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okay, i forgot in my last post to correct something that i've been misinformed about: colors.  i was under the impression that each color had a personality.  well now that i participated in a social yesterday, i know that not to be true.  the black zune in the social was preloaded with the same videos, music, pictures as our brown ones.  i stand corrected and apologies for any misleading.

okay, on to my video encoding.  i've been trying to find a good solution to getting dvd content onto the zune.  i was recommended to try three solutions: handbrake (now ported to windows), xilisoft, and cucusoft.  below are my personal findings on a laptop hardware (duo core, 2GB RAM).

: this is a free dvd ripping tool originally made for the mac, but now someone ported to windows.  it's GPL and free, but that doesn't mean better :-).  my friend who told me about it used it on his intel mac and said it was < 1hr and worked fine (and transfered to zune).  i tried it on my mac (non-intel) and it estimated 11 hours.  needless to say i didn't wait.  i used the windows version, and it was fast and worked.  the resulting file played in windows media player and media center, but when adding it to zune, the zune rejected it (with an odd message).  so handbrake is apparently using a encoding codec that isn't supported.

: this is a commercial dvd ripping software.  they have a program called dvd ripper platinum but also are marketing a dvd to zune program (which i think is just a skin, but good marketing tactic).  this program has the most options and the best user interface of the ones i tried.  it allowed tweaking of video/audio output and ripped direct to wmv (maybe not direct, but end result in wmv format).  my experience though was that it was slow and that the resulting video was 'choppy' (best way i can describe it) like every few seconds the video stuttered.  so for me, it wasn't usable.  another friend is having better results so we're still comparing.

: another commercial software package.  they also are using good marketing to brand their like products as zune converters.  the options and UI suck for cucusoft but it has produced the best results for me.  you have to mess with the aspect "ration" (yeah, not spelled correctly) a few times to get it right.  but it ripped in < 40 minutes for an average dvd and the audio was okay for my expectations.  what bothered me though is the advertised "dvd to zune" ripping.  when i added it to zune, it still went through a "converting" process which i don't understand -- it was MP4, but zune didn't like that direct format i guess.  and that process took a while...

needless to say i'm messing with xilisoft and cucusoft to get the best results and determine which is best for me.  i want to be able to say "rip dvd" and then sync with zune -- why is that so hard?

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okay, so i've been beating up on the zune a bit, but i still like it.  i have to say there are definitely areas where it doesn't win over ipod (i.e., size for recreational usage, etc.), but there are definitely bigger ways (and potential) that it does.

today i finally had a chance to play with the community features, when a colleage came over and asked if i wanted to 'join the social' (we had fun with that one when people asked what we were doing.  we were close to each other and while we didn't test the range, i think the 30ft estimate is a good one (may even be a bit broad).  we wanted to test a few scenarios and came up with some results.

first i sent an unprotected mp3 file that i had to his device -- only 1 song.  it took longer than expected.  when it showed up in his device it wasn't in the regular music area -- but rather the 'inbox' of the community.  and my mp3 file had suddenly been attributed with drm rights -- 3 plays within 3 days.  so that was the first test -- unprotected music.  it would appear that any content sent is always given that 3/3 drm rights applied to it -- even if it is unprotected.  you can't share video right now so we didn't even try.

next test -- he had some wma format unprotected -- sent to me -- same thing 3/3 drm applied.  he then is currently using the zunepass service (trial for now, but is $14.99 US/month for unlimited music downloads).  so he sent me an album.  nada.  zip.  nothing received.  and the message: something about rights.  wait a minute, we thought...this is zune music acquired through the zune marketplace.  we started researching and it looks like there is no clear communication about this.  the zune site indicates you can share music you purchase, and zunepass music is yours as long as you have the service.  it is vague about the "yours" part not being able to transfer.  we tried 3 albums from zunepass and none were able to transfer.  not good, i thought.  there also seems to be some speculation that the rights owners are able to determine what rights are applied to zunepass music.  that really doesn't make sense though.  if any media sent between devices always has the 3/3 drm rights, then were's the risk?  it doesn't look good that someone wanting the service cannot share in that social -- so zunepass members may not be welcome to the social.

the other thing we talked about was the lack of direct podcast/audiobook support.  sure you can rip to a format and put them on your device, but one thing i like(d) about the ipod was that when i turn it on i see: music, podcast, audiobooks.  on zune i see: music, videos, pictures.  my podcasts and audiobooks are buries under "music" (which they aren't) and then i have to be creative and do some tagging/playlisting so that they are easily discoverable.  the wmp-zune software should do this for me, in my opinion.  i suspect that is feedback being heard as well and hope there is an update.

