It’s finally here! The Community Technical Preview (CTP) for XNA Game Studio 3.0 was announced yesterday. As I mentioned in my previous post about XNA Game Studio 3.0, you will need to have Visual Studio 2008 or Visual Studio 2008 Express installed with C# support installed. You can download XNA Game Studio 3.0 CTP here. If you write something cool, don’t forget to share it with everyone. Enjoy!

Ever since the video of someone playing a game on the Zune at the 2008 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco hit YouTube, the forums at zune.net and xna.com began buzzing with impatient excitement. When will we be able to download games to our Zune? Will games be available via the Marketplace? How much will games cost? Can I send games to my friend’s Zune wirelessly? Many people even took the video as a demo of a feature that already existed or at least had a planned release date.

Playing games on the Zune was originally something I was opposed to. I am not really into handheld gaming and I bought my Zune for its media playing abilities. I also do not think the buttons on the Zune were designed for the abuse that gaming is going to put them through. I have since warmed up to the idea a bit since the XNA framework could be used to design any application, not just a game.

To set the record straight, here are a few points taken from the Zune Game Development FAQ over at the XNA Creators Club site:

What is the XNA Framework?
From Wikipedia:
“The XNA Framework is based on the native implementation of .NET Compact Framework 2.0 for Xbox 360 development and .NET Framework 2.0 on Windows. It includes an extensive set of class libraries, specific to game development, to promote maximum code reuse across target platforms.”
What this means, is the XNA runtime runs on your Zune, you write code that XNA will execute. The Framework is designed to help you develop games faster. Since it is a .NET technology, you can code in any .NET language, but C# is the only one officially supported.
The current version of XNA Game Studio (2.0) works with Visual Studio 2005. However, XNA Game Studio 3.0, when released, will only work with Visual Studio 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 Express.

What about WiFi support?
Only Zune-to-Zune ad-hoc networking is supported. Games must be written to be multiplayer, and all players must have the game. You will not be able to access the internet or download content via WiFi.

Can I share my games with my friends?
No. Downloading of games is via USB only. Game Studio will not initially allow sharing game files, although it’s planned for a future release.

Which Zunes will be supported?
All Zunes are supported. This is great news for those of us with first generation hardware. The only difference will be the controller. The first gen Zunes will use a Dpad style controller, while the second gen Zunes will use a thumbstick type control.

Will the game have access to content on the Zune?
Yes and no. Games will have access and full use of pictures and non-DRM-tainted music.

When can I have it?
The preview release of the XNA Game Studio 3.0 is scheduled for any day now. The FAQ lists it as “Spring of 2008”. Since only one month is left of Spring here in the northern hemisphere, it should be coming soon. The final release is scheduled for the 2008 holiday season. I suspect that this is when XNA support and the ability to use games on the device will be added to the Zune. I will go even further and speculate that it’s release will coincide with the third generation Zunes.

What kind of graphics support will be available?
The Zune will only support 2-D graphics. Those of you hoping for a Doom port, may be waiting awhile. Of course don’t forget the Zune’s screen is only 240×320 or 320×240, depending on how you look at it.

What about memory usage?
Code and content for your application will need to fit in 16MB. The FAQ is not clear as to what this means. Does it mean a running game must fit in 16MB? Or does it mean a compiled game with all it’s resources must be no larger than 16MB?

Will there be XBox Live support?
No. As mentioned above,all networking is ad-hoc via WiFi.

As long as you work within the listed constraints, you can write anything you want. That’s what I’m excited about. It does not have to be a game. What would you write for your Zune?

At some point over the last few days, without any fanfare, I surpassed my first 1K (1,024) of plays. I have said before that I am completely addicted to the Zune. I listen in the car during my hour-long commute. I listen at work, pretty much all day. I watch podcasts or videos during my lunch break. I have not even listened to a CD since I bought the Zune back in early February.

