The End of the Zune… RIP

Looks like Microsoft is ending the life of the Zune HD, and will no longer be developing any future Zune media players. Personally, I switched from an Zune to an Apple iPod Touch last year, primarily because the Zune HD wasn’t compatible with my new Apple iMac desktop system. I really liked the small, compact Zune HD for videos and music, but it seems that it never really caught on due to a lot of factors.

First, people love apps and that was one thing the Apple iPod Touch had over the Zune HD big time. Second, the iPod Touch had a bigger screen than the Zune and the battery life was phenomenal. And third, Apple and their distributors really marketed the heck out of the iPod Touch while Microsoft and company did squat for advertising. The result– the Zune didn’t really make a dent in Apple’s dominance in the media player marketplace.

Microsoft stated that they will continue to keep the Zune Marketplace alive for use with the Windows Phone 7 devices, which will now take over for the defunct Zune HD. In fact, I predict that if the WP7 devices catch on, Microsoft will release a WP7 device without the phone component (ala, iPod Touch).

So for you Zune lovers out their, it seems your beloved Zune HD may have its days numbered. Once your built-in battery stops holding a charge, you’ll probably have to jump ship to the dark side or wait for Microsoft to release some sort of replacement!

Syncing your Zune HD with an Apple Mac

This is a really cool find for those with Zune HD devices and an Apple Mac computer. A person at Zuneboards discovered how to apply a simple settings change to allow syncing of your Zune HD with a Mac via the Windows Phone 7 Connector software. This link contains the details, which is basically a simple three-step process.

I just confirmed that this does indeed work for my Zune HD device connected to my Apple iMac desktop computer. I now have the option to sync photos from my iPhoto library, as well as videos from my iTunes library. Pretty cool!

Windows Phone 7 as a Zune replacement?

I mentioned in my previous posting that an option for when your Zune stops working is to get a Windows Phone 7 smartphone and use it as your phone AND Zune device. From what I can tell, the WP7 has excellent integration with the Zune Software and you can easily sync music, podcasts, and videos to the phone. Since these new phones have large hi-res screens, it would be very similar to using a Zune HD device. From what I can tell battery life for a WP7 is about the same as for a Zune HD.

Now, the WP7 smartphones were just recently released so there’s only a few models available on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. Also, they only come with 8GB of storage space (normally) so that isn’t much space for storing your music and videos on your phone. The Samsung Focus WP7 device does have a micro SD card slot where you can increase the storage from 8GB to 32GB, so that would be acceptable in my opinion.

Personally, I would strongly investigate switching to a WP7 device and use it as a replacement for my cell phone and Zune device. So long as I had sufficient storage space and Zune syncing capability, it would be nice to carry around just one single device.

The only bad thing, is that the WP7 devices are only available in the US on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. So if you’re using Sprint, Verizon, or one of the other major cellular carriers you’re out of luck for now. However, Microsoft did say that the WP7 devices will be coming to Sprint and Verizon in early 2011 so it may not be too much longer before that option is available to more people.

Once Sprint releases some WP7 phones, I’ll definitely check them out and see how well they work as a phone and media player. And the good thing, is that Microsoft released an application that allows Apple Macs to sync music and videos with a WP7 device, so that won’t be a problem for me!🙂

What to do if your Zune stops working?

Every once in a while I get a posting response from someone asking what they should do if their Zune device stops working (especially if they are out of warranty). First, I would try a hard-reset and maybe wipe out the current firmware (as explained on one the blog pages here) to rule out any software/OS issue. Next, I would make sure the Zune device is charged sufficiently by charging it with one or more sync cables (to rule out having a bad cable) and also charging with an AC Wall adapter. Once you’re certain your Zune is charged sufficiently and that isn’t the problem, then it just may be that you have a true hardware failure.

So if the screen doesn’t light up or one of the buttons just doesn’t work, I think you’re stuck with a broken Zune. I’m not aware of any Microsoft-certified place where you can send the Zune in for repair. So what are your options?

First, I know that lots of people who have Zunes have invested heavily in building up a Zune music library that they might not want to give up if switching to an Apple iPod. I’m not a big music buff so I don’t know the specifics to what you can transfer over and not to a different device like the iPod. So here are some possible options:

  1. Send your Zune into a repair shop like I don’t recommend going this route (especially with one of the cheaper Zune devices) because the repair cost may be close to the price of a new device.
  2. Buy a used Zune device off eBay. I did a quick search and found several different models going for around $50 to $100 US. If you’re looking for the cheapest route and don’t mind getting a used device, this may be the way to go.
  3. Buy a new Zune HD device. I checked and they have a Zune HD 16GB for $180 US, a 32GB for $250 US and a 64GB for $340 US. So if you want to stick with a Zune device then this might be a good way to go if you are willing to pay for a new one. The only issue I see, is that we don’t know how much longer Microsoft will be selling the Zune HD. I haven’t heard of any new Zune models coming out, but I suspect Microsoft may have something similar to the Apple iPod Touch which would be a Windows Phone 7 device without the phone component.
  4. Switch to a Windows Phone 7 device and use it for both your phone and as a Zune media player. From what I understand, the WP7 devices have excellent integration with the Zune Software so you can use it as your Zune for listening to music and watching videos. I haven’t personally handled a WP7, but from what I’ve read it works well as a Zune-replacement. So if you’re on the AT&T or T-Mobile cellular network and want to switch phones this might be a good option.
  5. Jump ship and go with an Apple iPod. There’s lots of models available, ranging from a small iPod Nano up to the iPod Touch. Personally, I recently upgraded to an Apple iPod Touch 64GB (with the high-res retina display) and I love it. The screen is absolutely beautiful. I made the switch because I now use an Apple iMac desktop computer and it was easier to sync with an iPod than my Zune HD.

