Zune Thoughts

Zune Thoughts.com

Thanks for visiting Zune Thoughts - be sure to register in our forums!


Laptop Thoughts

Loading feed...

Windows Phone Thoughts

Loading feed...

Digital Home Thoughts

Loading feed...




Go Back   Thoughts Media Forums > ZUNE THOUGHTS > Zune Talk

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 08-07-2007, 03:00 PM
Jason Dunn
Executive Editor
Jason Dunn's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 29,160
Default The Zune as a Video Player: Room for Improvement



Looking at the size of the Zune screen, it's pretty obvious that it was designed for more than just music - if music was Microsoft's only goal they should have put out a small, Flash-based player with a smaller screen. Instead, they put out something with a bright, 3" screen running at 240 x 320 resolution. The whole thing looks like the now-defunct Portable Media Center players, and they used an updated version of the OS. The Zune should be great at doing video - but it's not.

When I went on a week-long vacation at the end of June, I wanted to use my Zune to watch some video content. I had a bunch of TV shows on my Media Center PC, and I had some DVDs that I wanted to rip. Pretty standard scenario for any portable media device. Failing #1 of the Zune is the lack of Media Center support - unlike Windows Media Player 11, the Zune desktop software can't work with DVR-MS files, which is the recording format for Media Center. A registry hack has been discovered that allows the Zune desktop software to work with DVR-MS files, but any time you have to hack the registry to gain missing functionality, I consider it a failed scenario. The Zune is a Microsoft product, so it's inexcusable that eight months after launch it still doesn't work as a mobile companion to anyone that has a Media Center PC.
 

Failing #2 of the Zune is the fact that is only accepts content in WMV format. Sure, the Zune desktop software will transcode MPEG4 content, but transcoding takes extra time and lowers the quality of the content. This is a significant problem because some of the best applications for taking DVD content and converting it to a mobile format don't support WMV (I'm thinking of Slysoft's Clone DVDMobile here, my main tool) or if they do support WMV, they don't do it very well. I've used Intervideo's DVD Copy 5 Platinum, and while it will rip a DVD to a Zune-compliant WMV file, it can't handle wide-screen content, only 4:3 content. Sure, there are other tools out there, but if the Zune supported DivX/Xvid or h.264 directly on the device, it would be much easier to get the content you want onto the device. I've tried other video content on the Zune, and I miss having aspect ratio options on it like my Creative Zen Vision:M has, such as zoom so you can get rid of the black bars at the top and bottom of 16:9 video content.

Failing #3 of the Zune in video scenarios is tightly linked to failing #2: the fact that it relies on the Zune Desktop software to transcode video files is a serious problem. The Zune desktop software is using the musty and dusty Windows Media Encoder behind the scenes, and this is code that hasn't been significantly updated since 2003. I ripped a DVD of a TV show using DVD Copy 5, using the Zune template at 500 kbps video quality. For some reason, the Zune software said it had to transcode the 2.5 hour video file - this is bizarre because when I ripped 45 minutes of the same show using the same settings the Zune software didn't need to transcode it. I can only guess that the size of the 2.5 hour file was what triggered the transcoding. I let the transcode happen but a few days later when I was watching the video, it would lock up the Zune whenever it got to the 1 hour 45 minute mark. The Zune simply would not play the video past that point: I tried skipping past it, rebooting the Zune, etc. No dice. I checked the original, pre-transcoded file when I got home and Windows Media Player 11 didn't lock up when I played the same part. Playing a hunch, I transfered the transcoded version off the Zune and Windows Media Player 11 locked up at the same 1 hour 45 minute mark. The transcoding process had screwed up the file somehow - one more reason not to trust the Zune desktop software. I've been saying for years that Microsoft needs to release a consumer-friendly WMV transcoding tool, something similar to DivX Author. If the Zune team wants to stick to WMV, we at least need a useful tool to get our content into that format.

The Zune looks like it should be great for video, and in truth that's one of the few ways one can justify carrying something that's nearly twice as thick as an iPod, but it's not. Whether it's the lack of video codec support on the device itself, or the weak and dysfunctional ecosystem for WMV, the Zune doesn't live up to the potential that the hardware design would seem to indicate it has. The iPhone sets a new standard for mobile video with it's 160 ppi, 320 x 480 wide screen display, and the direct on-device support for h.264 content means it can tap into a great deal of video content. In contrast, the Zune's WMV-only support means there's not a lot out there for the Zune. The Zune needs to do better.

Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog. He sees great potential in the Zune.
__________________
Want to contact me personally? Use this. Want to read my personal blog? Check it out. Want to follow me on Twitter? Here you go.
 
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 08-07-2007, 05:39 PM
USArcher
Ponderer
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 94

Greate write up!

