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Old 10-03-2007, 08:52 PM
Jason Dunn
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Default Zune MVP Conference Call Notes: Video & Photo

I just got out of a Zune MVP conference call with some of the Zune team members, and have discovered a few interesting things about the new Zune devices and software that are worth sharing. Here's part two...

The Zune v2 is a much better video player: it now supports h.264 and MPEG4 natively on the device, in addition to WMV. That's right, no more transcoding! I'm thrilled to see this direct support for more video codecs - WMV has been all but abandoned by Microsoft. All the momentum is behind h.264, so it's great that the Zune team realized it and stepped up with on-device support for these two popular video formats.

Media Center owners rejoice: the Zune desktop software will convert DVR-MS files (Media Center TV recordings) to a Zune-friendly WMV file. The Zune is finally a first-class partner for your Media Center PC, no longer playing second fiddle to all those PlaysForSure devices out there. Unfortunately, there's still no support for Divx or Xvid on the device, or conversions via the desktop software. The Zune team members cited complexities in codecs and support headaches trying to support the mish-mash of Divx and Xvid codecs out there. To a certain degree that makes sense, but if Creative Labs and other vendors can support Divx on their devices, why can't the Zune? Divx in particular has a lot of great software tools that allow people to get their content into Divx format, so even if the desktop software supported basic transcoding, it would be a big help.

I also think about people with digital still cameras: the video files they take are typically in MJPEG format, and there's no support for that at all. Some newer cameras, from Casio for instance, encode video directly to Divx - all of that content can't play back on the Zune unless the user figures out their own solution.

The screen resolution on the 80 GB Zune with it's 3.2 inch screen is 320 x 240 - I was desperately hoping for 640 x 480, but it seems not. The 4 GB and 8 GB Zunes are also 320 x 240, so you'll see incredibly crisp screens on the small Flash units, and a less-crisp experience on the 80 GB Zune. When you consider that the 80 GB Zune will likely be used for videos and photos much more than the smaller Zunes, the decision to put in a bigger screen but the same resolution is curious.

Some bad news for you v1 30 GB Zune owners: due to limitations in "the platform" (the hardware), 30 GB Zunes will not have the ability to play back h.264 content, lossless WMA content, or MPEG4 content. The firmware upgrade will give 30 GB Zunes all of the other abilities of the new Zunes, but not the file support for those formats. UPDATE: Ok, I heard from Cesar Menendez, and the 30 GB Zunes will have lossless WMA support added! Good news.

I was told that while 320 x 240 is the native playback resolution for video on the Zune, external video playback is 640 x 480. More importantly, videos in 640 x 480 format will not be transcoded by the desktop software - they are left at 640 x 480. I presume that this means the resolution of all transcoded video files will be 640 x 480, and that the Zune will just scale it down to 320 x 240 on the device. This seems almost too good to be true, so I'm slightly dubious about this until I see it for myself.

I've griped before about the shoddy scaling of photos on the Zune, and the team was unable to answer my question about whether or not photo scaling from 640 x 480 down to 320 x 240 on-device has been improved. I also don't know the number of colours on the screen: will it be 68K like the the V1 Zunes, or 16.7 million colours like some of the newer players like the Creative Zen? I dearly hope it's 16.7 million colours - I'm tired of watching poor-quality video with colour banding on my Zune.
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