While I [heart] my Zune, I do have a few thoughts on things I would like to see happen with the device, software, and site. In no particular order:

  1. A fix for the random reboot problem. It does not happen to me nearly as much as other people, but Microsoft’s lack of response is a bit unnerving. The Microsoft knowledge base refers to Zune.net as means for support, and yet none is given for this problem.
  2. Better video organization/navigation. Video on the Zune is great. Organization is not. You have two choices: List all the videos, or list videos by genre.
  3. Caching of lists on the Zune. Ever notice that if you go into a menu that has a large number of items, you can hear/feel the hard drive whirring away while the list of items is created? Since items can only be added during sync, why is the list of items seemingly built on-the-fly? When I select “Pictures”, I want the list of pictures to just show up. I do not want to wait 3 seconds while the hard drive thrashes together a list for me.
  4. Allow me to remove media from my PC without having it removed from the Zune during the next sync. Sync’ing as a guest or using hard drive hacks is not an acceptable solution to this problem.
  5. I would like to see status updates from the Zune Team. The community has been waiting a long time for the next version of the firmware and software. Regular updates from the Team would be great. It does not have to be anything special. Maybe a notice at the top of the page stating the development status or estimated time until realease.
  6. Support for more video file types. I cannot even begin to guess why the Zune software does not allow you to add AVI files. Considering the fact that most digital cameras encode video into an AVI file, this seems like a short-sighted descision on Microsoft’s part. Allowing users to sync FLV files would be a huge bonus as well since YouTube, Google, and Yahoo! all use this format. What if the Zune software and Internet Explorer worked together? IE could give you a right-click context menu option to add a video from a web page directly to your Zune’s video collection, ready to be moved to the Zune on the next sync.
  7. Fix the software. The Zune software is slow. The software uses too much CPU when sitting idle. It has problems burning and ripping CDs. You cannot edit meta tags with it. The list is long and needs to be addressed.
  8. Name the software. I brought this up recently in the Social. Refering to the software as “the software” or “the Zune software” seems to water down the Zune experience. It should have a name that is original, catchy, and, like the Zune, does not start with “i”.
  9. Games. Yeah, I said it. I was originally against this idea when the video from the Game Developers Conference made its rounds on the intertubes. While I will not use my Zune for gaming, I will use my Zune and my programming skillz to create custom applications. I have some ideas in mind, but I will save those for furture posts.
  10. No clock. I know it’s controversial. Clocks lead to Alarms. Alarms lead to Calendars. Calendars lead to Fear. Fear leads to Suffering. All are paths to the iPod side. Need them we do not. Listen to Yoda you should.

What about you? If you could have the Zune Team fix, add, or enhance something, what would it be?

Ask any Zune fan why the Zune is better than an iPod and you will get the same responses.  The sound is better.  The video is sharper.  While all valid reasons, one reason is often overlooked: accessories.  While I agree that the Zune could use a few more useful accessories, I love the fact that the market is not flooded with junk for the Zune.  So, here are 7 reasons (a.ka. “junky accessories”) why the Zune is better than the iPod:

iBig Box

iBig Box
A giant, inflatable boombox speaker dock.  I’d say more, but the picture manages to capture the awefulness so well.  Why ruin it?


ToiletPod

iCarta iPod Toliet Paper Holder
An iPod near the crapper.  Some might call that “poetic justice”.


iBigBeltBuckle

TuneBuckle
Yee-haw!  Got me a giant belt buckle for my iPod-thingy.


ToiletPod

CEO Billfold Wallet
Some might say this is a great idea.  Just wait until you accidentally put it in your back pocket and sit on it.


iBabyGrand

Concerto Table
A table that looks like a piano.  And is an iPod dock.  And has built in speakers.  And costs $14,000.  See where I’m going with this?


iBoxers

iBoxers
Great idea until someone sees the cord coming out of your pants.  I suppose they could come in handy if you wanted to act out Tom Cruise’s famous scene from Risky Business.


iBlow

iBreath Breathalizer
Attach it to your iPod and blow it.

The Zune is better because it will hopefully never have these things.  What items would you like to not see made available for the Zune?

If you have a Zune 30 or 80, you probably know you can watch videos, podcasts, and view pictures and album art on your television. What you may not know is that you do not have to buy an expensive dock or cable from Microsoft to do it. If you are like me, you have a cable from a camcorder lying around somewhere. If not, you can pick one up for cheap. You can also use a scrap iPod cable if you happen to have one buried in your junk drawer.

