The End of the Zune… RIP

Looks like Microsoft is ending the life of the Zune HD, and will no longer be developing any future Zune media players. Personally, I switched from an Zune to an Apple iPod Touch last year, primarily because the Zune HD wasn’t compatible with my new Apple iMac desktop system. I really liked the small, compact Zune HD for videos and music, but it seems that it never really caught on due to a lot of factors.

First, people love apps and that was one thing the Apple iPod Touch had over the Zune HD big time. Second, the iPod Touch had a bigger screen than the Zune and the battery life was phenomenal. And third, Apple and their distributors really marketed the heck out of the iPod Touch while Microsoft and company did squat for advertising. The result– the Zune didn’t really make a dent in Apple’s dominance in the media player marketplace.

Microsoft stated that they will continue to keep the Zune Marketplace alive for use with the Windows Phone 7 devices, which will now take over for the defunct Zune HD. In fact, I predict that if the WP7 devices catch on, Microsoft will release a WP7 device without the phone component (ala, iPod Touch).

So for you Zune lovers out their, it seems your beloved Zune HD may have its days numbered. Once your built-in battery stops holding a charge, you’ll probably have to jump ship to the dark side or wait for Microsoft to release some sort of replacement!

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Syncing your Zune HD with an Apple Mac

This is a really cool find for those with Zune HD devices and an Apple Mac computer. A person at Zuneboards discovered how to apply a simple settings change to allow syncing of your Zune HD with a Mac via the Windows Phone 7 Connector software. This link contains the details, which is basically a simple three-step process.

I just confirmed that this does indeed work for my Zune HD device connected to my Apple iMac desktop computer. I now have the option to sync photos from my iPhoto library, as well as videos from my iTunes library. Pretty cool!

HandBrake – My new favorite video conversion tool

Since moving to an Apple iMac a few months ago, my new favorite video conversion tool is HandBrake. I still use ffmpeg, mencoder, and AtomicParsley as my batch-processing tools, but for queuing up multiple video files for conversion from AVI to MP4 format, I like using HandBrake (with its easy-to-use GUI). The version I have (64-bit for the Mac Snow Leopard OS X) runs very fast and produces excellent output. It also has numerous controls for adjusting the converted output video.

Note, that HandBrake is available for the Microsoft Windows OS, and I in fact used it a few times on my Windows 7 machine in the past. However, when I used my Zune HD I primarily converted my videos to WMV fomat which is something HandBrake didn’t do too well. So if you’re looking for a robust and fast video conversion tool for either the Mac or Windows machine, I recommend using the freeware Handbrake product and converting to MP4 format (for the Zune or iPod device).

Life with an iPod Touch

Last Friday my wife gave me an Apple iPod Touch as a birthday gift to replace my Zune HD. Since I recently switched to an Apple iMac system, it made sense that I also switch to an Apple-based media device since my Zune won’t sync natively with my Mac. I’ve never used an iPod before, so this was a new experience for me. If you’re into “apps”, then the iPod Touch beats the Zune hands down. There’s lots and lots of apps available and they load and run fast. The iPod has other features that seem better that what is currently available for the Zune HD (e.g., assisted GPS for use with Google Maps, better web browser and email app, etc). However, I do favor the Zune HD for use as a media player.

For example, with the Zune HD you can see much more metadata for TV shows than what you see on an iPod Touch. The Zune HD will show the show’s title, description, date aired, etc. while the iPod will only show the show’s title and a small part of the description. Also, the iPod Touch doesn’t have fast-foward/back buttons to allow skipping ahead in a show. All you have is a slider bar control that is really sensitive and difficult to use at times. In addition, when playing music all you see is a static album art image with the iPod while for the Zune you see a very nice animated graphic with moving text. Although most people don’t stare at these graphics while listening to music, it does show that someone at Microsoft had put in a lot of thought to make the Zune more polished.

Another disappointing thing is that the 4-generation iPod Touch does not have an FM radio while the Zune HD does have an HD radio built-in. So it seems to me that an iPod Touch is a a good device if you want to do more things than just play media, but a Zune HD is a far superior media player device.

Finally, I find using the iTunes software somewhat unintuitive, where I don’t understand how to control what is synced to my iPod Touch. I do see small symbols and checkboxes next to my media files, but I don’t know what that they do or mean. So, I’m having to watch some recorded training material to understand how to use iTunes more effectively. So I give the Zune Software an edge over iTunes.

