Zune Interviews

Interviews with the Zune crew and Microsoft employees working on the Zune team.

GamertagRadio.com interviews Morgan Heritage Music

Nov 162006
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GamertagRadio.com interviews Morgan Heritage Music

I mentioned this in the last post but I have to say it again, Godfree is the man when it comes to running an interview. I myself have never done one like this but it looks I’ll be doing some in the future and it was a great learning experience for me. It may seem a simple task but it’s not for everyone.

Godfree and his younger brother Nano are professional gamers and they are part of the GamertagRadio.com show. I think this here says it all abbot how well they do their thing. "Here at Xbox®, we think Gamertag Radio is one of the most exciting additions to the Xbox Live community" Xbox.com You can’t ask for better then that can you? I must admit I have yet to hear many of his previous shows but I’m gonna load them on my Zune and catch up on some past episodes.

I was able to get a copy of the interview up on YouTube for now but I’ll probably change it for a better version I’m working on. For now enjoy Godfree interview Peter Morgan, lead vocalist for Morgan Heritage Music.

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A Day at the Beach

Nov 152006
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Having been born and raised in South Florida I’ve had my fair share of trips to the beach. My trip to South Beach in Miami on Monday for the Zune launch event was one of the better ones ever. I moved to Central Florida almost two years ago now and it’s been that long since I’ve been to the beach or swimming in the ocean. I had almost forgotten how beautiful South Florida really is. The weather was absolutely perfect, the breeze rolling in off the crystal blue waters was refreshing and the sun was shining. I arrived on Ocean Drive at just before noon and the day was already hot as beach balls.

South Beach is a wonderful place with lots of natural beauty from the land to the sea but it’s the people that make it so special. I swear they have signs somewhere that says no ugly people allowed but I never saw them. Everyone on South Beach is beautiful, a model or a producer of some sort. I saw more Usher wannabes and Beyonce knock offs then I normally care for but it was all good to me. The Zune Crew was in full effect and the stage was nearly set when we arrived. It was a great location for what turned out to be an even better show. I think we were all left wanting for a little more music than the one hour show offered but it really was worth the four hour drive.

The goal for me was to enjoy the concert and meet with John Porcaro of the Xbox and Zune marketing team and Godfree and Nano from GamerTag Radio. I exceeded my goals and then some. South Beach is the perfect place for a Zune launch party as the people are friendly and ready to talk about anything. I spent the better part of my day cruising the beach and talking Zune to anyone that would listen. I must have spoken to over 100 people about Zune and not a single one of them had ever heard of it. That’s to be expected but what was surprising was the lack of details provided by Microsoft. With all the preparations being made no one seemed to be getting the message out as well as they could have. Most of the people I spoke with thought Zune was the name of the band, this may seem odd but I was impressed with how well the name stuck with people. Everyone saw it and wanted to know what Zune was but explaining it like 100 times can consume your day.

The concert featured two reggae sensations from South Florida, the Morgan Heritage Music group and Richie Spice. I must admit I spent more time with the crowd during Mr Spices’ set and missed much of his music. It’s standard fair as far as reggae goes but definitely good music. I was most impressed with Morgan Heritage and their fusion of old school roots reggae with a new school rock/punk twist. The group is comprised of five family members with Ms. Una Morgan and Roy "Gramps" Morgan on vocals and keyboards, Lukes Morgan on the guitar, Mr. Mojo Morgan on percussion and Peter Morgan as lead vocals.

These guys are pretty tight and play very well together. You can hear that they have spent a lot of time working together and their music really meshes into a great sounding live group. The crowd at South Beach was feeling things and they really seemed to enjoy the free concert on the beach. I had never had the pleasure to hear these guys before I was introduced to them by Zune but I am sure to remain a fan from now on. Seeing a band or group play live really does make a difference in how you hear their music. When I first heard I was going to be seeing them live I reviewed their music on their website and thought it was very original and well produced but not until I heard them live did I realize just how good these guys are and how well they perform together. Must be something about them being family that makes them so tight but they really are a talented group or musicians.

