Archive for the 'MUSIC' Category



DVD-to-Zune Ripper: WinX DVD Ripper (free)

(as originally posted at the ZuneScene forums)

Since getting my Zune HD (32) a week ago, I’ve been on the hunt to find a good DVD-to-Zune software package.  There are a lot of good articles on this site, but I’m (personally) more fond of the one-step applications: pop in a movie, choose some settings, and then "rip".  No hassle, ya know?

Anyhow… here are my criteria for a "reasonable" solution:

  1. One-step rip.  DVD straight to a file that is ready to load onto my Zune.
  2. Must not "convert" when syncing with my Zune.  Ugh!
  3. Must have decent-to-nice image quality.
  4. Keeps everything in-sync (audio with video)
  5. Reasonable file sizes
  6. Can’t take forever and a day to rip a movie!
  7. Price.  Free is nice. 🙂

So, my searches led me to a lot of different solutions.  I’ve used Cucusoft’s offering for awhile now, but it’s a bit wacky… and I would get pauses from time to time.  No good.  Finally, I was browsing Dealnews and came across an offer for WinX DVD Ripper for "free".  They were actually referring to the Platinum version, which isn’t totally free when you get down to it.  Still, their real "free" version looked promising, so I downloaded it.

http://www.winxdvd.com/dvd-ripper/download.htm

At about a 6 meg download, the program is fairly lightweight and straightforward.  Nice!

Having successfully ripped several movies now with WinX DVD Ripper, I thought I’d share my steps (in case anyone cares)…

1) Download and install the WinX DVD Ripper.  Even works great on my Win7 64-bit box! 🙂

2) Launch the software

winxDVD1[1]

3) Click the DVD Disc icon to select your movie.

winxDVD2[1]

winxDVD3[1]

4) Select your options.  I choose MP4, "disable" Subtitle, Original Size and Keep Aspect Ratio, Video Quality "1100". 

Note: that a Subtitle is selected by default.

winxDVD4x[1]

5) Click START to convert. Wait while the video is ripped and converted.  Your mileage will vary, but my quad-core AMD system ripped a 2:10hr movie in about an hour.  Not too bad.

winxDVD5[1]

6) When the process completes, you can copy the .mp4 file into a directory that your Zune software uses (if not already in there) and then Edit the file details with a better name, release year, etc.

This 2:10hr movie ended up at just over 1.1gigs in size.  You can bump the video size and/or video quality down a bit, if you’d like smaller file sizes.

winxDVD8[1]

winxDVD6[1]

7) Sync the movie to your Zune and enjoy!

winxDVD7[1]

Other notes:

The options selected should work fine for all 2nd generation Zunes and above.  The Zune 30 will likely require choosing the WMV tab and other options for quality.

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Quick Review: Zune HD

zuneHDMicrosoft recently released their 3rd generation Zune media player – the Zune HD.  Whereas the previous Zune players relied upon d-pads and squircles to move around the user interface, the Zune HD is full multi-touch wonder, and it is very well done.  In fact, if it weren’t so pretty, you might almost say that it’s over done.  It’s almost embarrassingly schwanky and fun-to-use.

But let’s dig in to other items first.


PRICING

Current pricing for the Zune HD is $219 (US) for the 16GB version, and $289 (US) for the 32GB version.  While that pricing is competitive and slightly cheaper than the similarly equipped iPod Touch devices, it seems like a better choice would’ve been to totally undercut Apple on this point. 

Also, I know that memory is sold in particular quantities and sizes (8GB, 16GB, etc.), but why can’t they figure out how to release different memory sizes for these?  For instance, a 40GB Zune HD that is comparatively priced to a 32GB iPod Touch would seem like a better value (to me) than being $10 or $20 cheaper.  I should know if this is technically feasible or not, but I’m really not sure.  You would think it wouldn’t be too difficult.


PACKAGING

The Zune HD comes in a fairly small and sturdy box.  The top of the box slides upward to reveal the player, with manuals, earbuds, and USB cable packaged neatly behind it. 

If “unboxing” write-ups are your thing, then check out the Engadget article covering this.  Honestly, though… it’s just a box.


