Zune HD Education Machine

When I commute to my job, I use the travel time as an opportunity to listen to educational material.  The Zune HD makes an excellent dedicated audio or video player that I prefer over cell phones or small mp3 players if you can get by without Bluetooth connectivity.

Of course, if you drive, you cannot watch videos but podcasts are fair game. I just bought a refurbished Zune HD with 16 GB of memory. This model replaced my Zune mini with 8 GB and the difference is enormous. Refurbished Zune HD models are currently available on eBay for around 65 $USD from several sellers. Once these are gone you will have to buy a used one. An equivalent Touch sells for around $199 USD but the unit is just too large for my purposes.

If you want a compact solution, the  iPod Nano seventh generation is a better alternative that retails for $149. It has a smaller screen but has built-in bluetooth, a real advantage. The Nano player does not support WMV-files, a disadvantage for someone like me that has a lot of these files. I decided to go with the Zune HD because of the slick user interface, the bigger screen, and the ability to output 720p video when coupled with the Zuned HD dock. I’ve been watching some videos played through the Zune dock. No more having to sit at my desk to watch a video, just grab the remote control and sit anywhere in the room.

Zune HD Advantages

Here are the advantages of the Zune HD over other players. First the navigation interface is very intuitive and snappy. There were no pauses except when I exited an application and when back to the main menu. I really do not use the small library of applications, so that is not an issue for me. The screen is awesome. It’s bright, clear, and has vibrant colors.  

If you tilt the player, the colors still remain clear and vibrant. The Zune HD player comes in  16 GB, 32GB, and 64B models, enough memory to make it a portable education machine.  16 GB is adequate for my situation because I do not watch full length movies on the player. I use the player mainly for podcasts and short videos that I download from the internet for free.

The Zune HD features and a tuner that seems better than most that I have used and receives HD radio but only if you live in the United States. This is a nice feature if you like FM radio. I a going to buy the HD dock so I can have a virtually invisible stereo system with an mp3 player, FM tuner, bluetooth receiver, and a turntable. There is no receiver only a switch that selects the output and sends the signal to a small set of ribbon speakers.

Zune HD Disadvantages

As great as this player is, there are a few drawbacks. First, there is no bluetooth, a feature that I really miss. Being to transmit to a speaker would be the cat’s meow but sadly it’s not there. The equalizer offers a set of predefined settings. The user cannot create a customized setting. The font for the elapsed time is just too small. I would like something that I can glace at and immediately read. The clock is not visible on the screen that plays the music. This feature was available on the Zune mini and I miss it.

The volume control does not work whether you use the HDMI or composite cable; however, the volume control does work if you dock the Zune-HD in the previous generation dock for the second generation zunes. The player is no longer in production so you can only buy used or, for a short period of time, refurbished units.

Content for the Zune HD

Okay, you bought a Zune, what next?  Content! You can get lots of free content from the following content producers. Derek Banas has many excellent videos related to software development and other topics. I just loaded his Scala and Haskell tutorials and they are awesome.  His videos are fast paced and deliberately packed with an enormous amount of information.  Don’t hesitate to hit the pause button if you needs to slow down the pace.

John Sonmez runs the SimpleProgrammer web site that is probably the first site dedicated to coaching and enhancing the careers of people in the IT field. John is  working full time on the site so the articles are frequent and can be quite technical and involved. On top of that, John also releases content on YouTube and iTunes so you can download his videos and podcasts on to your Zune HD very easily. Charles Max Wood authors several podcasts but the Ruby Rogues is my favorite. Read my review to find out why.

The Zune HD Dock

I acquired the dock for the Zune HD and the the dock is awesome. The remote control works flawlessly and controls the Zune when connected to my monitor that has HDMI input. The sharpness for HD technical videos is excellent. The Zune can output composite, 480p, and 720p signals. My only complaint is that when I hit the pause button the popup menu that appears on the bottom of the screen does not go away after a time interval. Watching videos with the Zune HD dock is actually easier that watching them on a PC with a mouse.

Zune HD Dock

Zune HD Dock

The Improved Zune HD

Sorry, it does not exist yet. Hopefully Microsoft will see the large market for a dedicated high quality media player.  Here is what the new one would need.

  1. Bluetooth so that the player can transmit to a speaker.
  2. Custom equalizer settings.
  3. Use a larger font for the elapsed time, the current font is just too small.
  4. Display the clock with a large font on the play screen.
  5. An index for videos in the menu like the one available for songs.

That is not much to ask to create the world’s best portable media player.

P.S.

The Zune may occasionally freeze. To soft reset a Zune, press and hold the power button for about 12 seconds until a Zune icon appears in the centre of the screen. The Zune will then reboot and return to normal.