Zune HD… so far, so good.

I’ve been using my Zune HD ocassionally during the day listening to HD radio and for about 2 hours each night watching videos. It’s a really nice media player, and in my opinion superior to the Apple iPods. Having the smaller screen takes some getting use to, as I’m accustom to watching on a square screen rather than the longer-width HD screen. Of course, I’d probably have the same issue if I bought a new wide screen TV since I’m use to watching shows on my old-style picture tube TV. 🙂

Not having hardware buttons to navigate and control my Zune is still taking some time to get use to, but that is to be expected. I definitely like the bright colors on the OLED screen, and I have yet to run out of battery power. Some day I’ll have to do an informal test and see many videos I can watch before I run out of juice.

The one glaring difference between my Zune 80 and the Zune HD is the location of the headphone jack. On the Zune 80 it is located on the top, so I can simply plug in my Zune 80 into its dock for charging without having to disconnect the earbuds. Not so for the Zune HD, since the earbuds are located on the bottom of the device. Not a big deal, but just one extra step to do in the morning when I dock my Zune HD. It would be nice if the Zunes used the inductive-charging technology that the Palm Pre smartphones use…

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Ordering accessories for my Zune HD

earbudsMy Zune HD has been working out well for the last week, so I’m very happy with my purchase. I definitely need to get some new accessories, so I started with ordering new earbuds to replace my worn Zune Premium earbuds that originally came with my Zune 80. I really like the fit and sound quality of my Zune earbuds, but the outer wrapping on the wires have started to come off and they now get tangled a lot. So I Googled on the Internet a bit and decided to order the 2XL 2X-002E Spoke Snake Eyes In-Ear Headphones for $15.00 US from Amazon.com. They are inexpensive and got good reviews on the Amazon site.

Also, since I travel frequently for business I decided to look into charger options. On my last trip I forgot my cell phone charger so I tried using my laptop’s USB port to charge my phone (with a mini-USB cable), however, my laptop wasn’t able to output enough current to charge my phone. As such, I decided to order the Griffin PowerBlock Dual Universal AC Charger for $25.00 from Newegg.com. I got this dual port charger so that I can charge both my Zune and cell phone at the same time from a wall outlet. powerblock

I was also looking at getting a small case for my Zune HD, but the current choices are limited. So, I’m planning to hold off for a while and see what new cases will popup. It would be cool to get the new docking port so I can watch videos on a large screen TV from my Zune HD, but I think I’ll hold off on that until Christmas. 🙂

Fingerprints… bad!

fingerprintThe one bad thing about a touch screen interface is all the greasy fingerprints clouding the display. With all the tapping and swiping to adjust the volume or change videos the screen just gets filled with prints. On my Zune 80, you have buttons and the touchpad which avoids such a situation, so having hardware buttons does have it’s advantages. In any case, I really love the bright and vibrant colors on the OLED screen of the Zune HD, so I can’t really complain! 🙂

Zune HD Tips

With the lack of good documentation, you’re forced to figure out how to use the different features of your Zune HD by trial-n-error. Below are a few tips that I’ve come across that may help get you started:

1) When you’ve drilled down into several layers of menu picks, you can jump back to the previous screen by tapping the top of the screen (on the “breadcrumb” text) as shown below:

jump_back_one_screen Continue reading

Internet Browsing with the Zune HD

browserBack in the old days when all I had was my old Toshiba e310 Pocket PC PDA device, I use to read news on a few mobile sites via my home WiFi Internet connection while lying in bed at night. My Toshiba had a 320×240 resolution screen and a crummy IE web browser (compared to today’s standards), but it did its job in allowing me to read some news before going to bed. Of course, the virtual keyboard required pecking with my tiny stylus, so its usefulness was a bit limited.

Since getting my Zune 80 a few years ago I’ve been using it to watch recorded TV shows late at night before going to sleep. Although my Zune 80 does have WiFi, it didn’t have a web browser… and then along came my new Zune HD!

This evening I decided to check out the built-in web browser a bit and see how well it would work for my needs. I don’t anticipate using it much, but you never know. Here are some good things I discovered while using the browser: Continue reading

Converting DVDs for the Zune HD

dvdsI normally use my Zune for watching TV recordings that are converted from DVR-MS format (Vista Media Center) to WMV format for my Zune. On a few occasions, I do convert some DVD videos over to WMV format so I can watch them on my Zune. Because I do so infrequently, I use some freeware software and a manual process for converting the videos (you can check my previous postings for more details).

After getting my Zune HD, I decided to look around for an easier solution that could create high quality videos for my Zune. If you Google, “zune video converter” you’ll undoubtedly get hundreds of links to various converter software. Most of these converters use the same core program (i.e., ffmpeg or mencoder) to do the video conversion, and they generate mp4 video files. Now, this format usually work just fine for the Zune, however, I prefer the WMV format because I can add metadata information such as show title, description, thumbnail image, etc.

DVDFab DVD-to-Mobile is one video converter that caught my eye, as it can create WMV V9 formatted video files. So I downloaded and tested out their trial version, converting one of my DVDs over to WMV format for my Zune HD. I really like the interface to the DVDFab product, as it was very clean and easy to use. I was able to quickly select what I wanted to convert, define some custom parameters (because I’m so anal) and launch the conversion process. In my case, the final WMV file had the following attributes:

Resolution: 480 x 270
Video bit rate: 1000 kbps, 23 fps
Audio bit rate: 128 kbps
Length: 1 hour, 38 mins
File size: 793 MB

Normally I would use 700 kbps for the video bit rate, but this DVD had a lot action so I went with the higher bit rate to avoid any potential video tearing. The video playback on my Zune HD looked really good, so the DVDFab converter seemed to work well.

So, I do recommend DVFab DVD-to-Mobile ($29 US) for those who want to easily convert their DVDs over to WMV format for the Zune.

Zune HD: Missing Manual?

manualNormally I don’t read the manuals or user guides when I get electronic gadgets (who does?). For the most part, I can usually fumble my way around and figure everything out. However, there are a few things with the Zune HD that I just couldn’t figure out. For example, how do you change radio stations? On my Zune 80 I just swipe the touchpad area to the left or right but on my Zune HD, swiping the screen didn’t seem to work. After experimenting, I discovered that you need to swipe on the center of the screen area, right where the radio frequency number is displayed. I also had some issues figuring out how to enter a web address in the internet browser app.

The literature that came with the Zune HD just had a simple “Quick Start” guide, which didn’t go into specifics on how to operate most of the Zune HD’s features, or what some of the displayed icons mean. So, I decided to search the Zune.net web site for more details and came up with just some more vague descriptions of how to use the Zune HD. Apparently, Microsoft just assumed you should know how to use these features or be able to figure them out on your own. I guess I’m getting too old or just can’t figure out stuff anymore.

So, I began Googling around and found some good videos of people showing off how to use the Zune HD. Watching some of these videos did help me figure out how to use my Zune HD better. Jason Dunn at ZuneThoughts.com had some good videos of the Zune HD that I found enlightening, so I highly recommend you visit his site to learn a bit more on how to use your Zune HD.