The J. River Media Jukebox is a stripped-down but free version of the popular J. River Media Center. Popular in its own right, Media Jukebox uses the same interface as its big brother to deliver a feature set that's anything but little, but strictly limited to music support. Those in search of video and image compatibility will need to download the Media Center.

The program mimics the iTunes interface in a way that could benefit from more inspiration, but it doesn't stop the extras from shining through. You'll be able to burn and rip CDs, sync with just about any portable including iPods, tag tracks, and convert files to several popular formats. It has browser support, letting you buy music from Amazon and plug-ins for several services including so you can find new music based on your taste. You also have your choice of skins you can download to give your player a new look. Playlists are also supported.

Former problems with encoding have been largely taken care of. Strangely, instead of providing access to CDDB, Media Jukebox uses a proprietary database that works fine with commercial CDs, but not quite as well with backup or free-floating copies. Database crashes are largely a thing of the past, and we didn't encounter any with the latest release. Many limitations get freed in the Media Center, including plug-in support, and TV recording. The forced start after installing was annoying, though not problematic.