Now, if you’re into apps I highly recommend switching to an Apple iPod Touch. If you’re not and just listen to music and watch videos/podcasts, then you might go with a smaller and cheaper iPod Nano device. Again, I’m not sure how easily it will be to transfer your music and video collections from the Zune to the iPod, but that is still an option.

Personally, I would go the cheaper route and get a used Zune off eBay. That way, I can wait to see what new products Microsoft might release on the Zune line. And later if I decide to get a new Zune device or switch to an Apple product, I could always sell the used Zune on eBay and recoup some of my cost.

Favorite TV Shows come and go…

It’s about that time when some of my favorite TV shows pass away (i.e., not get renewed) and new ones are born. The latest passing is Caprica, a spinoff from Battlestar Galactica. I was really getting into the show as the main Cylon character was growing, but I guess we’ll never see what happens unless the SyFy channel releases the remaining shows on DVD.

Another show that seems to be on the network bubble for cancellation is Stargate Universe, which I’ll admit started off with a slow pace but is now speeding up a bit. At the beginning it seemed too much like the previous Stargate Atlantis show (i.e., SG team gets stranged far, far away from earth with undiscovered ancient technology and new bad guys to fight), but it now seems to be headed in a different direction. I especially like the character Dr. Rush, who seems to have a very hidden agenda.

One of my new favorite shows is The Walking Dead on the AMC cable channel. I’m normally not too keen on zombie or un-dead shows, but this one seems really different. Kinda creepy with the thought that anyone can become a zombie if they are infected. I really like the characters, and the fact that the show’s writers haven’t fully explained what happened to cause this worldwide (I’m presuming) epidemic. I hope they slowly reveal the cause over the course of the season and make it suspenseful. Note, that this show reminds me of the British movie titled 28 Days which had a very similar premise.

Another of my favorite shows is The Event on NBC, which is moving along at a slow pace. I think the writers will need to pick up the pace or it might fall victim like the show Flash Forward (which was cancelled earlier this year).



HandBrake – My new favorite video conversion tool

Since moving to an Apple iMac a few months ago, my new favorite video conversion tool is HandBrake. I still use ffmpeg, mencoder, and AtomicParsley as my batch-processing tools, but for queuing up multiple video files for conversion from AVI to MP4 format, I like using HandBrake (with its easy-to-use GUI). The version I have (64-bit for the Mac Snow Leopard OS X) runs very fast and produces excellent output. It also has numerous controls for adjusting the converted output video.

Note, that HandBrake is available for the Microsoft Windows OS, and I in fact used it a few times on my Windows 7 machine in the past. However, when I used my Zune HD I primarily converted my videos to WMV fomat which is something HandBrake didn’t do too well. So if you’re looking for a robust and fast video conversion tool for either the Mac or Windows machine, I recommend using the freeware Handbrake product and converting to MP4 format (for the Zune or iPod device).

Life with an iPod Touch

Last Friday my wife gave me an Apple iPod Touch as a birthday gift to replace my Zune HD. Since I recently switched to an Apple iMac system, it made sense that I also switch to an Apple-based media device since my Zune won’t sync natively with my Mac. I’ve never used an iPod before, so this was a new experience for me. If you’re into “apps”, then the iPod Touch beats the Zune hands down. There’s lots and lots of apps available and they load and run fast. The iPod has other features that seem better that what is currently available for the Zune HD (e.g., assisted GPS for use with Google Maps, better web browser and email app, etc). However, I do favor the Zune HD for use as a media player.

For example, with the Zune HD you can see much more metadata for TV shows than what you see on an iPod Touch. The Zune HD will show the show’s title, description, date aired, etc. while the iPod will only show the show’s title and a small part of the description. Also, the iPod Touch doesn’t have fast-foward/back buttons to allow skipping ahead in a show. All you have is a slider bar control that is really sensitive and difficult to use at times. In addition, when playing music all you see is a static album art image with the iPod while for the Zune you see a very nice animated graphic with moving text. Although most people don’t stare at these graphics while listening to music, it does show that someone at Microsoft had put in a lot of thought to make the Zune more polished.

Another disappointing thing is that the 4-generation iPod Touch does not have an FM radio while the Zune HD does have an HD radio built-in. So it seems to me that an iPod Touch is a a good device if you want to do more things than just play media, but a Zune HD is a far superior media player device.

Finally, I find using the iTunes software somewhat unintuitive, where I don’t understand how to control what is synced to my iPod Touch. I do see small symbols and checkboxes next to my media files, but I don’t know what that they do or mean. So, I’m having to watch some recorded training material to understand how to use iTunes more effectively. So I give the Zune Software an edge over iTunes.

What would be really great, is if the new Windows Phone 7 device could serve as a smartphone and as a Zune HD replacement. If the 7 phone had 32 or 64 GB of storage, then it would for all intensive purposes be a Zune HD that could sync with my iMac system. And to top it off, if the 7 phone had the high-resolution “retina” display that would be the icing on the cake!