Windows 7 : The Zune PC Software (part 4) - Using Zune - Working with Videos, Organizing Pictures

3/4/2013 6:49:05 PM
3.6. Working with Videos

Like Windows Media Player, Zune supports playing back various types of movies. There are some key differences between the two, however, including the following:

  • Windows Media Player has a more flexible UI: WMP supports different video playback modes, including a true full-screen mode. Zune is far less configurable. It has a nice-looking full-screen mode (Now Playing), but it's not truly full screen in that it doesn't even hide the Windows taskbar, as shown in Figure 22.

    Figure 22. It looks nice, but Zune's full-screen playback mode isn't really full screen.
  • They support different video formats: Although there's some overlap—both Windows Media Player and Zune play nonprotected WMV and H.264 files, for example—video format support differs in important ways between each player. For example, Windows Media Player can play DRM-protected WMV videos from services such as CinemaNow and MovieLink, which Zune cannot.

The takeaway from all of this is that Zune cannot replace Windows Media Player when it comes to PC-based video playback, which again slightly lessens the ubiquity of this player. Instead, video support in the player seems to be there largely to facilitate synchronization with Zune devices. Presumably, Microsoft expects you to just watch your videos that way.

Syncing video with Zune devices works just like syncing music.

From an organizational standpoint, Zune offers some decent capabilities for your video collection. As with music, Zune supports a number of subviews for Videos:

  • All: This view displays all of the videos stored in the folders that Zune monitors, regardless of type. To change the type of a video, right-click it and choose Edit. This will display the dialog shown in Figure 23. Click the Category button and choose the appropriate type—TV Series, TV Specials, TV News, Music, Movies, or Other—from the drop-down list that appears.

    Figure 23. Zune lets you categorize your videos.
  • TV: In this view, only the TV shows in your video collection are displayed. (Microsoft sells TV shows in Zune Marketplace.)

  • Music: In this view, only the music videos in your video collection are displays. (Yes, Microsoft also sells music videos from Zune Marketplace.)

  • Movies: In this view, only the movies (that is, full-length Hollywood-type movies) in your video collection are displayed.

  • Other: Here, videos that are categorized as Other are displayed.

Why categorize? Well, content sold via the Zune Marketplace is categorized, of course. But the real reason is that Microsoft's Zune devices also utilize these category types for navigational purposes. So you could view the TV shows and movies stored on your device in separate lists if you wanted.


Zune uses a thumbnail image to represent each video, and it doesn't offer a way to add DVD cover art, similar to music album art, to videos. But that doesn't mean you can't add DVD cover art to ripped DVDs and other video content: you could use another application, like Apple's iTunes, to add DVD cover art to a video file. When you do so, Zune recognizes it and uses it in the thumbnail display. As you can see in Figure 24, the effect is quite attractive

Figure 24. Zune doesn't let you add DVD cover art to videos, but it will utilize them if you add them with another application.

3.7. Organizing Pictures

Zune's support of pictures is pretty lackluster and seems to be oriented more toward device synchronization than actual PC playback. In this sense, the Zune software is much like Windows Media Player. It offers only basic picture viewing functionality, with simple slide shows. That said, the Zune does present folders of photos in a very visual way. As shown in Figure 25, folders of photos utilize a thumbnail and a large photo count within the Zune player.

Zune's slide show also works within the pseudo full-screen mode that's provided for videos, as shown in Figure 26.

Syncing photos with Zune devices works just like syncing music.

Figure 25. Zune doesn't offer much in the way of photo functionality, but its presentation of photo folders is highly visual.

Figure 26. Photo slide shows utilize whatever playlist is currently playing for a full multimedia experience.

3.8. Radio in the 21st Century: Enjoying Podcasts with Zune

As the Internet's answer to radio broadcasts, podcasts are an awesome diversion, with topics ranging from the expected tech nonsense to travel, food, celebrity gossip, and more. In other words, it's just like radio from a content perspective. The problem with podcasts is that in order to enjoy them effectively, you need a software client that can work with the underlying technologies that distribute and manage these recordings.

Windows Media Player is not such a client. While you can of course play podcast files with Windows Media Player—they are typically delivered as standard MP3 files, after all—and even manage them manually if you're so inclined, this software has no understanding of the infrastructure that is used to post new podcast episodes.

Zune has no such problem. In fact, one of the major features of the Zune platform is that it's completely compatible with podcasts, so you can subscribe to podcasts with Zune and sync them with your Zune device if you have one.


In fact, you could use Zune to subscribe to podcasts even if you plan on usually using Windows Media Player. That's because Zune will save podcasts, by default, inside of your My Music folder, which is monitored by the Music library in Windows 7, and thus by Windows Media Player. Put another way, podcast content subscribed to by Zune automatically appears in Windows Media Player as well.

