Microsoft unveils revamped Zunes

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it will offer three new models of the Zune in November, including two equipped with flash memory. The 4GB and 8GB versions are iPod Nano look-alikes that will sell for a suggested retail price of $149 and $199 respectively. An 80GB player equipped with a hard drive will sell for $249. The pricing scheme for the devices exactly mirrors that of Apple’s iPods.

Some of the other changes include a complete overhaul of the device’s software and a redesign of Marketplace, Zune’s music store. Other interesting features include wireless syncing and the new Zune Pad, a touch-sensitive technology that enables users to slide their finger across the main navigation button instead of always having to click.

Microsoft is a living example of the “third time’s the charm” axiom. Windows, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Center, etc.; it usually takes Bill G and company three times to knock it out of the park. They’re certainly heading that way with the Xbox 360, and it looks like the Zune may follow this trend as well.

No one in their right mind – or at the very least, anyone without an axe to grind – believed or said that Microsoft would be able to unseat the iPod right out of the gate with the Zune. And they didn’t. They won’t with this revision either – but they’re much closer to parity. For now, I’m still sticking with the iPod for my portable media (just bought a 160GB iPod Classic) – but come next year and the Zune 3.0, it may be a different story. The Zune may never be the literal “iPod Killer”, but it may well give Apple a run for their money.

[CNET News.com]

Xbox 360 spring update to offer h.264 and MPEG-4 video playback

Besides being a gaming console, the Xbox 360 has quite a bit of functionality as a media extender. Music, video, and pictures that are stored on your home PC can be streamed to the 360 for viewing on your TV – very handy, but up to this point it has been crippled quite a bit. Currently, the only video formats Microsoft has allowed users to view via the 360 are Windows Media Video, MPEG-1, and MPEG-2. There are a number of hacks out there that do a good job of shoehorning in support for other formats, including Transcode 360 and TVersity, but they both have a number of drawbacks.

The good news is, on May 7 Microsoft will be sending out the spring update to all internet-connected Xbox 360s. Listed among the many updates:

  • H.264 video support: Up to 15 Mbps, Baseline, Main, and High (up to level 4.1) Profiles with 2 channel AAC LC and Main Profiles.
  • Added MPEG-4 Part 2 video support: Up to 8 Mbps, Simple Profile with 2 channel AAC LC and Main Profiles.

This is a welcome update – whether or not Xvid will be supported is still up in the air, but this is definitely a step in the right direction. Not to mention a slightly obvious attempt to take a little wind out of the sails of the recently released Apple TV, which is primarily an MPEG-4/H.264 playback device. I was seriously considering buying one, but if the Xbox 360 I already own has the same functionality, I think I’ll stick with what I’ve got!

Related Entries

Free Software of the Week: Handbrake

Related Links

Xbox News: Instant Messaging Comes to Xbox 360

Transcode 360

TVersity

Free software of the week: Handbrake

I’m always on the lookout for good, free utilities and applications – I’m going to try to make this a regular feature, where I share a handful of useful apps that I use on a regular basis. Most of these will be in the realm of audio/video editing and transcoding, but I’ll post anything interesting. Some of these are very well known, others are more obscure.

There’s a distinction between software that’s “free as in beer” and “free as in speech”. I will be focusing on the “beer” type (i.e. costs nothing to use), but if it’s of the open source variety as well, so much the better.

This week’s pick is…

Handbrake

Handbrake is a nifty little app for Windows, Mac, and Linux that will allow you to take your DVDs and convert them into iPod-compatible MP4 video files. It’s been around for a couple of years, but until recently development had slowed considerably. Handbrake relatively simple to use and fairly quick, depending on your hardware. It’s still beta software, and has a few quirks here and there – the deinterlacing feature, for example, is terrible for animation (but is slated to be improved in future builds). But overall Handbrake is an excellent free app.

http://handbrake.fr

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

For those who have been coming here for a long time, you know that at one point I maintained a Steven Curtis Chapman fansite for nearly five years. Eventually I put it to rest, but not before I started working on a redesign that I briefly made public.So yesterday I was poking around, and found this site that looks a *lot* like that redesign I was working on. Certain similarities are uncanny – particularly the way he does links with [ brackets ], the color scheme, the green menu on the left, etc. And the fact that his website showed up only a couple of months after I closed up shop for good.

It might be entirely coincidental, but I thought it was pretty cool nonetheless ๐Ÿ™‚

My First iPod

2nd Gen iPod
2nd Gen iPod

YEAH! Blogger is finally working…

I got a new toy today – an Apple iPod. Basically, a super-duper MP3 player that can hold literally thousands of songs… and it weighs less than a pound. That’s just coooool{/deep voice}.

I guess that means my old MP3 player is for sale. Then again, everything I own is for sale – right John? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Well, it’s 7:15, and I haven’t had dinner yet. Catfish or ravioli… decisions, decisions…