SPECS

The Zune HD is easily one of the most advanced media players you will find on the market today, featuring

  • 3.3” OLED capacitive touch display (480×272 resolution)
  • Measures 2.07” x 4.08” x .35”
  • Weighs a paltry 2.6 ounces (compared to the 4.1oz iPod Touch)
  • Powered by the Nvidia Tegra processor
  • Flash-based storage
  • Multi-touch display
  • HD radio on-board
  • 802.11b/g wireless support
  • Accelerometer
  • MP3, WMA, AAC and MP4 audio support
  • 720p HD video output (via optional dock)
  • Equalizer
  • 660 mAh Lithium-Ion battery
  • Web browser, Apps and Games


HANDS-ON

Before you ever even turn the device on, you immediately notice how little it weighs.  Although 2.6oz doesn’t mean a whole lot to me on paper, it sure translates into a nice experience when you’re holding it.  My recently-acquired MyTouch 3G phone isn’t exactly heavy, but there’s no doubt that the Zune HD weighs less.  In fact, with the metal casing and glass screen, it just feels like a nicely designed & assembled piece of hardware.  At least two of my iPhone-toting friends remarked at how nice the form factor is.  It really makes the iPhone feel incredibly large.  Zune phone anyone?

zuneHD1 Like most touch-enabled devices of today, the physical buttons are mostly absent.  The top of the device has a rectangular Power/Sleep button that is flush with the casing.  The left-hand side features a slightly bumped out Media Button that brings up the volume and track fwd/back controls, no matter where you are.  Finally, the Home Button is placed just below the Zune logo on the front of the player.  That’s it.  No other physical controls are present.

The bottom of the Zune HD is also where you’ll find the standard 3.5mm headphone jack and dock port.

The back of the casing features a nicely etched Zune logo, your serial number (toward the bottom) and the obligatory FCC information, though very faint.  The lower left-hand side has the words “hello from seattle” in very small text, something that every Zune has sported somewhere.

The Zune HD comes with very typical earbuds (+ colorful foam covers) that I would never, ever use.  They sound decent, or so I’m told, but that style of earbud absolutely kills my ears.  I am continuing to use the Zune Premium headphones that shipped with my Zune 80.  Otherwise, the only other hardware of note is the standard Zune port-to-USB cable.


USER INTERFACE

In my personal opinion, the “twist” interface on the Zune has been the best of any media player out there.  The ability to move horizontally and vertically among your collection is both fun and easy-to-use.  The Zune HD retains the “twist” tradition, while adding ‘touchability’ to the mix for additional control, shortcuts, and some pretty cool stuff.

As an interesting aside, a good friend of mine was taking a look at my Zune HD.  He noted that something (I don’t remember what) was not entirely intuitive on the Zune HD.  It got me thinking.  What isintuitive”?  Should all functions be readily apparent without ever having read a manual or having used a similar product?  How low do you set the bar?   These are interesting questions.  Microsoft has historically been *very* conservative and overly explanative with their interfaces.  Windows NT 4.0 featured an arrow that flew across the taskbar, poked the Start button, and said “click here to Start”.  It was fine for Grandma who’d never used a PC, but it was pretty ridiculous for the rest of us.  These days, however, Microsoft seems to count on the fact that more and more people know how to use a computer, and thus can figure out most of the interface on their own.  “Intuitive” is almost better stated as “consistent” – both with their own product, as well as other products on the market.  I read the Zune HD manual after the fact, but otherwise figured out on my own how to play music, use the radio, add a favorite in the browser, and scroll through pictures.  To me, that means they’ve accomplished “intuitive”.

</soapbox>

zuneHD2 The Zune HD now features a “wallpaper”, of sorts, which ends up acting more as a shade to what is going on behind the scenes.  When you turn the Zune HD on, you are greeted with the (customizable) shade, the time, notification icons, and an arrow pointing up – which is the direction that you flick the shade to get the homescreen.  As best I can figure, this shade helps protect the user from unnecessarily messing with the player while in a pocket or purse.  If you happened to hit a button accidently, you would still have to flip the shade to do much more.  A safety feature, I suppose, and a fun way to personalize your device, since the rest of the player only allows for the default black background. 

