Target stores getting rid of Zunes?

target_logoI was at my local Target store and noticed that they were missing the Zune HD products. In fact, they only had a few of the older Zunes available and everything was marked as “Clearance” (the Zunes and accessories). So, it seems that either Target will no longer sell the Zunes at their local stores or they are trying to clear out everything for new Zune HD hardware and accessories? I’m not sure.

I do know that across the Zune display aisle is the Apple iPod assortment of products which seems to be selling in full force. What gets me, is that I don’t see a lot of advertisement for the Zune. The Sunday paper is full of ads for the iPods, but I rarely see anything for the Zune. I’m sure that if stores did more advertising, the Zunes would definitely be selling more. Go figure. I guess we’ll see what happens over the Christmas holidays.

Advertisements

New Zune HD Firmware update available

zune_hdMicrosoft has released a firmware update for the Zune HD. To install it, you need to bring up the Zune Software on your PC and go to Settings -> Device -> Player Update to download and install version 4.3. I just did the process and it took about 3 minutes to complete. All my video and music files remained intact after the update.

Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows has all the details on what changes were included in this update. Mainly “faster-better” tweaks (which is good!).

EncodeHD – Another video conversion utility

encodeHD_0EncodeHD is another video conversion tool that you might consider for your video needs. It is basically a simple front-end interface for FFMPEG, which does all the heavy lifting for the conversion process. You simply drag your source files into the main area of EncodeHD, select the output type, and click the “Start” button. Very easy to use, however, you don’t have a lot of control over the settings used (unless you already know the FFMPEG command line flags, in which case you can enter them under the “Advanced” screen).

encodeHD_2

Here’s a list of target devices that EncodeHD can create videos for. As you can see, there is an entry for “Zune” and “Zune HD”.

encodeHD_1

As a test, I converted a DVR-MS file (which is basically a container for MPEG2 video and audio) to a Zune HD output, and EncodeHD generated an MP4 file. So, EncodeHD only creates Mp4 formatted video files, not WMV files for the Zune. When I check the details of the generated MP4 file, I see the following attributes:

encodeHD_3

The video bit rate seems pretty high (which is good) but the frame rate doesn’t seem correct to me. In any case, this might be a good simple tool if you want to do some quick conversions. EncodeHD also uses other freeware utilities such as AtomicParsley to embed some meta data tags (e.g., video title, description, etc.), however, none of those tags are read by the Zune media player.

Microsoft Expressions Encoder 3

expressions_encoderMicrosoft Windows Encoder 9 has been my workhorse for encoding videos to WMV format for my Zune. It has a graphical user interface as well as a command line interface (which I mainly use), along with its own SDK that can be tied into custom applications (like the VisualBasic code, Media Encoder Batch). Unfortunately, in 2003 Microsoft decided to stop development to WME9 in favor of its replacement, Microsoft Expressions Encoder.

This evening, I decided to check out Expressions just to see how it compared to its predecessor, WME9, particularly for creating high-quality WMV files for the Zune HD. As it turns out, Expressions is designed to generate such files for the Zune HD. Below is what the main interface looks like with Expressions. It is actually a much cleaner GUI than WME9, in my opinion.

expression_0

Among the various predefined output settings, was one for the Zune HD and another for the Zune HD playback on a AV-Dock. The settings were defined as:

expression_1

One nice thing, is that Expressions can convert native WTV files (recordings generated by Windows 7 Media Center) which WME9 could not do. Also, you can use the Expressions to cut out commercial segments manually if you wish before the conversion process. As a test, I tried converting a WTV file which was in standard 4:3 format, and the default Zune HD conversion settings generated a 480×272 WMV file with black bars to the sides of the video (preserving the aspect ratio of the original 4:3 source). The quality of the playback was very good.

The only bad thing I see with Expressions, is that the version 3 does not have a command line interface. So you either use the GUI they provide or write your own code to interface with the Expressions SDK.

Most importantly, Microsoft Expressions Encoder 3 is free. You can download it from this link and run it on your Vista or Windows 7 system.

So if you want to use Microsoft’s latest free encoder software to create WMV files for your Zune, here it is.