Honestly most concerts make me realize that music today is far too mechanical and the sounds you hear on an album rarely come from a live band. Not the case with Morgan Heritage, I think these guys sound better live then anything and I was most impressed with how well they played together. They have recently recorded a live album in Amsterdam, called Morgan Heritage Live and you can hear the cities influences in their music. I highly recommend you try out their new live album at the Morgan Heritage Music store right now!

I had the honor of meeting the band and watching a real pro interview them when I sat in on the GamerTagRadio interview by Daniel "Godfree" Pena. I can see that I have a lot to learn about interviewing a musician and I doubt anyone can teach me more about being cool under pressure then Daniel. Watching him interview these guys was awesome and he made it look so easy it was crazy. I was nervous and I was just watching him. Download the Morgan Heritage Music Interview by Daniel from Gamer Tag Radio here. YouTube was down when I posted this so I’ll have to upload the movie later. You can view tons of great photos of the event here and I will be posting more pictures later today.


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Zune Crew Interview – Episode Two – Bill Wittress

Nov 102006
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The Zune Crew has been very busy with the upcoming launch and some of these questions were asked three weeks ago.

Next up in the Zune Crew Interviews we have Bill Wittress the ZuneGuy who labels himself the "Zune BizDev guy" and states "I’ve worked in this space for 8 years. I’ve worked on PMC and PlaysForSure before coming to work for Zune. This really is my dream job". His current work seems primarily focused on developing the "Designed for Zune" accessories program. He is actively pursuing manufacturers interested in joining the program and has opened up discussion on what type of accessories we would like to see for Zune. We look forward to seeing some of the most requested Zune accessories developed soon.

Bill just finished up a trip to Disney with the family so as expected his Zune blog was kinda light on the posting but he maintains a loyal following in his comments. You can find out more about Who is BillWitt? in his post here. Let’s get on to the questions right? This is a zunemaxoriginal document.

1.) Has running the ZuneGuy.com blog been what you expected or more? Can you tell us what your goals and plans are with your blog?

Zuneguy is a lot more work than I thought. I wasn’t expecting the amount of care and feeding I’d be giving to the site. That being said, it has been a great way to connect with users. There is only so much market research you can do. This way, I get to have direct contact with people and hopefully get feedback that we can use in the next version of the product and the accessories.

2.) You have 8 years experience in the digital music industry. What do you feel Zune brings to the DAP market besides WiFi?

Zune really is about unifying the whole digital media experience. It goes way beyond just the player. Now, when you want to experience your content on the PC or on the Xbox, there is a commonality between them. That experience is echoed on the device as well. There is a sense of family now where there once was no connection. That family relationship may not be brother and sister, but it is certainly close cousins. That sense of connectivity and commonality is a feature unique to Zune.

3.) Do you think the sharing features will really bring music lovers together to share locally?

In a word, yes. There is no doubt that being able to share content wirelessly is a cool feature. I suspect folks will be skeptical about it until they try it. Once they do, the light bulb will go off and they will think it is really cool.

4.) What do you think will be the most popular accessories for Zune players?

Cases, speakerdocks and headphones in that order. Of course, people will buy cables and standard docks too, but the vast majority will buy those three things.

5.) How receptive have accessories manufacturers been towards working with Microsoft on the “Designed for Zune” program?

They have exceeded my wildest expectations. The partners are lining up to work with us. We literally can’t support everyone right now even if we wanted to.

6.) Is Microsoft offering a more competitive agreement than Apple for these manufacturers in order to have them build Zune accessories?

We don’t disclose terms of our agreement. That being said, we offer a very robust program that is beneficial for both parties. We’re not just going to extract a license from the partners and walk away. We offer PR, marketing and retail exposure that they can’t get in other programs.

7.) Do you ever see Microsoft manufacturing accessories or even hardware for Zune?

We do that today. We currently ship over 10 SKUs of what we call 1st party accessories. We’ll continue to explore new opportunities if they make sense for the overall ecosystem.

8.) You mention in your interview with Zunelicious that “the concept of GamerTags is reflected in the MediaTags in Zune”. Will there be Zune tag to identify users on the Zune network like the Xbox tag does for online gaming?