All that said, it seems like the swiping up motion to clear the shade is a bit problematic at times.  It requires a fairly intentional swiping motion, and it occasionally not ready to be swiped after first turning the screen on.  Here’s hoping these issues are remedied with a future firmware update.

zuneHD3The homescreen is really broken into two main parts: the category list and the quickplay.  When one part is made prominent, the other shrink down and off to its respective side.  It’s really an amazingly clever way to give access to more functionality, without having to mess with an interface that is already known.

homescreen: As you can see in my very awesome, custom graphic, the homescreen gives the ability to launch several things all from one place.  Get used to this, because the Zune HD is all about having a lot of choices from various views.  In this case, you can select any of the various ‘categories’ on the right-hand side, click on the ‘Play’ circle to begin playing all of your music, or you can click on the left-hand side ‘Quickplay’ area for access to a number of handy things.

zuneHD4 quickplay:  The small quickplay area on the left becomes the prominent portion of the screen just by clicking on it.  Actually, you can switch between the two main screens by either swiping back and forth, clicking on the respective side, or simply hitting the home button.  They really want you to use the quickplay functionality, and you really ought to be.  It’s wonderful!

Back to the subject at hand, though, the quickplay area is broken into (at most) four sections: Now Playing, Pins, History, and New.  The ‘Now Playing’ portion only shows when you return to the homescreen while you’re playing music, radio, or a podcast.  It will show an album cover (or similar) of whatever you’re currently playing, along with ‘Playing’ or ‘Paused’ text above it.  ‘Pins’ are like favorites for the media you have on your Zune HD.  Like a particular album, artist, or genre?  Pin it to your quickplay area where you can quickly get at it.  You can also pin podcasts, pictures, radio stations, browser favorites, and apps.  Nice!  The ‘History’ area, as you might expect, shows media that you’ve accessed most recently.  Finally, the ‘New’ section shows media that you’ve most recently added, which is great when you’ve downloaded a few new albums that you want to remember to listen to.

zuneHD5 music:  Hopefully, playing music is the primary job of your Zune HD.  After all, that’s where this device excels above all others in this category.  Clicking on ‘Music’ from the homescreen whisks the word “music” to the top of the screen and zooms in, revealing your Artists view.  From here you can scroll downward and roll through the artists, swipe side-to-side to get at playlists, genres, albums, etc., or hit a boxed [E] letter (see the photo) to bring up the full alphabet view where you can go straight to all artists beginning with that letter.  It’s really a fairly ingenious (and fast) way of moving around, and yet retains the “twist” interface that Zune has used for years.  It’s more of the same, but better.  Not only that, but other items are immediately clickable from this view.  Click the ‘Play’ circle next to an artist and begin playing all albums from that artist.  Rather dig in?  Click on the Artist name to get at their albums, pics, bio, and related.  Finally, click on the top of the screen where the cropped ‘Music’ text lives to go back to the previous screen.  This is a consistent feature when moving around the Zune HD interface.

zuneHD6 While playing music, the ‘now playing’–type view has an astonishing amount of control.  As you can see in the picture above, you have access to no less than 7 distinct functions all from a single view.  What you actually see is certainly far less cluttered than my photoshopped screenshot, so you’ll need to imagine this without all of the red arrows and text.  The ‘now playing’ view let’s you easily see the artist (bold), the album (just below it), the album artwork, the current song (just below the artwork), and the next three tracks coming up.  You can also hit Back, toggle Shuffle and/or Repeat, and give the song a Rating, if you like.  There’s more here than meets the eye, however, because much of what you see is also clickable.  For instance, the Artist text will take you to the section for that artist.  The area that shows the current + upcoming tracks will give you the full track list for that album (or playlist).  Selecting the middle of the screen will bring up the Media Key functionality: adjusting the volume, or going FWD/BACK with your tracks. 

Wow!  That’s a lot of stuff, and as with most Microsoft products, really just a number of ways to accomplish the same task.

video:  Strangely enough, I don’t (personally) spend a lot of time watching video on my Zune.  Sure, I have the obligatory few DVDs I’ve ripped and some home movies, but nothing significant.  Quite honestly, I use my Zune mostly for music.

That said, there isn’t a lot that the Zune HD offers in video playback as compared with the previous Zune players – save for a beautiful, beautiful screen.  That’s really the story here.  Even with a smaller screen than the iPod Touch, I’m guessing that most folks would prefer watching the Zune HD and all its OLED goodness.  The colors are richer, the viewable angles are far better, and (on paper) the video-playback battery life is longer.

As you might expect, you can hit the Media Key to get on-screen playback controls during a video.  Drag to fwd/rew the video, turn the volume up/down, or pause.  Pretty basic stuff, and it works well.

pictures:  Again, the story here is really the beautiful screen.  You can browse your pictures via folder name or date, and then watch a slideshow or flip through them manually.  They look wonderful. 

