In my last post, I discussed the latest software and firmware updates for the Microsoft Zune. There are a few things I forgot to mention in that post, and in my initial review of the Microsoft Zune. One of those items was the fact that the player refuses to recognize DRM-protected audio files in your “watched folders”. I also neglected to discuss the options available in the Zune software for converting your audio files before adding them to your Zune. I also failed to mention the fact that the Zune software updates finally added the ability to tag your video files.
For me, the fact that the Zune software would not recognize DRM files was especially annoying, because the only DRM-protected files I had on my computer were ripped directly from CDs that I own.
I did not realize, however, that there was an easy solution to my particular problem. I must have initially ripped the files using the Gigabeat Room software that came with my old Toshiba Gigabeat, as all of the files in question were in WMA format.
About a week ago, Microsoft released Zune 2.5, the latest update for the Zune media management software. Apparently this software update adds in some functionality that was previously removed (smart playlists) and adds quite a bit of new functions.
Other than the addition of smart playlists, Zune 2.5 didn’t really add any functionality that I envision myself using very often. I found a very good, accurate review of the new software and firmware on Paul Thurrott’s Web site.
Well, I’ve now had a Zune 2.0 80 gig digital media player for a little while, and I’m ready to offer up my review.
First of all, let me preface this review by getting the following facts out in the open:
I, personally, have only owned one other digital media player, which was a Toshiba Gigabeat F-40 (which was actually an early predecessor of the Zune). I have a bit of experience with a Creative Zen and using a PSP as a digital media player, too.
I have extremely limited experience with iPods, so I can’t comment too much on how the Zune’s features compare to the iPod’s
Although I am in many cases anti-Microsoft and to a certain extent pro-Mac; I am, oddly enough, pro-Zune and very much anti-iPod.
Now that I’ve explained my limitations and biases, it’s time to move on with the review.
What’s in the box?
The 80 gig Zune comes with the Zune itself, a user’s manual, a pair of “premium” headphones and a Zune sync cable. It’s quite a step down from the box my Gigabeat F-40 came in (which included a cradle, a software CD and a remote control, too), but it seems fairly standard for today’s media players.
I came across a cool, free utility the other day while I was searching for ways to get video prepared for my Zune (which I’ll review at a later date). The utility is simply called “Free YouTube to iPod Converter”. The utility was developed by DVDVideoSoft and it is extremely useful.
Basically, the software was designed with one purpose in mind, and it does that very well. It converts Flash Video files to video that’s compatible with your mobile devices. It’s main purpose is to convert YouTube videos to the iPod mp4 video format, but it does do a few other things, too.
First of all, not only can it convert FLV files from your hard drive into mp4 video files, it is also capable of extracting an FLV directly from YouTube. All you do is plug in the URL for the video you want to convert, and the utility accesses YouTube automatically, finds the video file embedded in the page, and extracts it for conversion. Unfortunately, it seem to only work on YouTube; it doesn’t seem to be capable of extracting FLV files from other video sites.
In addition to being able to convert FLV files to iPod video (giving you four options for the quality of the output video), it can also convert your FLV files to three quality levels of PSP video, three quality levels of mobile phone-compatible mp4 video and four different quality levels of mp3 audio.
The only issue I’ve come across in the software so far (and some people may consider this a pro for the software as opposed to a con), is that it doesn’t throw any errors out if it it fails to download the entire FLV file from YouTube. Instead, the progress indicator jumps from wherever it encountered the problem straight to 100%, and the utility tells you that it’s done converting the video. Sometimes you get the whole video, other times you only end up with a few seconds of video before it cuts off.
You can download the utility for free and view a tutorial explaining how to use the software from the main project Web site. If you have a digital media player, a PSP or a video-capable mobile phone, you should definitely get ahold of this application.