Using this chart from anythingbutipod.com, we can determine the pinout of the Zune A/V cable:

Zune A/V Cable Pinout

The only difference between a standard camcorder cable and the Zune is that the right audio channel (the red connector) and the composite video channel (yellow connector) are reversed. This is easy enough to fix. Plug the cable into the Zune and then connect as follows:

Cable’s Yellow Connector –> TV’s Red Connector
Cable’s Red Connector –> TV’s Yellow Connector
Cable’s White Connector –> TV’s White Connector

If you are using an iPod Video cable, the chart shows that the video channel is the same. Only the left and right audio channels (red and white connectors). To use the cable, connect as follows:

Cable’s Yellow Connector –> TV’s Yellow Connector
Cable’s Red Connector –> TV’s White Connector
Cable’s White Connector –> TV’s Red Connector

Once the Zune is plugged in, follow these steps:

  1. Set your TV to use the input you have your Zune connected to.
  2. Go into the Zune’s “settings” menu. Select “tv out”. You will see a message informing you that to turn off “tv out” you need to hold the play/pause button down and shut off the Zune.
  3. Confirm the message.

You should now see the Zune’s main menu on your TV. One thing to note that I found confusing at first: when viewing on the TV, the Zune’s controls are always oriented vertically. Even when watching videos, the Zune is held as if listening to music.

Think back to math class.  Remember when your teacher said, “Pay attention!  This might save your life some day.”  Well, today is that day.  OK, so this might not save your life… unless your life depends on transcoding videos correctly.  Sometimes it is necessary to resize a video to make it fit the Zune’s display.  To do this one needs to understand aspect ratio.

A ratio is simply a comparison.  Like “16 to 9″or “4 to 3”.  Ratios can be represented with a colon between numbers (16:9, 4:3) or as fractions (16/9, 4/3).

The aspect ratio of a video is a comparison of the video’s width to it’s height.  An aspect ratio is always expressed as a ratio of the longer side to the shorter side.

Normal screen video has an aspect ratio of 4:3.  Regardless of the video’s actual dimensions, for every 4 pixels of width, the video will have 3 pixels of height.  Examples of 4:3 include 320×240 and 640×480.  If you pull out a calculator, you will find that 640/480 = 320/240 = 4/3.

Wide screen video has an aspect ratio of 16:9.  For every 16 pixels of width there will be 9 pixels of height.  Examples include 320×180 and 720×405.  Again, with the calculator, 720/405 = 320/180 = 16/9.  (Note: there are actually several ratios that are “widescreen”– 15:9, 16:10, etc.  16:9 is the aspect ratio for HDTV.)

Now that we understand the basics, let’s apply them.  Let’s assume that you have downloaded a video in AVI format and found it to be 450×300.  You decide to resize the video to fit the Zune’s screen while converting it from AVI.  To maximize screen usage, you know that the new width will be 320 (the width of the Zune’s screen).  To calculate the new height, we need to compare the width/height ratio of the source video to the ratio of our new video:

Aspect Ratio Example

450/300 is the ratio of the source video’s width and height.  320/H is the ratio of our transcoded video.  320 is the new width and H will be the new height.  Following the steps, we get 213.33.  Always round decimals to the nearest power of 2.  Doing this makes the new height of the video 214.  You can now start your favorite video transcoding software and set the output video’s resolution to be 320×214.

Video gurus may find this information very basic.  If you have something to add, please comment!  For those of you that are new to converting videos, I hope this makes transcoding your next video a little easier.

Recently I purchased a Zune 30.  The Zune is my first media player, and I have quickly become addicted to it.  I listen to it all day at work.  I plug it into my receiver at home.  It has been loaded with a great deal of music, a number of music videos, a few movies, and every episode of an old TV show I used to watch (MTV’s Sifl and Olly Show– it’s crescent fresh!).  I can hardly wait to get the car kit so I can listen during my morning and afternoon commute.

Frequenting Zune.net under the name “KiloVision”, I have found help for my issues.  In a show of good karma, I try to return the favor by helping those in need.  In that spirit, I decided to start Zunespace.  In the coming time, you will find articles, tutorials, and maybe a few DIY ideas that I hope you will find useful.  Reader input is always welcome.  If you have an idea for something you would like to see here, let me know.