Even more impressive, though, might be the speed at which you can flip through your pictures.  The Zune HD is quite simply the most responsive handheld device I’ve ever owned.  Thanks to the Nvidia Tegra processor, I imagine, and some very clever programming.  You can literally flip through them as fast as your fingers will move, and then pinch to zoom (etc) that folks have come to expect.

Lastly, you can long-press a picture (or folder) to delete it, “pin” it, or (in the case of a single photo) make it your slide background.

zuneHD7 radio:  Like all previous Zunes, the Zune HD offers built-in FM radio, which only the most recent iPods have begun to offer.  One of the selling points of the new Zune “HD”, however, is the inclusion of HD radio, which advertises ‘CD quality’ radio reception.  Having listened to HD radio in my commuter car for the past year or so, I can honestly say that it does sound noticeably better than standard FM radio.  It also offers the (very handy) ability to include the artist/song/album name info in the audio stream, which is nice.

Like other views on the Zune HD, the ‘now playing’ page for radio gives access to a number of handy functions.  Notably, you can quickly add a radio preset, access your existing presets, and add the current ‘song’ or ‘show’ to your cart for later downloading on the Zune Marketplace.  With an HD-enabled station, you can also swipe left or right to change between their HD offerings.

All in all, if you don’t listen to much FM, the HD radio offering may not float your boat a whole lot.  It is a very nice feature, though, and well implemented.

marketplace: Building off of the 2nd generation Zune functionality, the Zune HD has full wireless access to the Zune Marketplace.  Launch the Marketplace and you are greeted with (4) basic options: Music, Apps, Search, and Cart. 

The ‘Music’ option takes you to a nice thumbnail view of the newest album releases, or you can swipe left/right for Top Songs or Top Albums.  ‘Apps’, as you might expect, let’s you view all of the Zune apps for immediate downloading.  There’s like 7 apps total right now, so it’s pretty silly.  ‘Search’ looks like a typical browser search area, and brings up the Zune HD virtual keyboard.  Type in your search terms, hit Done, and away you go!  Everything that the Marketplace has available is at your fingertips – for streaming (Zune Pass) or purchasing via the ‘Cart’.  I would imagine that you can purchase immediately if you have Microsoft Points in your account, but I have not tried that.

zuneHD8
internet
: It came as a bit of a surprise to many folks, but the Zune HD features a very capable browser.  Given what Windows Mobile has offered up in terms of browsing, not much was expected in the regard, but the results are quite welcome.  The IE6-based Zune HD browser is nice to look at, relatively fast, and features the typical mobile browser controls you’ve come to expect: pinch to zoom, move around with your fingers, and so forth.

The browser interface is, shall we say, very spartan.  There are about (4) controls to see, and much of that is tucked away at the bottom or transparent.  When push comes to shove, you realize that the “bare bones” interface is really all you need in a mobile browser: hitting Back, managing Favorites, Searching, and then interacting with your current URL.  It seems almost too simplistic, but what else do you need to do that cannot be handled with those basic controls + screen manipulation?  It’s very efficient, and the browser engine is surprisingly capable.

Aside from the Marketplace search, the browser is really one of the primary places in the Zune HD where you’ll use the virtual keyboard.  While I don’t have hours of typing under my belt on the Zune HD, my initial reaction is that the keyboard is quite capable, and in many ways better than what is on the MyTouch 3G.  It seems to be responsive and very accurate.  In fact, I did a test type between the two devices, typing “echo and the bunnymen”.  I had one mis-typed letter on the Zune, and I completely mangled “bunnymen” on the MyTouch 3G, which I have far more experience typing on.  Guess that says something.

apps: This is certainly a point of contention amongst many reviewers and interested buyers: What is the app support on the Zune HD?  To be perfectly honest, the current support is poor.  Microsoft has not announced a long-term plan for what type of app support the Zune HD will have, and so we’re left wondering… and tinkering with the handful of launch day apps. 

Let’s see, I have a calculator, a weather app, and some games.  While they all look very nice, they take a bit too long to load, in my opinion. 

