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Cross-country Code
Digital entertainment made easy

By Wilson Ng
First Posted 18:29:00 02/22/2008

Filed Under: Technology (general), Entertainment (general)

ONE of the things I have been especially interested in is how to set up the house so that anywhere and anytime, it is easy to get your hands on the music or video that you want to watch or hear.

If your house has several rooms, you will not find an intuitive way to do this. Each room needs to have its own TV set, its own cable connection and its own music and DVD player. For ages, we have been accustomed to simply bring the discs to where we want to watch it, and then we played it.

Most of the time, the discs either are misplaced, or you really have a hard time looking for it. In short, there comes a time when you have so many DVD discs that you start misplacing or losing them.

Then came Windows Media Center and I was quite excited. Here was an operating system for the house where you can just put all your music, your pictures and your videos into the hard disk and watch it! According to Chay Saputil, Microsoft Philippines? Windows Client manager, Windows Media Center is suited for the next-generation entertainment center.

?Its features allow users to extend digital entertainment to the entire home,? Chay said.

By the way, Windows Media Center used to be a separate Windows operating system you needed to buy. Now it comes bundled free with Windows Vista Home Premium, or Windows Vista Ultimate Edition.

Then came wireless networking, and the 802.11G and 802.11n standards are now finally fast enough to stream video. That means you can have a PC you can use as a video or music storage server, and if you have another notebook computer or PC in another room, you can just connect through wifi and listen or watch it anywhere in the house!

Then I found the last leg of being able to hear or watch video anywhere -- the Microsoft Zune. For those of you who might not know it yet, Zune was Microsoft?s introduction to compete with various music/video players like the Apple iPod. They started to introduce the first edition back in late 2006, and I shared notes with friends who got it, but felt it was not yet as cool as the Apple iPod.

In 2007, they introduced the second edition, which got rave reviews. Although it was not sold here, I managed to get one with an 80-gigabyte hard disk, and a large 3.2-inch screen. 80 gigabytes is good enough to store 20,000 songs, 25,000 pictures or over 250 hours of video.

The Zune plays .wmv (windows media video/audio) files, and so I went online and bought a software called ImToo DVD to .WMV converter (less than $30). So I went to my media PC in the house and started to insert DVD discs and converting them to .wmv.

Chay also said that the Zune complements Windows Media Center. She said that ?for today?s dynamic individuals, Windows Vista offers entertainment on-the-go through Windows Media Center?s Sync Center which allows you to sync your PC with portable devices like mp3 players such as the Zune and other memory devices to allow you to enjoy music, photos and video anywhere.?

There are three ways I like about this arrangement, especially when I?m at home. I can now watch the video anytime without looking for the original DVD. If I am travelling, I can also copy the .wmv file into my thumb drive, and I can watch it on my notebook computer. Or I can synchronize it into my Zune, and I can watch the video anywhere. Viewing videos on the Zune is convenient for long trips via car or plane, or when you are waiting for someone late for your appointment. BTW, the Zune also has a converter which allows video output to the television, so if you travel a lot, you can bring your Zune, and watch movies in hotel TVs.

It is ironic that Apple is slated as the cool alternative to Microsoft Windows. Everybody has Windows, and you are different because you have an Apple Mac. In the mp3 market, it is now regarded as reverse --- everybody has iPod, and you are cool because you have a Zune. At least, the design and colors have been much improved, that it can finally be considered ?cool.? But in all honesty, coolness sells, but not if it does not have the right features. Here are some reasons I like the Zune so far, in contrast to my iPod.

a.) The 3.2 inch screen is very clear and the color is really great.
b.) It has a built in FM tuner.
c.) You can synchronize wireless through your wifi network, especially if you have new videos or podcasts. That means you can sync with your computer in the house every night -- without cables.

It jives with my network, since all of them can now be uniform .wmv files. If you are an enthusiast or in a band, it has even one more feature that you may want -- you can send your own music wirelessly to another owner of the Zune, and he can listen to it up to three times for free! Of course this feature is still not useful until more people have Zunes.

* * *

Wilson Ng keeps a blog of his articles in www.ngkhai.net/bizdrivenlife.

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