Microsoft outlines new features for Windows Phone Mango's Music and Video Hubs

When Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone Mango last month, the company spent a lot of time walking us through some of the 500-plus changes to the OS -- most notably, conversation threads, people groups, enhanced search functionality, Twitter and LinkedIn integration, IE9, and the instantly responsive Bing Vision. It's no wonder, then, that Redmond didn't have much time to talk multimedia. Well, the company just spilled the beans in a blog post, laying out a raft of new features that run the gamut from podcasts to improved playback controls. We've got a lot to recap, so join us past the break, won't you?

First off, podcasts. Now it's true, Windows Phone users can already listen to them, but this involves downloading episodes on a PC and then syncing them to their device. Now, says Microsoft, there will be a podcast option in the Music Hub, from which you can listen to programs on the spot. When it comes to listening, you can, indeed, stream them on the fly, but you can also subscribe to a series -- and control how many episodes you have stored on your device at any given time. Alas, though, only US customers will get this feature at launch. Microsoft also imported Smart DJ from Zune HD, which, like Genius, crafts a playlist around a given artist, song, or album. You can expect to see it integrated throughout the Music Hub, and if ever you stumble on a particularly awesome playlist, you can pin that list of songs to the Start screen.

On the usability front, Microsoft added auto suggestions to Marketplace searches, which will be organized by content type (apps or games, music, and podcasts). The company also made a bunch of changes to both the Music and Video Hubs, making the playback controls more obvious; displaying your recent history in a vertical -- not horizontal -- pane and expanding the list to 25 items (up from eight); adding new lock-screen and wallpaper options; and slightly enlarging the mini-playback controls. Then there's a slew of tweaks to the music player itself, some of which include bigger playback controls, better artist images, a preview of what song is up next, a "Repeat Once" option, full-screen toggling for video, and the ability to build playlists manually on the device itself.

None of these updates are coming until Mango's fall release, of course. In the meantime, take a stroll through the gallery of screenshots, and let's hope Microsoft updates its blog post with a demo video.