What would be really great, is if the new Windows Phone 7 device could serve as a smartphone and as a Zune HD replacement. If the 7 phone had 32 or 64 GB of storage, then it would for all intensive purposes be a Zune HD that could sync with my iMac system. And to top it off, if the 7 phone had the high-resolution “retina” display that would be the icing on the cake!

Zune software NOT coming to the Mac

It turns out that the report of the Zune Software coming to the Mac is not true according to this blog posting. There will be an Apple Mac application that will sync media from the Mac iTunes Library to the Windows Phone 7 device, but not to a standard Zune Media device.

So, it seems that Microsoft is still keeping their Zune devices segregated to the Microsoft PC world, but opening up their Phone 7 devices to the Mac platform.

UPDATE: I just downloaded and tested the Windows Phone 7 Connector app for the Mac, and it does indeed NOT work with a standard Zune HD device. It will only work with a true Windows Phone 7 unit.

Migrating to the Apple iMac

Earlier this summer I decided to switch from a Quad Core Windows 7 machine to an Apple iMac desktop. If you want more details to why I made the switch, you can read my blog postings on the Coho Site. Since making the switch, I’m still using my Windows 7 desktop machine for recording TV shows using a TV Tuner card and Cable set top box, and the converting the videos to WMV format for my Zune HD. So the only reason my Windows 7 desktop is still alive is for recording TV shows and syncing with my Zune HD.

My desire is to shutdown my Windows 7 desktop at some point, so I needed to find a way to record TV shows on my Apple iMac. Now, my new iMac desktop is a fully integrated system, with a 27″ LCD screen that houses the main motherboard, hard drive, and DVD drive. So I needed to find a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) device that uses a USB connection to the computer. The best device for the job is the Elgato EyeTV HD, specially designed for the Apple Mac systems. I’ll talk more about the EyeTV HD device and software on my Coho Site, but basically I’m able to do the same thing as with my Windows 7 machine so far as scheduling TV shows for recording and automatically convert the recordings to iPhone/iPod/iPad format (m4v).

As I’ve mentioned in a previous posting, I’ve decided to switch from a Zune HD to an Apple iPod Touch for easier compatibility. This was before Microsoft’s announcement about the native Zune software for the Mac OS X, and it’s a bit too late as my wife has already purchased an Apple iPod Touch as a birthday gift for my birthday next week. In any case, I’d rather have a simpler, fully integrated system and than try to hack a system together that ties a Microsoft Zune to an Apple iMac system. I’ll certainly try out the Mac Zune Software, but in the end I’ll probably stick with an all-Apple solution.

One thing to note, is that the EyeTV’s software is very similar to Window 7’s Media Center software. You can download TV schedules from TV Guide (free for the first year) and search for specific shows to schedule recordings. You can also specify which shows you would like the software to automatically convert to iPhone format and have it dump the video file into the iTunes folder for syncing with your iPod Touch. So I basically have the same functionality as with my Windows 7 system setup. Once I officially get my iPod Touch I’ll report back on the differences I see between my old method and the new Mac method for recording and syncing TV shows to a multimedia device.

Moving to the darkside….

I’ve recently switched from my Windows 7 desktop PC to an Apple iMac running OS X, so I think my Zune HD days are numbered. The reason being, Microsoft doesn’t support the Mac for their Zune syncing software, so unless I use a Windows-based PC I can’t continue using my Zune HD. Currently, I still have my Quad-Core Win7 PC running for recording TV shows for my Zune, but that is the only thing I use it for these days.

So, at some point in the near future I’ll probably get an Apple iPod Touch since it is compatible with my new iMac (as well as Microsoft Windows PCs). In that case, I won’t be using my favorite tool, DVRMSToolbox, to remove commercials an convert my recorded video to Zune-format. I’ll need to find a whole new set of tools and methods for doing my TV recording and conversions, etc.

As it turns out, there is a product designed specifically for the Apple Mac called EyeTV HD which takes digital component input and can record it to a mp4 movie file. It also has an IR blaster control, so it can change the channel of a Cable Set Topbox. Similar to what I’m doing now, but I’ll need to get a “real” set topbox that has digital HD component output.

Since my birthday is coming up next month, I’ll probably have the Apple iPod on my wife’s buy list. So my trusty Zune HD will most like be sitting in my desk drawer until who knows when it will be recalled to service…