Five Zune Secrets You Need to Know
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Secret 3: You Don't Have to Rip to WMA

Do you intend to share your (non-copyprotected) music between your Zune and your iPod or other digital players? Well, you might want to set up your Zune software to rip your tunes to a universally compatible format like MP3 instead of the default WMA. Fortunately, the Zune software allows you to change your default format and set your preferred bitrate. You don't have a huge choice of codecs, but at least you don't have to live in WMA-land unless you really want to. And by using MP3, your Zune library of ripped non-DRM music can be read and used both by other digital players and by non-Zune software.



To change your default format, choose Options → Rip → Format. Select from WMA, Lossless WMA and MP3. Bitrates for each format vary. Set your desired bitrate from the Options → Rip → BitRate menu. For MP3 you can choose among 128kbps, 192kbps, 256kbps, and 320kbps. After selecting your format and bitrate, all new CD rips will be stored using those settings. You will not affect any material that is already ripped or any copyprotected tracks you buy from the Zune Marketplace.

Selecting the MP3 Format

Figure 4: Change your default rip format by choosing Options → Rip → Format. I recommend MP3 if you need to move your audio between devices. (Click to enlarge.)

Tip: The Zune software on your PC automatically scans your personal media library including the My Music, My Video, and My Pictures folders on your computer. To grow your library, simply add media files to these folders or specify additional folders for Zune to search.

Secret 4: You Can Put TV Shows and Movies Onto Your Zune

You know all those freeware and shareware PSP and iPod video-conversion tools? The ones that convert your video to .m4v MPEG-4 video? That same video will play back on your Zune. As Figure 5 shows, it's just a matter of adding your video to the Zune library for playback. After that, once you sync, your video goes onto the Zune, ready for watching.

Figure 5: Heroes

Figure 5: The Zune software, playing back a recent episode of Heroes. I had to snap this shot with a digital camera because the Zune software blanked out the screen when I tried a screen-grab with SnagIt.

While testing, I personally used several tools to convert video to MPEG-4: QuickTime Pro (on WinXP), iSquint (on OS X), and Neuros Audio's stand-alone hardware, MPEG Recorder 2. There are numerous other converters as well. Notable Windows programs include Videora iPod converter and MeGui. In my tests, the Zune software had no problems playing back the software-converted video, but it couldn't play the Neuros machine-recorded version.

With MPEG-4 video be prepared for slow syncs. The Zune converts the MPEG-4 video to a Zune-native WMV format as it syncs. This significantly slow things down. Videos that take less than a minute to transfer to an iPod can take up to an hour to convert on an underpowered PC. Zune.net provides a complete breakdown of the video formats it supports and their recommended settings.

Secret 5: You Can Opt Out of Microsoft's Big Brother Program

Feel uncomfortable with Microsoft's watching your every move in Zune? Opt out. Say "No." Stand up for your rights.

Unless you make the affirmative choice to keep Microsoft out, you are by default enrolled in Microsoft's "Zune Customer Experience Improvement Program." This program assumes you want to improve Microsoft's bottom line (and nosiness) by allowing it to monitor your Zune software usage.

Right.

To opt out, you need to get into the Options window. Not surprisingly, there's no Options → Privacy menu choice. Instead, you must first open the Options screen for any other feature, like Playback. Select Options → Playback → More Options.... The Options settings window opens. Click the Privacy tab. Uncheck the "I want to help Microsoft" box shown in Figure 6 and click Apply.

Figure 6: Privacy

Figure 6: Be a winner, not a weener. Opt out of Big Brother.

Congratulations. You just stood up to corporate America.

Reach for the Zune

The Zune is a terrific little device. As this article has shown, there are more secrets to using it than you initially might think. I hope you'll enjoy theses tricks and insights whether you end up using your Zune to watch homemade videos, view slide shows on your TV, or manage a shared media library between the Zune software and iTunes.

For even more tips and details, see my upcoming O'Reilly Short Cut, "Eight Great Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Zune."

Erica Sadun has written, co-written, and contributed to almost two dozen books about technology, particularly in the areas of programming, digital video, and digital photography.


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