A picture is worth 300 albums

I have written about the Zune desktop software previously and one of my favorite features is the “Album Art Wall.” Basically, the software displays a random assortment of cover art from albums in your music collection to completely fill the screen. The example image below was captured at the full 1920×1200 resolution of my primary display at home. It’s a neat way to see about 300 thumbnails from the 1065 albums in my collection (ranging from Aaliyah to Zapp). The Zune desktop software is available as a free download even if you don’t own a Zune device. I highly recommend it over iTunes if you listen to music at your computer.

Here’s a challenge for you: Coldplay is one of my favorite groups and and TB loves Anita Baker. Can you name the Coldplay and Anita Baker albums visible in the “Album Art Wall” below? If so, leave a comment with your answer. The first person with the correct answer will win something fun.

Zune Album Wall

(Click here for the full-size image)

Welcome to the Social, Part 2

Flexing its social networking muscle, the Zune experience now includes customizable Zune Cards that let you to share your music preferences and listening habits with the world (or a restricted group of your friends). Here is an example of an actual Zune Card in action (try navigating the list and clicking the links):

To create your own Zune Card, visit the Zune Card Generator created by Dan Grossman. It generates the code necessary to put either a small or large badge on your blog or site. All you have to do is copy & paste.

Those of you big into the social networking craze may find Zune Cards natural. I already share enough of my life on the Internets and haven’t enabled this feature in the Zune software just yet. We’ll see…

Old Zune Gets New Life

It has been about a month since my last Zune post. My Zune 80 is alive and well but I have not traveled this last month and my primary music player for the gym is an iPod nano with its Nike+ support. The ironic thing is buying a new Zune 80 back in December actually has injected new life into my original Zune 30, which I now listen to almost daily.

Altec Lansing M604 Powered Audio System for Zune After placing my Zune 80 order, I was not quite sure what to do with the bulkier and lower capacity Zune 30. Around the time of that quandary Woot ran a special on the Altec Lansing M604 Powered Audio System for Zune, selling the units for $45 brand new while supplies lasted. I decided I would buy one and use my Zune 30 with the M604 system at work.

It took about a month for the speaker system to arrive due to popularity of the offer and the holiday backlog, but everything has worked like a charm since. Now my old Zune 30 sits in the M604 dock on my bookshelf at the office piping out jazz, classical and easy listening background music throughout the workday.

The M604 has excellent sound quality and durable construction. I really like the included remote which makes it easy to adjust the volume and skip through playlists from a distance.

Practice Safe Zune with BodyGuardz

If you have purchased a Zune Original, like me, you probably want to preserve the laser engraved artwork as long as possible. The solution: use protection.

While the price is kinda steep, the BodyGuardz for Microsoft Zune 80GB ($24.95 shipped) works exactly as advertised. The BodyGuardz products are precisely tailored to protect the most popular mobile devices without adding any noticeable bulk like other protective cases. The Zune kit includes 2 complete (front and back) sets of protective covers and everything needed to attach the covers to a device.

After following the manual and watching the online instructional video, my “installation” went smoothly. While it is a time-consuming, detail-oriented process, if done correctly, the result speaks for itself.

It’s not worth attaching a picture as the protective film is meant to be unobtrusive and practically invisible. Visit http://www.bodyguardz.com or watch the BodyGuardz product demonstration videos on YouTube to get a better idea of how the products work.

If you and a family member, friend or significant other have matching iPods, Zunes or other portable devices, you should check them out and take advantage of their 2-in-1 packaging.

Zune Desktop Software vs. iTunes

Here are some screen shots of the Zune desktop software showing its various modes for managing music, pictures, videos and podcasts on the device, the PC and in the Zune marketplace/store. (Click each thumbnail to see a larger image.)

00-Zune-Software-Device-Music 01-Zune-Software-Device-Playlists 02-Zune-Software-Device-Videos 03-Zune-Software-Collection-Pictures
04-Zune-Software-Collection-Podcasts 05-Zune-Software-Device-Status 06-Zune-Software-Marketplace-Music 07-Zune-Software-Marketplace-Podcasts

While this version is still significantly less functional than iTunes, the Zune software has a much better user interface with its cleaner, less-cluttered methods of transporting various media on and off the device. iTunes, by comparison, looks and behaves more like a sluggish spreadsheet on my machine. You be the judge:

00-iTunes-Library-Music 01-iTunes-Library-Podcasts 02-iTunes-Store

My biggest gripe with iTunes is it doesn’t recognize album art stored in folder.jpg files. Despite all its capabilities, this reason alone places iTunes in the “sucks” category—I’d rather use Media Monkey.

My biggest gripe with the Zune software is the removal of auto-playlists and removal of folder.jpg album art in this version—both worked before. The auto-playlist support is painful but I’m using a utility a co-worker created for exporting auto-playlists created in Windows Media Player to the Zune software in its .zpl format. It’s a great workaround in a clunky, non-automated kinda way. The folder.jpg issue is bizarre since the software does recognize album art stored in ZuneAlbumArt.jpg.

A quick command-line utility is all it took to create corresponding ZuneAlbumArt.jpg files for the 1010 albums currently in my collection by copying the existing folder.jpg files. Keeping multiple copies of the same file is wasteful but a necessary evil since Sonos, Windows Media Player, Media Monkey and Windows Vista all recognize folder.jpg.

This only matters to people like me who still buy entire albums and adhere to a well-defined Artists/Albums/Tracks organizational structure where the folder.jpg convention makes sense. If you buy individual tracks from iTunes or the Zune marketplace you probably prefer having the album art embedded in the same file as the song. What’s baffling is there is no technical reason iTunes and the Zune software cannot support both methods. Bummer.