Zune 2 and Recorded HDTV from Windows Media Center

The recent release of Zune 2 has been sort of a good news / bad news situation for those of us who use Windows Media Center to record TV and/or movies. The original Zune desktop software did not support the dvr-ms format used by Windows Media Player Center (thanks for the correction, David) at all, so the good news is that the new Zune desktop software will handle automatic conversion of dvr-ms files to sync to the Zune. This is a big step forward for most folks.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that the automatic conversion does not include content recorded in high-def, due to the AC3 audio encoding used for these programs.

One solution that has worked well for me is to use Expression Encoder, along with a third-party AC3 decoder, to encode the HD dvr-ms files for the Zune. Here's how:

  1. Download and Install Expression Encoder (you can get a trial version here)
  2. Download and Install an AC3 decoder (this is necessary to allow Expression Encoder to read the audio track from the dvr-ms file). One option I've tried that works is the NVIDIA PureVideo decoder...a 30-day trial can be found here

    Note that the activation information for the trial is in the page linked to above.
  3. OPTIONAL: Download and unzip the dSHARPiE WMV Metadata Editor. dSHARPiE allows you to restore the WMV metadata that identifies a given video as a movie, TV show, or Music Video, so that the Zune device will put in into the proper category.
  4. Start Expression Encoder

    imageIf you have any issues with Expression Encoder crashing after installing a new codec, go to Tools | Options, and in the Compatibility section, disable any codecs you're not using with Encoder. I disabled all non-Microsoft codecs, with the exception of the NVIDIA audio codec, and that solved my compatibility issues.

  5. Import the video you want to convert (File | Import...)
  6. In the Settings tab, set the Profile settings as follows:

    image - Video: Hardware Device - Zune
    - Frame rate (click the \./ symbol to unhide this and other settings): 29.97fps
    - Mode: CBR
    - Two Pass Encoding - your choice...enabling this option may reduce file size, but will take longer to encode
    - Video Complexity (another hidden setting, right below Two Pass Encoding): Set to 1 or 2 to speed encoding, at the expense of a slight drop in quality, probably unnoticeable on the Zune screen

  7. In the Settings tab, you can optionally use the Crop settings to make a 4:3 recording that is letterboxed better fit the Zune screen
  8. In the Output tab, you can choose the location where your encoded output should be saved. Note that for video conversion, you do NOT want to select a Template
  9. In the Media Content pane, click the Encode button. How long the encoding takes will depend on a variety of factors, including the speed of your machine, the settings you chose, etc.
  10. OPTIONAL: Once the video encoding has finished, you can run dSHARPiE to update the metadata for the encoded file. Refer to the dSHARPie page for more info. Note in particular that if you edit the metadata for a video you have already synced to the Zune, you will need to remove the video from both the Zune and from the collection on the desktop, before adding the video back into the collection and re-syncing (I dropped the modified files into a new subfolder under one of the monitored folders), or the updated metadata will not be read
  11. If the output folder used by Expression Encoder is not a folder monitored by the Zune desktop software, you will need to move the encoded video to a folder that is monitored
  12. Open the Zune desktop software, go to the Collection > Videos section, and drag the new video to your Zune to sync

Credits to my Microsoft colleagues David Bono, Bjarne Dollerup, and Tokuro Yamashiro, as well as the rest of the Zunistas who commented on the above process, for helping suss out this process.

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Comments (9)

  1. Robert McLaws says:

    It’s important to note that this option does not work with HD content recorded over CableCARD, because that content is encrypted when it is recorded.

  2. DEvHammer says:

    Good point, Robert, and thanks for bringing it up. You are correct that this will only work for unencrypted HD content. So if you’re recording from an ATSC tuner (which is what I have, using an over-the-air antenna), or unencrypted QAM, you’re good to go.

  3. Korneel says:

    So where are those files now? I can’t find them :-/

  4. Gabriel says:

    Note that Media Center copy protects certain shows even if through ATSC tuner or unencrypted QAM. It seems to be the case of movies with no comercials on MPLEX channel. So even for that unencrypted content the translation will probably not work.

  5. Yogi says:

    Of course, this would all be a moot point if Microsoft would just allow the Zune to sync with Windows Media Player. I have a Gigabeat S60 (a portable media center device on which the Zune was based) and WMP has no problems transcoding HD DVR-MS files for the Gigabeat, even if it has AC3 audio. I had to install the Nvidia PureVideo MPEG-2 decoder because the Microsoft one builtin to Vista had problems with AC3. I wish MS would just open the Zune and allow it to sync with WMP.

  6. DEvHammer says:

    Korneel: If you’re talking about the output from Expression Encoder, they should be under your Documents folder, look for Expression > Expresion Encoder > Output. By default, each job will create a new timestamped folder under the Output folder.

    Gabriel: Haven’t run into the issue that you mention, but thanks for bringing it up, in case anyone does.

    Yogi: I understand your issue. Clearly there are tradeoffs with having Zune be an integrated vertical environment, and this is one of them. There are also tradeoffs with opening up to other sync solutions. Hopefully there will be better support for HD in future Zune software versions, but I’m not sure that allowing Zune to sync with WMP is necessarily the right answer. In any case, it’s not my decision to make.

  7. onlydarksets says:

    For $99, you are MUCH better off with TMPGEnc Xpress 4.0.  It takes a while to load DVR-MS files (it handles ATSC and NTSC), but conversion is smooth as silk.

    Also, you get support for almost every file type out there, as well as encoding to more than WMV (VC-1).

  8. onlydarksets says:

    I tried this on two different systems, but the Nvidia filters don’t show up on the Tools | Options | Compatibility list.  Am I missing something?  Thanks!

  9. DEvHammer says:


    The Expression dialog only lists installed codecs, so the Nvidia codecs will only show up if they are installed on your system.

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