Zune 30’s will come back to life tomorrow!

zune30The ZuneInsider site states that Zune 30’s all stopped working today because of a leap year issue (2008 has 366 days), and that the Zune software will correct itself on January 1st, 2009. So, just let your Zune 30’s battery drain and then sync/charge it after noon GMT. This is only a problem with the Zune 30’s, since it is affecting a specific component only present in that device. The 2nd generation Zunes (Zune 4/8/16/80/120) are not affected.

Now, noon GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) should be the following for those in the US:

EST: 7 am
CST: 6 am
MST: 5 am
PST: 4 am
AKST: 3 am
HST: 2 am

Man, that was a close call for Microsoft. I guess the next time this could happen is in 2012, so mark your calendars! 😦


UPDATE: It looks like the Zune 30s are starting to wake up today, on January 1st. Lots of owners reporting on the various Zune forums that their devices are syncing and coming back to life again.

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December 31st, 2008: All Zune 30 devices have stopped working!

The big news for Zune 30 owners, is that as of today their Zunes have stopped working. Yes, that’s right. It seems that ALL Zune 30’s (with both the original and updated firmware) have a frozen screen on boot up. Here is Microsoft’s response found on the zune.net home page:

Customers with 30gb Zune devices may experience issues when booting their Zune hardware.  We’re aware of the problem and are working to correct it.  Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for your patience!

What a giant programming blunder! A nice New Years’ Eve present from Microsoft.

I’m sure Microsoft is scrambling now, and lots of Zune programmers are frantically fixing the problem and putting together a firmware update. Hopefully, these “bricked” Zunes CAN have their firmware updated in their current state. However, what if the solution cannot be administered to the Zune by consumers? What if the update needs to be done with special hardware or special tools that the consumer doesn’t have? Will Microsoft have a gigantic recall of Zunes 30s?

Of course, the online and printed news will soon have this information plastered across the world by tomorrow. That kind of press certainly won’t help with Zune sales.

I’m crossing my fingers that when I sync my Zune 80 (and my wife’s new Zune 8), I don’t see the dreaded frozen screen…

Tagging MP4 Video Files

video_taggingOne of the shortcomings for using the MP4 format, is that you can’t easily add in “metadata” tags into the video file. Such meta information include episode name, video category, episode description, genre, etc. You can easily add such information to WMV formatted files using the freeware application called dSHARPIE, but not to MP4 files.

So, why is adding in meta data tags such a big deal? Because such information can be displayed on your Zune when you scroll through the available synced files.

Recently, I discovered that you can add such meta data to MP4 files. I found this valuable information on this web blog site. The author explains how you can use a freeware application called Atomic Parsley to add such meta data to MP4 files. Atomic Parsley is a DOS command line application, so there’s no easy-to-use graphic interface (however, writing a simple GUI front end shouldn’t be too hard :)).

Since there are so many video converters available that can generate MP4 files, it’s nice to know that a utility such as Atomic Parsley can be used to add in meta data tags just like with the WMV formatted files.


UPDATE: Out of curiosity, I played around with the Atomic Parsley application to see if I could add in the various meta data tags that are visible in the Zune Software and Zune device. As it turned out, none of the standard “atoms” in Atomic Parsley were recognized and used by the Zune software. Information such as episode title, description, video type, etc. could not be set by Atomic Parsley for the Zune.

So, I tried a different approach. I edited the video tags for a given Mp4 file from within the Zune Software. I filled in the various attributes to my liking, and then saved the data (I had to wait a few minutes with my test file just to make sure the Zune software saved my new settings). I then use the command “atomicparsley test_file.mp4 -t” to have the Atomic Parsley application write out all the tags it could find and identify with my test file. AP only found two of the tags I entered in the Zune Software, one for the Series Title and the other for the Genre. That’s it. Since the MP4 file format has the ability to store custom atoms (or tags), I can deduce from my test that the Zune software uses custom tags to store the various bits of information viewable in the Zune software and device. I believe that AP can set those tags, but I need to know their specific identifying labels to do so.

