I bought my Zune 80 primarily for it’s video playing capabilities (watching Video Podcasts and movie files), so I have spent a considerable amount of time researching this subject. Specifically, how to convert existing video files (e.g., avi, mpg, and vob files) for syncing and viewing on my Zune 80. Unfortunately, the Zune Software on your Desktop PC isn’t setup to easily process video files. There was a lot to learn, such as what video format to convert to, what video conversion tools are available, how to sync video files to my Zune, how to add description text and sort TV episodes to video files, etc.
So, instead of having a detailed guide describing the minute intricacies of video files for the Zune, I’m going to present a Quick Conversion Guide explaining how I create compatible WMV files for my Zune 80 device. Note, that there are lots of video converters available on the web (both freeware and shareware), but the method that I am works well for me and best of all everything I am using is absolutely free!
The Goal : To create a high quality WMV video file that can be quickly synced to the Zune
If a WMV file isn’t formatted to precise specifications, the Zune Software will convert it during the syncing process. This conversion is called “transcoding” which can take several hours to complete for a single video file. In contrast, a properly formatted WMV file will take 30 to 60 seconds to sync with your device. So the primary goal is to use the correct settings during the conversion process to avoid transcoding during syncing. The secondary goal is to have the highest quality video image and audio sound while minimizing the file size. The higher the bit rate for the video and audio data the large the file size, so using optimum settings is the key.
Getting the right tools for the job
Zune.net (the official Microsoft Zune site) recommends using the Windows Media Encoder 9 (WME) software for creating compatible WMV files for playback on the Zune. This software is full featured with lots of options and controls for the conversion process, and best of all it is free! To make the conversion process easier, I use a front-end to the WME software called Windows Media Batch Encoder (also provided free by Microsoft in their “Windows Media Encoder SDK kit”) which allows me to process multiple video files at one time. So to summarize, below are the applications and files that you will need:
- Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9
- Microsoft Windows Media Encoder SDK
- Media Encoder Profile Settings (a .prx file that I created)
(Note: If your intent is to convert video data that is stored on video DVDs, you’ll also need to first “rip” the data files from DVD and copy them to your PC’s hard drive. The page called “Ripping DVDs” explains how to do this.)
After downloading the above software and files, first install the WME software followed by the WME SDK software.
Converting a Video File
I normally use the Media Batch Encoder interface, which can be found here on your Desktop PC:
Once you start up the Batch Encoder application, you should see a screen as presented in the image below.
- Drag all the video files that you want to convert to the file input area
- Define a prefix text for the output files (in my example, I used “Zune_”)
- Select the prx profile (which contains all the conversion settings) that you downloaded earlier (file called “zune_profile.prx”)
- If you want higher quality video, check the “2-Pass” option. It will take longer to convert, but you get a higher quality for the video (I always check it)
- Click the Add button to add this conversion to the batch list. You can continue to add as many files as you want to the batch list.
- When you’re ready to start the conversion, click the “Start” button
The time it takes to do the conversion will depend on the speed of your Desktop PC. I normally set up to batch process multiple video files and let it run overnight. Just make sure you have enough free disk space for the converted files.
Syncing Your Converted Video Files to Your Zune
Once you have your converted files, you can simply copy them to the video folder on your Desktop PC (which you’ve defined the Zune Software to monitor), and they should be synced to your Zune device when you make a connection. Since you used the conversion settings that I specified in the zune_profile.prx file, the WMV file will not under go “transcoding” during the syncing process.
Now the Gritty Details
Here are some details on the conversion settings that I used. On the Zune.net web site, the support page states that the recommended settings for the WMV file to play on the Zune is:
- Video Size: 320 by 240 pixels
- Frame Rate: 30 fps
- Video Bit Rate: 500k to 800k bps (Average value)
- Audio Bit Rate: 192k bps (Max value), 44.1 kHz Stereo, CBR
For the zune_profile.prx file that I provided, I used the following settings:
- Video Size: 320 by 240 pixels
- Frame Rate: 30 fps
- Video Bit Rate: 768k bps (Encoder: Windows Media Video 9)
- Audio Bit Rate: 128k bps (Encoder: Windows Media Audio 9.2)
These settings were chosen so that I would have a good quality video for playing back on my Zune 80, while keeping the WMV file at a reasonable size. Although I could have chosen a video bit rate of 500k bps, I decided to go with 768k bps to avoid “video tearing” or obvious pixelation during high-motion scenes in the video. The audio bit rate affects the file size dramatically, so I decided to use 128k bps instead of the maximum 192k bps (the audio still sounds great). You can reduce the file size further if you lower the audio bit rate even further (to 64k or 96k bps).
The most important setting, is to use the Windows Media Video 9 encoder. If you use the Windows Media Video 9 Advanced Profile encoder, you’ll see that transcoding will take place during syncing (which could take hours to complete the sync). Note: If you use Windows Media Video 7 or 8 for the video encoder, your resultant WMV file will undergo transcoding during syncing! You must use Windows Media Video 9 for the video encoder to avoid this.
If you intend to connect your Zune to your TV and play back video files on the TV screen, you may want to change the video size to 640 x 480 or larger. You can make that change by double-clicking on the zune_profile.prx file to bring up the editor and make the size change. Altering the size should not affect transcoding.
I’ve summarized the very detailed specifications for video files playing on the Zune on my Zune Video Specs page. If you stay within the max limits defined on that page, your converted video file should avoid transcoding during syncing.
The usual culprit when having problems converting videos, is either bad or missing codecs (Codecs are used to decode and encode video/audio data). If you’ve downloaded and installed lots of trial versions of various video converters, you’ve bound to have installed a bad or conflicting codec. The best thing to do in that case, is to remove all codecs that seem suspicious on your system (most notably, one called “K-Lite Codec”). You can do this using the usual “Remove Programs” method from your Windows Control Panel.
Also, missing audio in a converted video file can be attributed to not having a proper audio codec installed. For example, I didn’t have the AC3Filter codec installed on my system, so Windows Media Encoder couldn’t encode the audio from a VOB file that I ripped from a DVD to a WMV file. (Note: Most DVDs require the AC3Filter, so it’s a good idea to download and install it if you’re converting DVD videos).
Now, if you have trouble during the ripping or video conversion process, it might be that DVD Decrypter or DVDShrink just can’t process that particular DVD. In that case, you can try using DVDFAB HD Decrypter which is freeware. I believe the people that made DVD Decrypter make this product as well, and it has updated routines for processing the newer DVD formats. Note, that you may need to use a program called VOBMerge to merge the multiple VOB files that it rips from the DVD into a single VOB file for Windows Media Encoder to process. If none of those three DVD ripper applications work, you can also try using AnyDVD and CloneDVD which has more robust routines for processing DVDs. Both of these applications are commercial ware, but I think you can use the trial version for a certain number of days before having to purchase it.
Now, this is a simple guide to help people convert their video files to WMV format for playback on the Zune devices using free tools. If done properly, you won’t experience any “transcoding” during the syncing process. Note, that there’s lots of other topics to cover regarding video files (e.g., adding description text, categorizing, sorting TV shows, etc.) that I will cover in detail with individual blog postings.
Here are a few web pages that talk more about using the Windows Batch Encoder Utility:
If you want to read information on the profile settings for TV Output from your Zune, check out this link.