Microsoft 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.
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:
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.