With the new Zune HD player comes new desktop software. This is the first time I have used the Zune Desktop software. Normally I use iTunes (due to my iPhone) for listening to my music (and audio books). After downloading and installing this I found it was very easy to move my music content over. The install was interesting in that it asked me to choose three artists that I considered my favorite. These were going to be used to setup my personalized "picks" which we will talk about later. As I have not bought anything (music wise) from Apple's library, most of what I have is independent of the built in DRM from iTunes media. This made it very easy to setup "watch" folders inside the Zune software.
After everything was in place and I was able to listen to some of my favourites, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sound quality with the Zune software seemed to be a little better. I am not even sure how to describe what it was that made it seem better. I suppose that if I had to put a word to it I would say it was just cleaner.
Navigating around the software is again mostly through text based menus. This gives the desktop software a similar feel to the player itself. This is something that Apple has only just done in the latest version of iTunes.
When you launch to software the first screen that you come to is the Quick Play screen. This is just like the Quickplay screen on the Zune HD with the exception of having three artists that you choose as your favorites during the installation. As with the Zune HD, you see your history, any new items you have added and any smart DJ mixes you have setup.
Now, when I first saw this screen I fell in love with it. It is clean and well laid out. Unfortunately after you leave this screen, the deep (and sexy) black goes away and you are left with a white background. You can customize this a little, but not all that much. I wish Microsoft would have stuck with black throughout the software, but maybe in a later version that will be an option. I do like the fact that you can customize the look of the software as that is a very welcome option.
On the screen you will notice three icons in the lower left hand corner. These are (in order) the Zune Player icon, the CD Ripping/Burning Icon and the Playlist Icon. The Zune Player Icon shows you when your Zune HD is connected. It also shows the status of any Sync you have going on. If you click on it you are taken into the device to see its status.
Clicking on the icon that looks like a laptop takes you back to the desktop.
The CD Ripping/Burning Icon is pretty self-explanatory. If you have an Audio CD in you can drag tracks from it over to the Icon and they will be ripped to your Zune Desktop software. Pulling items from your collection to this Icon will let you setup a burn list and then burn them to a CD for you.
The last Icon is the Playlist Icon. This allows you to quickly create and view playlists in your Zune Desktop software.
After the Quickplay menu the Zune Desktop Software gets down to business. In the Collection area you find all of the information about the media you have downloaded/ripped to your Zune software.
The Marketplace is where you purchase/download all media and/or applications. You can grab quite a bit of "DRM-Free" music from here for free if you have a Zune Pass. Unfortunately you will have to pony up some cash and buy points to get most of the videos available. The points system here is just a tad annoying. For example, let's say you want to buy a movie. This movie costs 89 points. You cannot simply buy 89 points; instead you have to buy the next level up in points (at this stage 100). This means that to get anything you are actually paying more than you would need to. This system seriously needs an overhaul if the Zune HD and Marketplace is to gain traction.
A couple of highlights (and one lowlight). The first is channels. This is a great idea and allows you to pick out genres that you are interested in and have the Zune Marketplace automatically download them for your listening pleasure. These are not automatically added to your collection, though; they are stored in a temp area and are removed once the channel refreshes. The next area is the Picks area in the Marketplace; here you see offerings that match your listening tastes. When you first look you will probably not be impressed; however, once you use the Zune Desktop software for a while the Picks become closer and closer to things you would actually want to listen to.
Unfortunately the lowlight here is the Apps section; the first thing is that the Zune HD is new. There are not many apps for it just yet. This will probably change over time, but it would be nice to see more than a handful of basic apps and games here. The next problem is a little harder to get over. Microsoft is padding its free apps with advertising that shows on the Zune HD during launch. This is so many different kinds of wrong that I just cannot even count them. Microsoft just needs to open this section up if they want to really compete with the iPhone/iPod Touch.
The last topic of the Zune Desktop Software that I want to cover is the Zune Pass; this is not really a part of the software but more an add-on that makes it more attractive. A Zune Pass is a monthly subscription that allows you an unlimited number of downloads to your Zune Software and to sync it with your Zune HD. It is a pretty sweet deal considering the $15 price tag.