What would be nice to find out are the long-term app plans for the Zune platform.  Will we get XBLA games ported to the Zune?  Will there be a full app marketplace with 3rd party support?  I would be very surprised if Microsoft left the apps as they are currently, but without any official word from them, I can only remark about the present state of things.  It’s pretty sad, but at least a small step forward from the previous iteration of Zune hardware.  A very small step.

settings:  I’m not going to spend too much time with this.  Need to adjust your wireless link?  Try out a different EQ setting?  How about set a lock screen PIN?  It’s all here.   Enjoy.

PERFORMANCE

A nice interface is nothing if the infrastructure doesn’t support it well.  The Zune HD could dance and twirl all it likes, but if it feels like the hardware is constantly chugging to keep up with you, well… the experience would be less than ideal.  Thankfully, the performance is top-notch.

I don’t know a whole lot about the Nvidia Tegra processor, but I get the feeling that this is a nice piece of hardware.  Either that, or the Zune team is a crack squad that can produce blood from turnips.  Whatever the case, the Zune HD moves along at a clip that is nothing short of wonderful.  Screens emerge quickly, transitions are smooth, and scrolling is seamless.  If anything, my experience with the Zune HD has been eye-opening.  This is how mobile devices are supposed to be:  fast and fluid.  HTC and the WinMo team need to get together and get this Tegra processor into all of their upcoming phones.  Seriously.  This is good stuff.

BATTERY LIFE

The Zune HD is rated at up to 33 hours for music and 8.5 hours for video.  These numbers are, of course, under the most ideal conditions – wireless off, screen off (music), and not fiddling with things.

Evidently, the Nvidia Tegra processor is known to be both powerful and power-sipping.  The verdict is still out on the battery life of the Zune HD, but I can’t say that I’m completely blown away just yet.  If I’m listening to music for 5 hours and barely see the battery meter change, then I’m impressed.  As it stands, the battery life seems to be decent, but not incredible.

WRAPPING UP

So, this “quick review” is not especially quick, but what can you do?  There is a lot to talk about with all that is wrapped up in this tiny package.

Is the Zune HD the best personal media player out there?  I say “yes”, with no hesitation whatsoever.  If your goal is a great music listening experience, then the Zune HD is the best of the best.  Hands down.  If you’re a Zune Pass subscriber, then the whole package just becomes that much better. 

What about video support?  Well, I still say that the Zune HD is wonderful for watching video, but at 32gigs max (currently) you’re only going to fit so much content on here.  What you have will look great, thanks to the beautiful OLED screen.  No doubt about that.

What about app support?  As it stands right now, the Zune HD is *not* your best choice for apps.  If you want a large selection of games, map finding apps, or something to produce bodily function sounds, then another device is a better bet for you.  That said, I’m hoping that Microsoft knocks our socks with some amazing Xbox/XBLA integration in the very near future.  C’mon, guys!

What else?  Quite simply, there is not a nicer looking media player on the market today.  The form-factor is great, the interface is amazing, and the whole package is extremely well thought out.  From the wonderful navigation to the beautiful screen, the Zune HD has many features that the competition need to be seriously considering. 

With exception of app support, the Zune HD has raised the bar.

Ruh-roh! Burned by the Zune Marketplace :(

So, I’ve been getting my newly-acquired Zune HD hooked up and synced up.  We’ll discuss that at another time.  Meanwhile, I’m syncing my music — about 30% of which is Zune Pass (subscription) content — and it’s mostly going fine.

Yeah.  I said mostly.

ZunePass_sad

For the first time, I’ve found an instance where an album I downloaded via my Zune Pass subscription is no longer available at the Zune Marketplace, and thus no longer playable in either the software or on the Zune player. 

It typically works like this: you have a subscription to the Zune Pass, you log in, find an album, download it, and you are granted about 30 days to listen to that album.  Subsequent launches (and logins) to the software will renew that license, such that you essentially never notice it.  It’s part of your library and that’s that – playable whenever you like.  If you sync it to your Zune player, which most folks will, the license is copied there as well.  If you don’t re-sync your player within 30 days, the music will actually expire and be unplayable.  This has happened with my wife, who uses her player regularly, but doesn’t sync very often.  Otherwise, if you sync your player at least every now and then, it will renew the license on your player as well, and then give you uninterrupted access to that music.

Such is the life of subscription-based music, I suppose.  Love it or not.