Unfortunately, my online search didn’t reveal what those identifiers are, nor could I find a program that would list all MP4 tags in a given file. I’m not sure why Microsoft doesn’t simply give us this information in a document, as it could only help strengthen the support of the Zune devices. If anyone has more information on this topic, please let me know.

Video Conversion Primer for Zune Newbies

newbieFor obvious reasons, the Zune forums are full of questions from new Zune owners regarding every aspect of using a Zune. One topic that I see quite frequently, is people asking how to sync their video files or DVD movies to their Zune. Some are former iPod users with MP4 files, others have AVI or MPEG files, and some have just a stack of DVDs or other obsure video formatted files. Below are some tips for those wanting to convert these video files for their Zune. Note, that I cover these topics more extensively in the individual pages on this web blog site.

First, there are two different generations of Zune devices. The first generation Zune is called the Zune 30, and it has been around the longest. This first generation device will only accept video files created in the WMV format (which stands for “Windows Media Video”). So, the Zune 30 will only accept WMV files, and nothing else.

The second generation Zunes are the more modern models such as the Zune 4/8/16/80/120. The second generation devices will accept WMV and MP4 H.264 formatted video files only.

Also, these video files must fall within certain specifications otherwise the Zune Software on you PC will “transcode” (or reconvert) these files to the proper format during syncing. This transcoding process can take hours depending on how many videos you have, so it could take a long time to sync them to your Zune. To avoid this, you should make sure your video files are created with the proper attributes for the Zune to avoid transcoding. This link on Microsoft’s Zune web page explains all the details for the video file specifications. To make things simpler, below are the specs that I use for my WMV video files for my Zune 80:

  • Screen resolution: 320 x 240
  • Video Codec: WMV 9, Constant Bit Rate (CBR)
  • Audio Codec: WMA 9.2, Constant Bit Rate (CBR)
  • Video Format: NTSC 29.97/30 frames per second (fps)
  • Video Bit Rate: 700 kbps
  • Audio Bit Rate: 128 kbps, 44 kHz, Stereo CBR

Using the above settings will create a WMV file that falls within the Zune specs and the Zune Software should sync the file in less than 20 seconds to your Zune. Continue reading

Zune Accessories After Christmas Sale

I was at my local Target store this morning picking up a pair of jeans and some badly needed socks, and I noticed the end aisle shelf containing the no-brainer men’s gifts (items such as nail clippers, wallets, key chains, flashlights, etc). Usually, these items are fairly inexpensive (and of low quality) and only appear during the Christmas shopping season. What caught my eye, were a few items that fell under the category of generic MP3 player accessories. There was a small “dock” that was basically a speaker with a small amplifier and a slot to hold a generic Mp3 player device. There was also a white colored pair of ear buds, and a small  FM Transmitter for sending MP3 audio signals to a FM radio. All of these items were priced at $10 US, which were now selling for $5.00 (50% discount).  I’ve always thought about playing my Zune music through the speakers in my car, so I decided to pry open my wallet and spend the five bucks for the FM Transmitter. Below is the packaging for this item:

fm_transmitter

This small, white transmitter runs on two AAA batteries or uses power from a cigarette lighter power cord (included). The unit also has 4 defined FM Channels to choose from for the signal transmission. So to use this device, you simply insert the mini plug into the head phone jack on your Zune, turn on the device, and select one of the preset FM channels. Continue reading

Microsoft finally has an Online Store

ms_storeAfter all this time, Microsoft finally brings online their own Internet store. Seems strange that it took so long for Microsoft to catch up with the vast majority of online vendors to sell their wares. You probably won’t find huge discounts, but at least they now have an Internet presence with their products. 🙂 Along with selling software, they also have Zunes for sale with associated Microsoft accessories. Personally, I would search Amazon.com for Zune accessories (both Microsoft and 3rd-party manufacturer) for the best deals.