I admit it, I did not buy a Zune last year when they were first released.  I don't have a large music collection and I'm generally happy listening to the radio to get my music fix, or the digital music channels available from my cable company, if you will.

However, as some of you may realize from my previous postings (Vista Media Center Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), I have been a fan of Media Center as a potential alternative to the recently-downgraded (don't get me started, even my wife lost what she considered *basic* features with the "standard" Comcast DVR downgrade) Comcast DVR.

The event that kicks this story of begins with a Poker game.  Just after Microsoft announced the new Zune line-up in October, I zune-reaperwon a charity poker event where the prize was a custom Zune 30.  It was basically a "pearl" Zune with a special logo on the back and pre-loaded with some poker theme music that we heard during the event.  I played with it a few days, loading it with some songs and even buying a couple of recent ones from the Zune marketplace.

Then ... I discovered the killer feature ... integration with my Windows Vista Media Center.   Now, technically, this feature was not actually enabled when I discovered it.  However, it took me all of 5 minutes to find the registry mod on the Internet and enable it.  That became moot a week or so ago when the recent Zune upgrade rectified that issue, so now everyone can enjoy this feature by default.  Here is the very simple set-up instructions:

  1. Install the Zune software on your media center
  2. Make sure you add your "Recorded TV" folder, if it is in an odd place (mine is on an external half-TByte drive).
  3. Plug in your Zune device as a guest
  4. Sync recorded TV shows to your heart's content

Now, let's see why this rocks...

iPod vs Zune TV Comparison

The Apple Way...

There was much ado when the Daily Show became available on iTunes for $1 per show or $9.99 for 16 episodes (roughly 3 weeks of shows).  I browsed over to http://www.apple.com/itunes/store/tvshows.html just now and found this blurb:

Be a watercooler hero.  For as little as $1.99, you can own the latest episode of your favorite show as early as one day after it airs, or purchase past episodes that you missed (or want to watch over and over). Choose a Season Pass and get a whole season of a TV show, past or present, at a discount. Or buy Multi-Passes for shows that air every day, like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and enjoy a month’s worth of episodes downloaded automatically to your computer.

Well, yahoo, yipee!  Only $2 per show on your iPod, iPhone or Apple TV.

The Zune + Media Center Way ...

I record all of my favorite TV shows on my Windows Media Center.  In the evening, I plug in my Zune and choose which shows to sync for mobile watching.  For example, last night I chose the two latest episodes of Heroes which I had not gotten around to watching because of my recent Jury Duty and the holiday activities.  The Zune software automagically converts the show to 320x240 and syncs it to my Zune.

This morning on the Connector Bus to work, I watched Heroes Season 2, Episode 7, "Out of Time" and found out the surprising identity of "Adam Monroe."  I'll watch Episode 8 on the way home...

And My TV Movies Too...

And, it doesn't stop there.  As I described previously, I've been building up quite a library of TV Movies, cutting out commercials, compressing them and creating my own on-demand TV Movies library.  Since I got my Zune, I've switched to using MP4 compression with H.264 video and AAC3 audio, which gets added automatically to my Zune library and can be synced to the device... better together indeed!

With my Zune 30, this means I can load up about 50 kids movies and TV shows that I've previously recorded for those long road trips and vacations.  In fact, I can plug my Zune into the aux-video inputs in our mini-van and play directly on the integrated DVD video screen.

And it is all so easy...