepped ?

    I could never get my head around how/why any codec might not be, but just wondered.

    Also, FYI: some additional wrinkles in the WMP GUI:

    Right click the "Play/Pause", "Rewind" or "Fast Forward" buttons and you get a different context menu, one with just 3 items: slow playback, normal playback and fast playback.

    Now right click the volume slider, stop button etc, to see the full context menu.  NOW if you right click the Play/Rew/FF buttons, you ALSO get the full context menu.  I only get the shorter context menu back if I pause (or restart) the video then right click the Play/Rew/FF buttons.  But right click the vol slider etc and the full context menu trumps it again.

    This had me scratching my head for a while because when I first right clicked the play button I got this shorter menu without the "enhancements" option, then I found it by clicking elsewhere then when I went back to the play button I got the full menu again and thought I was going crazy…. did I see a different, shorter context menu or not?  what's going on!?!?

  34. coldacid says:

    @Troll: WMP's a lot more usable (at least as a media library) than Zune player. Personally, I find WMP just fine, although building auto playlists is too simplistic (although honestly I'd like to be able to write SQL-like queries against the WMP database). Sure it's outshined by MPC and a few other media players in terms of features and UI cleanliness, but for the average person, WMP is just fine.

  35. zuck says:

    *Everything* is better than zune at playing music. It cannot even play ms' own play-for-sure music.

  36. Andreas Rejbrand says:

    I have no idea what you are talking about. When playing a video in Windows Media Payer (Windows 7), which — by the way — is an application I am very fond of, you can right-click *anywhere* in the window, enter the 'Enhancements' submenu and click any of the items there to open the small window that contains all the 'advanced' controls, including the frame-step controls. And, by 'anywhere', I really do mean *anywhere* — you can click on the video, on any control, or even on the titlebar of the window. However, if you are playing the video in full-screen mode, then you cannot access the 'advanced' controls at all — the context menu doesn't contain the 'Enhancements' submenu. And it doesn't help to right-click any control (such as the volume slider), for the controls have no popup menu at all.

  37. Alec S. says:

    I don’t know why anyone would use WMP in the first place. VideoLan has been my video player of choice since WMP8 was forcibly dropped in XP SP2. VLC does everything you need a video player to do and then some.

    I particularly like the adjustable playback speed (in as little as ±0.1x, ie ±10%, increments). Once they changed it so that the playback speed only affects the tempo of the audio and not the pitch, VLC became invaluable. I don’t remember the last time that I watched anything, be it TV shows or movies, whether I liked it or not at 1x. Now, I always watch everything between 1.3x-1.7x, allowing me to get through everything in less time (it’s not as weird as you might think; in fact slowing it to 1x seems abnormally slow). This is especially helpful for all the crappy shows and movies I don’t like, since I can waste less time on them by watching them at up to 200%; and no, the DVD drive doesn’t have trouble keeping up until I hit at least 8x.

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