Anyhoo… I’m syncing my music library and am greeted with fourteen items that won’t sync properly.  What’s the deal?  The album ‘About Face’ from The Working Title appears to be in my collection with no issues, but it just doesn’t sync.   Hmmm.  Double-clicking on one of the tracks gives me this error message:

zuneError

The message pretty much says it all: This item is no longer available at Zune Marketplace.  (Error Code: C00D27E1)  We don’t know why it’s not available, or who’s fault it is.  Presumably, some contractual agreement between Zune and the record label of this band has lapsed or changed in some way.  I really don’t know.  I *do know*, however, that I can’t get this album on the Zune Marketplace anymore, which is a real bummer.  Hopefully it’ll come back some day soon.

For those out there who are dead-set against subscription-based music, then this will no doubt serve as ammunition for their argument.  On the other hand, I’ve download some 1,200 tracks via my Zune Pass, and this is the first instance of this that I’ve come across.  The odds are definitely in your favor to not have this issue. 

Besides… you can always go grab the full album from Amazon MP3 for $6.99 like I did.  🙂

Enjoy.

—————————————

UPDATE:  I thought it only fair that I report some other strangeness that I recently found on the Zune  Marketplace.  Specifically, a number of albums that are no longer available to me.  In my syncing of approximately 1,200 Zune Pass tracks, about 10 albums would no longer sync as they were not available to Zune Pass subscribers any longer.  I think perhaps two of these albums just no longer existed on the Zune Marketplace, whereas the other 8 albums (or so) had gone to a ‘purchase only’ mode.  In other words, those albums were still available on the Zune Marketplace, but not to subscribers.  A bummer, to be sure.

Just thought I’d get that out there.

Now Playing: August 2009

Been a bit light on my “listening” lately, but here are some current standouts…

  • The Hourly Radio, “History Will Never Hold Me
    • Found this band via a rabbit trail on the Zune Marketplace.  Perhaps via another recent fav, The Working Title?  Anyhow, I’m really enjoying this album so far.  It starts off well enough, but seems to pick up steam by the 3rd and 4th tracks.  Highly recommended for any ‘Jimmy Eat World’ or ‘The Working Title’ fans.
  • Jeremy Enigk, “OK Bear
    • As an old friend (and fan) of Jeremy Enigk, I was definitely looking forward to his next solo album.  While “OK Bear” didn’t grab my attention right away, it has since grown on me.  I like it quite a bit.  I prefer his last release, World Waits, but this is a strong release, and very much ‘Jeremy Enigk’ all the way.
  • Edie Brickell, “Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars
    • Sometimes albums don’t really “hit” you for, oh… 20 years or so, as is the case with this release.  I heard their big hit “What I Am” on the radio recently, was blown away by the guitar solo, and decided the album was worth checking out again.  You know what?  It’s really good.  The musicianship is amazing, the vocals are great (if a bit lacking in variation), and the whole package has held up quite well since its release in 1989.  Give it a spin and see what’cha think!
  • Neko Case, NPR “Live Concerts From All Songs Considered”
    • Very fun, live Neko Case concert from NPR.  I know she’s a talented vocalist, but she’s also really, really funny!  Check it out… it’s free!  (Note: the humor really takes off about 45 minutes in.)

Now Playing: July 2009

(Yeah… I missed June.  So sorry!)

  • mewithoutYou, “It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright
    • One album that I’ve been anticipating for some time now.  mwY’s fourth release is an even further departure from their ‘expected sound’, and will certainly polarize some of their fans as it has with me.  To be fair, every album they’ve released has (thus far) been a challenge for me upon the first few listens, but they’ve always won me over in the long run.  I’m expecting this album to do the same, but it might take a bit longer :)  Some standout tracks: ‘Every Thought A Thought Of You’, ‘The Fox, The Crow, and the Cookie’ (check out the video) and ‘Goodbye, I!’
  • The Dear Hunter, “Act III: Life and Death
    • I had literally never heard of this band until my wife and I saw them open for mewithoutYou a few weeks back.  I was impressed, so I sought the album out.  “Progressive” is a fitting, but overused description.  Very good stuff, though.
  • Manchester Orchestra, “Mean Everything To Nothing
    • I found this band via the ‘related artists’ links in the Zune software, and I was instantly impressed.  This is very raw, unproduced kind of music, but really well done.  Although I have trouble endorsing this band lyrically, the songwriting/vocals are great.
  • Mates of State, “Re-Arrange Us
    • My email buddy, Alan, turned me on to this band, and I’m quite enjoying it.  Upbeat, folk-rock duo with catchy tunes.   Dig it!
  • Radiohead, “The Bends
    • Old school, I know, but it wasn’t really until ‘In Rainbows’ that I became a Radiohead fan.  Mock me all you like, that’s exactly how it went down.  Anyhow, while revisiting their library, ‘The Bends’ really sticks out as an incredible piece of work.  Really great.