the other thing we looked at was playlists.  i didn't notice it, but really the only playlisting going on is music.  you can create a playlist in wmp-zune for videos, but it isn't reflected on the zune.  your choices under videos on the zune are: all video, movies, music videos.  that's it.  nothing else.  that needs to be fixed to bring more continuity to the media experience.  i did manage to download videos of my friend hamid from axosoft talking with scoble -- they transfered beautifully and it was a good viewing experience.  i've never had a video portable player before, so this is my first and positive experience with that scenario.  one thing i did wish is an 'easel' accessorie so that when it is sitting on my desk i can manipulate the device for best viewing.  another colleage heard me and sure enough it is in the works: .  cool.

we then waxed philosophically about what we liked and didn't.  to me it still could've/should've been a better v1 entry.  but it was pointed out that the beauty of this is that the hardware is there -- it has the wireless, it has the hard-drive, it has the fm tuner.  so it isn't unrealistic to think that new features are simply to update without buying a new device.  in fact, they should be!  the biggest proof will be if microsoft actually does that.  my fear is that the device becomes like a cell phone -- want new features? upgrade device.  if the zune has all it needs to do great new features, we should be expecting firmware upgrades to support them.  that's one thing i don't like about apple.  my wife's nano should be able to support video from a hardware standpoint, but i'm sure if she wanted it she'd have to upgrade to nano v.next that would have it.  zune could win big here if we saw updates frequently of really cool new features.  one feature that we talked about was a community stream...so you could say hey, listen to this and just broadcast so we listen at the same time.  and video too -- imagine on a plane with 2 zunes...i click play and we are both watching a movie.  nice.  what'ya say microsoft?

i'm still struggling with dvd ripping.  i was turned on to handbrake.  i tried it and it ripped a movie to mp4 format.  i can play it in media center, i can play it in windows media player...try to add it to wmp-zune: nada...error.  try to add directly to zune device - nope: error about file not existing.  this sucks -- it is mp4 format (something zune says it supports) and plays on other areas, but not in zune.  argh.  i'm re-ripping using a different codec hoping that will be the problem.

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join the community for the phoenix barcamp -- lots of good stuff boiling up there (and i'm pretty sure i'll be bringing some stuff to give away where i can!)...more details here


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from my previous post i made a comment about automatic sync (on by default) and not seeing an option for manual sync.

rtfm for me.  it's there.  with the zune connected in the navigation area on the left, right-click the device and choose set up sync, and uncheck the automatic.

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it locked up.  well, i'm not sure lock up is an accurate term as i still saw something going on, but maybe i was jaded by an animated gif :-0.

here's what happened...i'm trying to test out the video feature a bit more, specifically movies, etc.  my goal was to put a new release movie on the zune.  my wife and i just watched the da vinci code (no i didn't read the book, but i really enjoyed the movie -- good suspense, good subtle action).  so i seeked out some dvd rip software to get a dvd to wmv or something like that.  i tried xilisoft software that seemed to have the most options.  i put the dvd in and set it to WMV format full mode (keep aspect ratio).  now, i'm not sure if it is my laptop speed, etc., but it took forever!  like 5+ hours.  i did get a WMV file, but it played super 'choppy' like stuttering every few seconds -- not a clean encoding.  so if anyone has recommendations, let me know please.

so i started wmp-zune and plugged in my zune.  i dragged the wmv file (800MB) to the zune and clicked start sync.  it started, it completed...but then held in a "synchronizing..." pattern...on the device and in the software.  then i got a popup window in the software saying that the connection is "slow" and that i should re-connect and/or reset the device (note: to reset a zune you will press *and hold* the up and back buttons for about 10 seconds).  okay, done.  connect the device again, and it just hangs -- i can't view what files are on the zune now.  frustrating.

i *do* think, though it has something to do with resources having already been consumed on my machine because of the overnight encoding that the laptop was doing.  so i rebooted my machine.  okay, back from reboot, plugged it in and was able to do what i needed. 

one thing i did notice though was that the sync is a true sync.  in itunes, i can change the option to let me control the sync...and i like that option.  in wmp-zune, i don't see that option.  so if i deleted files from certain folders, on the next sync (which is automatic upon plugin) those would be removed from my device.  this is *not* something i like.  why?  well, let's take movies.  i may be converting a movie for specific purposes and don't want the extra space on my computer to be consumed...once i've moved it to my portable device, i want to delete it from my computer -- but keep it on my device.  hmm...i'll have to research.