As you probably know from my previous postings on this web blog, my chosen tools for video conversion are DVRMSToolbox (Dtb) and Windows Media Encoder 9. Both are freeware readily available on the Internet. Dtb is designed to automatically convert recorded TV shows from DVR-MS format (special MPEG format by Microsoft) to WMV format for my Zune. For the DVR-MS to WMV conversion, I currently have Dtb use a utility called DVRMStoWMVHD that is supplied by the developer of Dtb. It works quite nicely, and also has the option of cropping out the two pixel lines of my source video (which can be noisy at times). The generated WMV file is completely compatible with my Zune 80, so there is no transcoding (re-converting) during the syncing process. Since DVRMStoWMVHD uses the same profile settings as WME9, I can only assume that this utility also uses components of WME9 for the conversion process.
Some people have commented that they were having trouble getting WME9 working on their computers, so I looked around for other possible converter programs. The web site, www.dcunningham.net has two such converter which you might take a look at. The original converter on this web site is called Encode360, which appears to be a front-end GUI for WME9 for video conversion. It has a very easy to use interface, and has a simple pull-down setting for generating WMV files for the Zune. The only real issue with this converter, is that the developer is no longer updating or maintaining it. Mainly, because he states that Microsoft is no longer developing WME9. In any case, Encode360 is definitely worth checking out if you want an easy-to-use interface that uses WME9 to create WMV formatted files for your Zune.
As a test, I installed Encode360 on my spare laptop to see if I could convert a short DVR-MS file to WMV format. Unfortunately, Encode360 failed due to missing codecs, which is strange since Encode360 automatically installs the K-Lite Codec Pack (which I really didn’t like, since it might install some incompatible codecs that will mess up my other video converters).
The second converter program available on this web site, is called EncodeHD, the successor to Encode360. Boasting an equally easy-to-use interface, the main difference with Encode360 is the converter tools being used under the hood. EncodeHD uses the public domain program called FFMPEG to do the heavy-duty converting, which is what a lot of freeware and shareware applications use. I also use FFMPEG when converting different video formats (e.g., from FLV format to AVI format, etc), so it is definitely a good converter program. The only bad thing about FFMPEG, is that it cannot create WMV3 (or WMV9) formatted files which is what the newer Zunes require to avoid transcoding. The best it can do is create WMV2 (or WMV8) files which will require transcoding during syncing to the Zune.
That doesn’t mean EncodeHD is a useless program for the Zune, as it CAN create compatible MP4 H.264 formatted video files. These MP4 file are compatible with the newer Zunes, and thus do not require transcoding. The only caveat, is that you can’t add in the meta data tags (i.e., video description, video type, etc.) as you can with WMV files. If you’re willing to accept that, then EncodeHD might be a good tool for your video conversions.
The only other caveat with with EncodeHD is that you are very limited in what you define for the output video settings. You can select “Zune” from the drop down menu, but you can’t specify the exact video bit rate, frames per seconds, etc. that you want for the output. For example, converting my sample DVR-MS file using the “Zune” setting created a MP4 H.264 file (8.8 MB) with a resolution of 720×480, 29.97 frames per second, video bit rate of 2160 kbps, and audio bit rate of 48,000 Hz. In comparison, using WME9 I can create a WMV formatted file (3.28 MB) with a resolution of 320×240, 30 frames per second, video bit rate of 700 kbps, audio bit rate of 128,000 Hz.
So, it’s definitely worth checking out both of these freeware converters. Since EncodeHD is still in beta testing mode, the developer may add some more features that are not currently available in his beta version.