First, you might want to configure how the Zune PC software handles podcasts. This is done via the Podcasts section in Zune Settings, as shown in Figure 27. Here, you can determine how many episodes you want to keep of each podcast (three is the default, but you can keep as few as one at a time or as many as all of them) and how the podcast episodes are ordered (newest episodes first or oldest episodes first). Unfortunately, these settings are universal. You can't configure them differently for individual podcasts.

To subscribe to a podcast, you have two options. First, you can search podcasts via Zune Marketplace. As far as podcasts go, Zune Marketplace has a great selection, and its integrated search tool and genre-browsing capabilities make finding the right podcasts short work. A typical podcast entry in Zune Marketplace is shown in Figure 28. As you can see, you can easily download an individual episode to try it out, or click the Subscribe button to begin receiving new episodes automatically.

A less well-known method of subscribing to podcasts is via a standard RSS feed. To subscribe to a podcast this way, you need to visit the podcast's Web site in a Web browser and copy the URL for its RSS feed to your clipboard. Then, open the Zune PC software and navigate to Collection => Podcasts. In the lower-left corner of the player is an Add a Podcast button. Click this button and then paste the RSS feed URL into the dialog that appears, as shown in Figure 29.

Figure 27. Before subscribing to any podcasts, you should configure how Zune handles podcast subscriptions and playback.

Figure 28. Now there's a handsome devil.

Figure 29. It's low-tech, but this works too.

To test this, use a random podcast RSS feed URL such as, oh, say, Paul would really appreciate it.


Before you can subscribe to a podcast from the Zune Marketplace, you need to create and sign in to your Windows Live ID first.

4. Sharing Zune

If you're really living the digital media lifestyle, you might want to share the content in your Zune collection with other devices around your home, including PCs, digital media receivers, and the Xbox 360. Not surprisingly, this is all very possible.

4.1. Sharing with PCs and Other Windows Media Devices

Windows 7 already includes integrated digital media-sharing features, and those features continue to work just fine if you choose to use the Zune PC software to manage your music. That's because Zune integrates with this underlying technology and shares, by default, the same monitored folders and media folders as Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center.

Here's a shocker: this sharing capability extends even to Digital Rights Management– (DRM-) protected music that you've purchased from Zune Marketplace.

One interesting side note: while Windows Media Player works nicely with shared media libraries on other PCs thanks to its integration with Windows 7's HomeGroup functionality, Zune doesn't really offer any way to directly share content with other instances of the Zune software. For example, say you have Zune installed on two different PCs, both of which are connected to your home network, and you've decided to manage your music collection with this software. Even though Windows might be sharing your content on both PCs, the Zune software on either PC will never see the collection on the other. To do that, you have to use Windows Media Player. This, too, is another one of those areas in which the evolving nature of the Zune software makes it a little less viable as your sole solution for managing digital media content.


You can get around this limitation with a brute force approach if you really want to. To do so, visit Settings => Software => Collection in the Zune software and configure it to monitor one or more shared folders on your network that contain digital media content you'd like to enjoy. 

4.2. Sharing with the Xbox 360

Zune also supports an optional media-sharing feature that's aimed at the Xbox 360, Microsoft's video game console. If you have one of these devices and think you may want to stream music, movies, and other content from your Zune media library over your home network, you'll need to enable this functionality first. To do so, navigate to Settings => Sharing.

Click the button labeled Enable Media Sharing with Xbox 360. Once you have done this, you can configure a few other sharing options, such as the name that will identify your media collection to the Xbox 360, which media types to share (music, video, and pictures are available, but only music is selected by default), and whether you want to share your media library with any nearby Xbox 360 or would prefer to specify a particular console. (The Zune-based PC and Xbox 360 must, of course, be on the same home network for the sharing feature to work.)

On the Xbox 360, media sharing is handled via the My Xbox section of the New Xbox Experience (NXE) user interface, just as it is for any other shared PC-based media libraries. To find your Zune, navigate to Music Library and then select the proper PC from the list in Select Source. (It will have a colorful purple and orange Zune logo next to it, so you can tell which one represents your Zune-based library.)

When you select the Zune-based library, you can choose between lists of Albums, Artists, Saved Playlists (which include both manual playlists and autoplaylists), Songs, and Genres.


Navigating through your Zune-based library from the Xbox 360 is pretty straight-forward, if not as graphical as doing so from the Zune PC software. However, the first time you try to play AAC (audio) or H.264 (video) content in this fashion, the Xbox 360 will alert you that you need to download a media update. This free update downloads and installs quickly.

Finding Zune-based photos and videos is handled similarly, using the Picture Library and Video Library options in My Xbox.

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