Yes. We have ZuneTags and you’ll get one when you install the software for the first time. That tag can be associated with your passport just like Xbox is today.

9.) How would you address those with concerns that Microsoft has or will abandon PlaysForSure? How can Microsoft fairly support both in the marketplace?

I find it interesting that just about everyone I talk to assumes that the decisions to support Zune means we don’t support PlaysForSure. Both can co-exist. Microsoft has a long history of supporting multiple projects. Take TV for instance. There is the MSTV effort, the MSNTV effort and the Media Center effort. All are TV, but each serves a different need. That’s the same with PFS and Zune.

10.) Is there anything you want to add that no one has asked of you yet?

I’m surprised no one has asked me about my efforts around PMC. Maybe one day I’ll show you guys the first prototype we built for Mr. Gates that I hand soldered (it still works by the way).

11.) What do you like most about working for Microsoft?

It is the people, without a doubt. There is incredible diversity and great debate. It is fantastic to be able to debate the details of a project and then have a great bunch of motivated individuals to make it happen.

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Zune Crew Interview – Episode One – Dave Caulton

Nov 012006
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When the guys from Zune started granting interviews we wanted to do one Zune MAX style. We decided to interview each of the Microsoft Zune employees with a blog in one huge interview but that may be too much. We figure there must be more then these three great people working on the Zune but these are the ones with Zune blogs and they were the only people that would answer our questions anyway. We could probably make this the longest blog post ever but you really want to get to these interviews. Theres some juicy tidbits of Zune information in here for those of us starved for some Zune news.

Without further delays ZuneMAX.com brings you the first installment of the Zune Crew Interview series.

Our first interview is with Dave Caulton who manages the Zunester blog. Dave gets to be the first Zune Crew interviewed because he returned the questions first and thats the only reason. Daves’ blog tackles the more technical side of Zune. He’s got some great information on transcoding files for Zune as well as the low down on Zune Sharing. Dave is a multi talented man with an eye for cool pictures and would probably make a great photographer. Dave has excellent taste in coffee he enjoys hiking cycling and has three kids.

His blog has some unique flavor to it much like the coffee he drinks. We found some amusing irony in the Google contextual advertisements on this Zune blog selling "Apple Imac Computers" as well as "Unlock you Ipod" services but the "Apple 60GB iPod with Video" for $299.99 and the "Apple 30GB iPod with Video" for only $229.99 from Amazon are simply priceless. If we choose to buy an iPod for $229.99 instead of a Zune for $249.99 this holiday season it’ll be from Daves’ blog for sure.

Daves’ a busy man it seems but he took the time to answer a few questions for us and we appreciate it. Thanks Dave.

1.) Has running the Zunester.com blog been what you expected or more?
Can you tell us what your goals and plans are with your blog?

DC: It was really a lark that started when I grabbed the Zunester domain name. I thought this was the obvious thing to do with it. The reception has been great – both the subscriber numbers and tone of the responses. My biggest fear was always that a blog would be useless; every post would have one of three results:

  • Bore everyone to death (Blah blah I went on vacation, my kids are cute, etc…)
  • Irritate folks with useless marketing fluff (“gee, everything my team does is AWESOME!”)
  • Get me fired. (“hey, here’s a cool legal secret nobody knows!”)

It turns out there’s a real thirst for info and insights that are ok to talk about, so it’s been fun. As for plans, I like to think it fills a need for folks that want an inside view and more technical/strategic details than Bill (Zuneguy) and Cesar (Zuneinsider) necessarily offer. I’ll continue that going forward.

2.) How exactly is it that Zune is able to claim 100 hours of video time on the same size HD as the iPod and they can only claim 40 hours?

It’s all about the bitrate. Apple went to high bitrate 640×480 files, which are really overkill for a portable device with a 320×240 screen. There’s some merit to higher res for the video out scenario, of course. But we chose to optimize for the most video at the optimal quality for its screen.

3.) In your blog post titled "Zune’s transcoding feature – ‘splained!" you mention "Once the transcode is complete, it transfers the copy over onto the device – voila, you’re ready to play. It saves the copy in the cache so the next time you need to sync that movie, you don’t need to transcode it again."

