Today, MXPlay--the digital-music player that focuses on customizing and enhancing your playback sound, while also letting you mash up streaming audio with Web videos (covered previously)--launched a Windows-only add-on for the Mozilla Firefox browser. Called MXPlay Web, the Firefox add-on part is a simple orange MXPlay button that sits in your toolbar. Whenever you navigate to a Web page that includes MP3 files, the button transforms into a musical note. Click that note, and you can "play" that Web page in a pop-up music player.
After you select "Play this page," MXPlay Web will list all of the available MP3 songs on that Web page. You can then mark any of your favorites and save them to a personal playlist. Unfortunately, once you create that playlist, MXPlay Web somewhat randomly puts them into an order that you cannot change manually.
Just like the full app, MXPlay Web lets you customize the sound of the music using the same unique graphic interface. Drag and drop the head icon (the listener) and each of your available speakers to a specific location on the screen, which affects sound levels and direction. A blue circle in the upper left lets you control the size of your virtual room, and the bars in the upper right offer three levels of reverb.
One of the coolest features of the full MXPlay application is the ability to combine digital music with any streaming Web video, and MXPlay Web includes that functionality, but it's quite a bit more limited. The full player includes a Web browser that lets you search for any videos and automatically add them to a mashup directly from the Web page. In MXPlay Web, you're limited to a preselected set of popular and features videos from YouTube. Unless I'm mistaken, there's no way to add a video that you find on YouTube by searching. Also, unlike in the full player, there doesn't seem to be a full-screen view for video mashups.
MXPlay did make a wise move in changing the name of users' audio/video creations from "audiospaces" (a term no one has heard) to "mashups" (a term everyone has heard) but the "audiospace" term still persists in some of the controls at the top of the interface (Audiospace Size and Audiospace Reverb).
I had a chance to talk to MXPlay CEO Rupen Dolasia about the new extension on Tuesday, and I think that the company is taking a smart approach to digital music online, especially with this latest move into browsers. Powerhouse software--such as iTunes, Winamp, MediaMonkey, or RealPlayer--already exists in that jukebox category, and competing directly with those apps would be very tough.
However, the MXPlay Web extension shows a bit more rough edges than the full client, especially in stability and performance. Although the player works via a basic Firefox add-on, there's actually a complete back-end program that powers the playback and mashup features. It's a standalone application that will install to your Windows Registry and show up in your Add/Remove Programs list. In fact, MXPlay Web can run independently of Firefox.
Also, even though the download is a mere 2MB, I found that it uses a significant amount of RAM, considerably more than even Firefox itself. When opening a new playlist or mashup, saving a playlist or mashup, or switching between songs in my Web playlist, I found that MXPlay often took 90 percent to 95 percent of my CPU resources, grinding my PC to a halt.
To be fair, some Web pages worked much better than others, and much of MXPlay's functionality depends on the quality of the connection for the streaming music. MXPlay doesn't yet allow you to download any MP3s via MXPlay Web, but that is one of the possible plans for the future. Mr. Dolasia mentioned that there might be "whitelisted" content partners in the future, who allow you to both stream the music or download it directly from the MXPlay Web interface.
In its attempt to perform as a crossplatform music player, MXPlay Web adds the ability to import your iTunes library directly and then play any individual songs or playlists. You can play any individual songs from your iTunes library, or any of your saved playlists, but, unlike the open-source Firefox clone Songbird, you can't mix and match Web songs and local tracks into a combined playlist.
As I mentioned earlier, I think that MXPlay is moving in the right direction in terms of online music, but this extension seems much like a transitional step. It's not nearly as lightweight as the standard Firefox add-on, yet it lacks some of the critical features of the full application, most notably the ability to search for videos. It also doesn't install as easily as other Firefox add-ons, i.e. directly in the browser, because the bulk of the program (the actual player) needs to added to Windows, not just Firefox.
What's missing most in MXPlay Web is the ability to search for more videos from the MXPlay Web interface. I spent a lot of time with MXPlay when I first tried out the full player back in March, creating fun mashups like New York.
With MXPlay Web, I enjoyed creating, saving, and sharing playlists, but it's worth noting that I only made one video mashup, and it's rather random, because I didn't have the full run of YouTube as I did before. (Note: You'll need to install either MXPlay or MXPlay Web to watch either of those mashups.) If MXPlay wants us Web 2.0-loving video fiends to mash up songs and movies with MXPlay Web, it definitely needs to add some video-search functionality.