Introducing the… Zune HD!

zuneHD
Zune HD info page

As expected, Microsoft has announced the Zune HD – the next iteration in the Zune lineup.  The “HD”, of course, stands for “High Definition”, which is in reference to this player’s capability of playing both hi-def radio as well as outputting to hi-def TV (via a dock).  Perhaps more notable, are the facts that this player features a 3.3” OLED touchscreen, Internet browser, on-screen keyboard, and ultimately competes head-to-head with the iPod Touch.

The big issue, of course, is inherent “value” of the Zune over other brands.

I’m a Zune user, I like the hardware, I think the software is great, and I’m absolutely sold on the Zune Pass subscription service.  Where Zune has really struggled these past few years, if you ask me, is with their value proposition as compared with the competition – namely Apple.  Being “as good as” the competition will rarely get you market share.  You have to be better, and it needs to be noticeable. 

For instance, I would love to see…

  • Zune hardware that is less expensive than the competition
  • Zune Marketplace to feature less expensive music… like the Zune Pass 🙂
  • Zune hardware to feature better storage than comparable devices
  • Zune hardware to feature slightly bigger screens or sharper resolution
  • Zune hardware/software to tightly integrate with Xbox Live
  • Xbox Live content compatible with the Zune platform
  • XBLA Games ported to the Zune hardware

It may just be the little things that begin to win people over. 

If Microsoft it getting anything right in the PMP marketplace, it’s in their focus on software instead of hardware.  They are a software company, after all, and that’s their specialty.  The Zune Marketplace software is really great, and their ability to roll-out great new features in the Zune hardware updates has been wonderful as well.  It also looks like the Zune experience will soon be bundled with Windows Mobile phones, which is an interesting, if not critical, move for Microsoft.  Also, it does look like the Zune software platform will be coming to Xbox Live, which is great.  I’m interested to see how that rolls out.

I would love to see the Zune platform really excel with this latest iteration – if anything, just to keep the competition fierce.  Windows has needed the MacOS nipping at their heels for years, and I believe that the iPod world needs a competitive force pushing them as well. 

I’m looking forward to the Sept. 5th, 2009, launch of the Zune HD!

Lyrics o’ the day

I’ve been listening to Neko Case a bit lately, and I’ve been quite impressed with some of the imagery that she’s able to paint with words.  In fact, I’m always a bit jealous when an artist is able to convey something so powerful within the constrains of a few verses, choruses, and (perhaps) a bridge.

I’m talking about songs here, of course.

On her latest album ‘Middle Cyclone’, Neko kicks off with a strange “love song”, of sorts.  The object of affection is unnamed, unknown, and perhaps irrelevant, but the giver of affection is none other than a tornado.  Yes… a tornado.  Neko’s thought process, evidently, was “What would it look like it a tornado loved you?  Probably pretty dangerous.”  Strange and interesting, to say the least.

This Tornado Loves You”, from Middle Cyclone

My love I am the speed of sound
I left them motherless, fatherless
Their souls dangling inside-out from their mouths…
But it’s never enough
I want you

I carved your name across three counties
And ground it in with bloody hides
Broken necks will line the ditch
Til you “Stop it! Stop it! Stop the madness!”
I want you

I have waited with a glacier’s patience
Smashed every transformer with every trailer
Til nothing was standing
Sixty-five miles wide

But still you are nowhere, still you are nowhere,
Nowhere in sight
Come out to meet me, run out to meet me,
Come into the light

Climb the boxcars to the engine
Through the smoke and to the sky
Your rails could always outrun mine
So I picked them up and crashed them down
In a moment close to now
Cause I miss, I miss, I miss, I miss
How you’d sigh yourself to sleep
When I’d rake the springtime across your sheets

My love, I’m an owl on the sill in the evening
But morning finds you
Still warm and breathing
This tornado loves you
What will make you believe me?

Cool stuff.

Now that I think about it, is the “object of affection” here a train, perhaps?  Hmmm…