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