You've been Zuned! Congratulations. In this article, I'll share a handful of tips for your new digital media player that can save you time, effort, and money. These five handy techniques are a taste of the information you'll find in "Eight Great Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Zune," which is to be published soon as an O'Reilly Short Cut. We wanted to get you the facts early so you can make the most out of your new Zune purchase.

Secret 1: You Don't Need the Expensive Cable

For $99.99, Microsoft will sell you a Zune A/V kit. It contains some great stuff, including a dock, a spiffy wireless remote, and a sync cable. It's all cool. But if all you want to do is hook up your Zune to your TV to play back videos, you don't need it.

Microsoft used exactly the same shortcut Apple did to make its player compatible with both standard earphones and video output: it added its video connector near the top of the jack, above the normal right and left audio contacts and the ground. That means you can use any standard four-conductor A/V cable to connect your Zune to your TV.

Here's what you need:

  • A Zune with the latest firmware. All Zunes are video capable, but you must have installed at least firmware version 1.1 to use the video out. This means that nearly all the first-generation Zunes that just hit the shelf must be upgraded at your PC before you can export video. Fortunately, that is not a problem. The firmware should update as part of your initial installation process.
  • A standard A/V cable. You'll need a splitter cable with a four-conductor mini-phone plug at one end and three RCA plugs at the other (see Figure 1). Many camcorders and other consumer electronics ship with these cables, so hunt around your house before you pop out to RadioShack. You can also find these cables on eBay for $5 or $6 shipped.
  • A TV with RCA-in jacks. Yes, you can connect your Zune to a TV using S-Video, but you'd need a different kind of cable. For this example, you'll need a standard set of yellow/red/white RCA jacks on your TV.
  • Zune-compatible video. Your Zune comes pre-loaded with about a dozen music videos that you can watch. I'll explain how to load additional videos later in this article.

Once your Zune is hooked up to a TV, you can use the system to display slideshows, listen to music, or even scan through stations on the Zune's FM radio. Playback happens on the TV console rather than on your hand-held device. Here's how to make the connections:

Fig. 1: Cable

Fig. 1: You can use standard A/V cable to connect your Zune to a TV if you know the wiring secret. This camcorder cable has three RCA plugs at one end and a four-conductor mini-phone plug at the other. (That's an 1/8-inch plug with three bands on it).

  1. Insert the 1/8th-inch mini-phone plug into the headphone jack on your Zune.
  2. Insert the red RCA plug in to the yellow jack on your TV. Insert the yellow RCA plug in to the white jack on your TV. Insert the white RCA plug in to the red jack on your TV. Got that? None of the jacks will match the color of the plugs that are in them.
  3. Power on your TV and, if needed, set it to get its signal from the RCA jacks.
  4. Power on your Zune if it is not already on. In the main menu, navigate down to settings → display. In the display settings, shown in Figure 2, set tv out to on. The Zune will remind you about turning your unit off. Click OK.
Fig. 2: TV Connect

Figure 2: Send your Zune video out to your TV by setting the "tv out" setting to "on." Unlike the iPod, the Zune sends your menus as well as videos. Very handy!

That's all you have to do. Your Zune will go dark and the TV will start to display your Zune menus. Use the controls on the Zune to navigate through your menus and access your Zune media.

When you are done using video-out, either unplug the mini-phone plug from the Zune jack (really, this is the easiest way) and wait a second; or change the "tv out" setting back to "off;" or, following the standard Zune protocol, hold down the Play/Pause button for a few seconds to turn the unit off before powering it back on.

Secret 2: Tethered Zunes Don't Power Down

At times, you'll want to use your Zune as it charges. Or you may want to take advantage of using your sync cable as a power source without using up your battery. Here's how: quit out of the Zune software without detaching the sync cable. This exits the "circle-of-dots" connect/synchronize mode (Figure 3) and returns control directly to you after a few seconds.

Fig. 3: Connected Screen

Figure 3: The circle of dots indicates your Zune is either actively syncing or simply connected to your personal computer.

Unfortunately, tethered Zunes have quirks. The "hold the Play/Pause button until the Zune turns off" trick only works on untethered and unlocked Zunes. When your Zune is connected via USB, you can hold down that Play/Pause button until the cows come home; it's not going to power down. Sure, your battery won't take a hit, which is why you probably tethered the Zune in the first place, but your Zune is stuck on "on". (Keeping your Zune powered up for extended periods could possibly shorten component life, but there's always a balance to strike when choosing how you use your devices.)

I'm not sure why the Microsoft team made this call, but I was button-holding and cursing for a while until I figured out why my Zune would not power down. Detach the USB tether and then hold the Play/Pause button for a few seconds. Your Zune will obligingly shut off.

Tip: The Zune is a Windows-only gadget. You can connect your Zune to a Mac, and will even see that it's attached in the System Profiler, but that's about as far as you will go. The Zune will not mount on either the PC or a Mac and does not, unlike the iPod, have the option to be used as a portable hard drive.

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