Microsoft includes a Windows-based desktop media player with their Zune portable media players, to manage your music and sync it with the Zune. It’s a lot like Windows Media Player, which I despise, but actually if you own an Xbox 360 there are two reasons to install the Zune software even if you don’t own a Zune:
- It can serve MPEG4 and H.264 movies to the Xbox.
- It can synchronize its music library and playlists with iTunes automatically, and serve those to the Xbox as well.
H.264 is a popular media format supported by many devices: iPod, Zune, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Tivo. Files in this format are sold by the Xbox movie store and the iTunes store. It is also one of the underlying formats supported on both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD formats. So it’s important to be able to get all your videos in that format, and when you do, you want to play them on your Xbox 360 in HD, right? Right! Well, the Zune software is the easiest way to do that. It has the same media sharing features (and dialog boxes) as Windows Media Player, it just supports more formats.
As for syncing with iTunes, I just discovered this over the weekend. It does not support playing DRM music purchased at the iTunes store, but as DRM starts to disappear, this will matter less over time. I activated the feature (here are the instructions I used), and after a long time all my iTunes regular playlists did in fact appear in Zune and on my Xbox 360 as well (under the Music item of course). But none of my iTunes smart playlists made it over, which is a shame because I use them rather heavily. I guess I’ll have to make static playlist copies of the ones I care about.
I haven’t yet discovered how often it syncs up with iTunes, but I’ll find out once I make those static playlists.
You can download the Zune software from Microsoft.