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.

Now, some people like to use the MP4 format since it is more universal and that there’s lots of different freeware video converter programs that can create MP4 files. For the required Zune specs for a MP4 formatted file, you can check the previously mentioned Microsoft Zune web page or my summarized page here.

I have a detailed web page that covers video conversion here. I describe how to use freeware tools to create WMV video files, since that is my preferred format. Note, that there’s very few free converters that can create WMV video files (in WMV 9 format), so the main tool for the conversion is Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9 (freeware). I discuss how to convert videos using this program on my conversion page. If you want more choices of video converters, you can google “video converters zune mp4” for free and commercial versions. My recommendation for freeware MP4 converters would be EncodeHD, MediaCoder, and Handbrake. All of these use the same video converter engine (called FFMPEG), so the real difference is the program’s user interface. I particularly like EncodeHD because of how clean the interface is (Note, that EncodeHD is a beta program so it doesn’t have a program installer. You need to unzip the downloaded file into a folder on your system and run the extracted executable (exe) file).

Now, the above talks about converting existing video files such as AVI, MPEG, MOV, FLV, etc. What if you have a DVD with a movie that you want to sync with your Zune? You still need to go through the same video conversion process as previously described, but first you need to get the video file off your DVD disk to your PC hard drive. This process is called “ripping”, and is covered on my blog page here. You essentially need to run a program to extact the video files from the DVD to your PC, and they will be saved in a file with a .VOB extension (which is basically a MPEG formatted file). You then can use your chosen converter program to convert the VOB file to WMV or MP4 format for your Zune. Some converters will extract the video data directly from the DVD without the need of ripping the data to your disk (such as HandBrake).

After you create your WMV or MP4 video files, you may want to label and/or categorize them. The big advantage to WMV files is that you can add information (or “Metadata”) to the files which include video title, description, type, etc. This can be done using a program called dSHARPIE which is described here.

Finally to sync your new video files, the easiest way to do that is to define a video folder that the Zune software will “monitor” (in the Zune Software’s settings screen), then copy your video files in that folder. The software will sync those video files to your Zune the next time you make a syncing connection.

So there’s a few pointers for new Zune owners wanting to sync video files to their Zunes. I’ve got more details on the various pages on this blog site, so you can read to your heart’s content. Good luck, and have fun!

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