DC: Does this mean we’ll need to keep a copy of all movies on our Zune players on our PC harddrive as well? Will we need 30GB of HD space on our PC just to keep a copy of our Zune data for sync?

No, only for the files that need transcoding. Music files will almost universally play, so there’s no need to transcode. Video files will transcode, and thus end up in the cache. But the cache has a maximum size limit (that the user can set) so old stuff gets dumped to make room for new stuff.

4.) How long does it take to transcode a feature length movie?

DC: I’ve got a smokin’ machine, so it’s much faster than real time. A more typical PC will take about real time; 30 min for 30 min of video. This definitely makes filling your device with non-native video an overnight process, but it’s worth it to have 8 hours of Dora and Cyberchase on my device before going on a flight with my kids.

5.) In your blog post titled "Zune Sharing explained" you list searching for nearby Zune owners to interact with as a feature. Will we have the ability to hide from or ignore other Zune users? Will the search function work on "Zune tags" and allow us to search for users by name as well as proximity?

DC: Yes, you can hide from or ignore other Zunes, and also turn off the WiFi. For now, the feature gives you a nice list of all nearby users; no filtering is enabled. Hopefully there will soon be so many Zunes that filtering will be needed ;)

6.) The same blog post also states "Zunes will not (at launch) connect to the internet via your home base station network. Zunes can not download songs over the air from the internet service." Realizing the strong demand for both features can we expect the functionality will be added in the future via a software update?

DC: I’ve definitely heard this feedback, but can’t talk about future product plans.

7.) There has not been much said or shown about the Zune applying DRM to or sharing video. Will Zune apply any DRM to video files like it does music or remain DRM free like images? Will Zune be able to share videos the same way it does music?

DC: We looked at this, but the file sizes involved in video make sharing across the current WiFi impractical. That said, stay tuned. As an aside, “DRM” isn’t applied to files in the sense of encrypting them, rather there’s a device side limit on what you can do with sent audio files. It’s a fine technical point that won’t matter to 99% of your users, but it’s an important one.

8.) Is the DJ mode an actual broadcast or does the Zune act more like a server and require a file download for playback? Is there a streaming capability with the wireless or can there be in the future?

DC: At launch, Zune doesn’t have a “DJ Mode”. Standard answer about future roadmap comments applies.

9.) Do you consider the Zune to be a platform like the PC and Xbox or somehow different? Will Zune development be opened up to the first generation device?

“Open up” is a very big term. It’s really a continuum, and finding the right point is very important. Too open and you end up with a compromised user experience. Too closed and the community can’t add value.

DC: I think the best comparison is Xbox. We’ll open things up, but only very carefully and strategically.

10) What can you tell us about Pyxis?

DC: We’ve actually been talking about Pyxis all along. Pyxis is the code name for the first Zune device.

11.) Is there anything you want to add that no one has asked of you yet?

DC: Just to thank you for the opportunity to talk. The whole blogging thing has been a fun experiment for me, and the community of users and bloggers have been really great.

12.) What do you like most about working for Microsoft?

DC: I’ve worked at Microsoft for 10 years in various roles. Different parts of the company have had different good things about them. Before Zune, I worked on an established business (Office) and a hotly competitive part of the Windows business (Windows Media division). Zune is very different.

Once in a while Microsoft makes a serious run at creating a new consumer business from scratch. I had the good fortune to be a founding member of the team and to observe the building of the business from the ground up – a tremendous learning opportunity for me.

Look for the Zune MAX Interview with Bill Wittress coming soon

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Robert Scoble interviews Zune product manager Matt Jubelirer

Oct 272006
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Posted by Robert Scoble at PodTech.net on October 24th
Click Here to Watch Zune in Detail [40:27 Quicktime MOV]
Right Click Here to Download The Scoble Interview of Matt Jubelirer [124MB MOV file]

Microsoft Zune in depth

Microsoft’s iPod competitor, Zune, will be released on November 14. Matt Jubelirer is product manager for the Zune project. We spoke with him to get an in-depth look at Zune.

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