A couple of other Zune/Video deficiancies...
- 320x240 pixel file format limitation. It degrades the experience and limits the utility of plugging Zune into your TV. I think the Zune should be able to store & playback standard definition videos. Zune's Freescale MX31L processor is able to handle video up to VGA at 30fps.
- Lack of video scaling on either the Zune display or its video output. Not only to handle descaling higher resolution video to Zune's display but also to take advantage of wide aspect ratio TVs. Zune's Freescale MX31L processor has resizing capabilities.
- XBox Movie/TV sync. Just as we should be able to sync Media Center recorded content. Zune should support the ability to sync downloaded (standard definition) content from XBox Movie/TV MarketPlace.

Wish list...
- Zune to act like a Media Extender when plugged into the AV docking station. Being able to stream content, etc. from your Media Center PC. I envision this to be a entry-level extender solution limited to standard definition output.

Last edited by USArcher; 08-07-2007 at 05:47 PM..
 
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 08-07-2007, 08:04 PM
Damion Chaplin
Contributing Editor Emeritus
Damion Chaplin's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 1,097

Quote:
Originally Posted by USArcher View Post
A couple of other Zune/Video deficiancies...
- 320x240 pixel file format limitation. It degrades the experience and limits the utility of plugging Zune into your TV. I think the Zune should be able to store & playback standard definition videos. Zune's Freescale MX31L processor is able to handle video up to VGA at 30fps.
- Lack of video scaling on either the Zune display or its video output. Not only to handle descaling higher resolution video to Zune's display but also to take advantage of wide aspect ratio TVs. Zune's Freescale MX31L processor has resizing capabilities.
Yeah, great write-up, Jason.

USArcher, I totally agree. My old Archos would take a 720x480 DivX file and downscale it to the 320x240 screen, but would play it at the full 720x480 resolution when I connected it to a TV. We watched the first hour of a movie on the airplane to Hawaii, then when we got to the hotel, I transferred that same file from my laptop (no conversion necessary) to the Archos, connected it the the hotel TV and finished watching the movie. That was probably the coolest this I ever did with a PMP...

Too bad my Zune can't do it...
 
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 08-07-2007, 08:31 PM
ZappCatt
Neophyte
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 9

Yes, the Zune software is lacking, but there is a little bit of a solution to the DVRMS-WMV problem.
RIght now, the Microsoft Expressions Media Encoder is available in a "Beta" version. It has a 180 day license period, and can turn many file formats(ripped DVD's, DVRM, etc) to Zune format. They even have a Zune Profile pre-defined.

The default is of course 320x240, but it is easy to change it to 320x180 if you want to watch widescreen.

Hopefully MSFT will incorporate this back-end..and hopefully some of the controls in a version of the Zune software once this is finished.
 
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 08-08-2007, 01:03 AM
Macguy59
Mystic
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 1,608

I need to give Jason some credit. We've locked horns before over fanboyism (both platforms) but he won't sweep deficiences under the rug. And he's not afraid to challenge the status quo.
 
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 08-13-2007, 04:18 PM
DaveLG526
Pupil
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 14
Angry It's Toast

There are many deficiencies in the Zune. Video and WiFi are just two.

I think it is time to face the music and realize Microsoft put out a Beta product. I imagine Zune 2 will fix many fo the issues but given Microsoft's lack of communication on where the Zune is going the second coming of the Zune may not solve all the issues.



 
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 08-16-2007, 06:45 AM
tbird
Ponderer
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 67

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveLG526 View Post
I think it is time to face the music and realize Microsoft put out a Beta product. I imagine Zune 2 will fix many fo the issues but given Microsoft's lack of communication on where the Zune is going the second coming of the Zune may not solve all the issues.
Do have to disagree.
While I am extremely disappointed over the lack of Video on MarketPlace, I have managed thru 3rd party software to get Video to my Zune and am happy with it. I wanted a bigger screen to watch movies on while traveling and did not want to have to drag around with me dvd's.
The WiFi feature was not a selling point for me in the first place, but have used it a couple of times and thought it worked well.
So while I can see where you are coming from I dont think the Zune is toast or a beta product by any stretch of the imagination.
Sure it could be better. Hey I am not happy with the car I bought 2 years ago!
But any new Zune to come down the pike would really have to have some real "WOW" to make me give up the one I have now.

***long quote with big text trimmed by mod JD***
 
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 08-13-2007, 08:27 PM
Jason Dunn
Executive Editor
Jason Dunn's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 29,160

Quote:
Originally Posted by byteme View Post
I need to give Jason some credit. We've locked horns before over fanboyism (both platforms) but he won't sweep deficiences under the rug. And he's not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Thanks for noticing. I think that in order to be a true fan of a platform or product, you have to be honest about what it's good at, and what it's not good at. The blind "nothing but positive" outlook might indeed be called "fanboyism" but I hope I'm never perceived in that way (or perhaps ONLY in that way).
 
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 09-19-2007, 06:41 AM
SkateZilla
Neophyte
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 4

I Have No Problem Recording Directly to WMV8 Using ATI TV Using "Windows Media Video 8 For Broadband (NTSC 700K)" 698kbps, 320x240 Stereo, Template
 
Reply With Quote
Reply


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT +1. The time now is 05:38 PM.