I came across an application called the Prism Video Converter made by NCH Software. Apparently, they have a freeware version that is suppose to be sufficient for converting different video formats to WMV format for the Zune. I decided to download and test the freeware software, and here are my comments:
The software seemed easy to use, and was very promising considering it could convert formats such as AVI, WMV, ASF, MPG, MP4, divX, and VOB. The freeware version is limited to convert to either AVI, ASF, or WMV format, which fine since the Zune accepts the WMV format. The commercial version can convert to many other formats.
The Prism software has an encoder settings option which allows the user to set the video and audio codec values. Fortunately, everything you need to create a WMV file for the Zune (with no transcoding) is available. The only shortcoming, is the fact that you can’t define an exact video bit rate value (as you can with Windows Media Encoder 9). For example, I like to use 700 kbps for the video bit rate, but with the Prism software you can only select from the following settings: 32, 64, 128, 512, 1024, 2048, and 4096 kbps. Not a big deal, as using 1024 kbps is probably ok. You also can’t specify if the video bit rate is Variable or Constant (VBR or CBR), which again isn’t a big deal but using VBR seems to produce better quality videos.
As a test, I attempted to convert an AVI file, MP4 file, and video on a DVD to WMV format for the Zune. Much like the Windows Media Batch Encoder, you can easily queue up several video files for conversion. Both the AVI and MP4 files seemed to convert over well, but the resultant WMV videos looked blurry to what I could create using WME9.
For the DVD conversion, the Prism software will list all the individual VOB files that it finds on the DVD disk. It will also group together multiple VOBs that it determines is part of a single video clip. This is handy, as it resolves the problem of having a large movie broken up on multiple VOB files and having to merge them together. There’s also a preview option to view each selected VOB file (using the right click context menu) which is nice to see what you’re converting beforehand. Again, the resultant WMV file looked somewhat burry to what I’ve created in the past using WME9.
I’ll have to give the Prism Video Converter software one thumb up for ease of use and the ability to convert MP4, AVI, and DVDs to WMV format for the Zune, however, all three of my attempts at creating a WMV file resulted in blurry output. I will definitely still use the Windows Media Batch Encoder as my main application for video conversions (since it does have more features such as 2-pass conversion, etc.). Note, that I tested the Prism software on both my WinXP laptop and Vista Desktop PC, but both create the same blurry output.
I still think you should give Prism a shot and see if it works better for you. I might be missing a video codec or have something conflicting which is causing this problem, but it wasn’t worth my time to investigate since I already have a good, viable solution to my video conversion needs.
One thing to note, is that the Prism Video Converter does not have any decryption capability for protected DVDs, so it probably won’t work for converting your normal store-bought DVD movies. There are ways around this, (by running a special DVD decryption software running in the background or using the DVD Decrypter/DVD Shrink ripper applications), so it’s still a useful program for processing DVD video data.