Living Large with My New Zune 2 (8 Gig, Black) 
Sunday, July 27, 2008, 12:11 AM - Audio/Video, Mobile Devices, Mobile Computing, Stuff Worth Getting, Videoblog, Podcast

So, my friend Joey at gave my name to this guy called Jesse who works at Matchstick, a really cool Canadian company which practices the fine art of 'word-of-mouth-marketing'. They find people to check out interesting products and let their friends know about them. There's no pay involved, but one often gets to keep whatever it is they are reviewing.

In my case, Jesse asked me a long series of careful questions to determine my viewpoints and my eligibility, and I qualified for their ZUNE review program! Now, how cool is that? Do note that not everyone who applies or who is recommended is able to pass the screening, and in this case, only 300 Canadians were admitted to this particular program, so I am honoured to be in very select company.

I have an iPod, a 3G (third generation) one that's about 4 years old, and while it's been pretty good overall and serves a useful purpose, it not that small as these things now go, it doesn't have a colour screen, and it doesn't display pictures, let alone play videos. Being that I was in the market for a new multimedia player, and had had my eye on a second-generation Zune (only just now being available in Canada), this timing on this opportunity was perfect.

There's a big debate on the neutrality of reviewers and the impartiality of their reviews, but I don't believe really a serious problem. People today - especially people interested in gadgets and cutting edge technology - have high standards and they can be pretty cynical. If they don't like something, they say so, sometimes stridently (as many companies have found out). Trust me, no one sells their soul for an MP3 player.

A few months back, when I was speaking at GameCampToronto on the subject of Machinima for Moviestorm, I ran into the uber-cool Jean-Luc who is a Developer Advisor for Microsoft and is involved with their XNA development platform (watch for a future post on this topic). As it happens, he had a couple of the original Zunes with him which he let me explore. At that time, they weren't available here in Canada, but were due to launch in fairly short order, so it was my first hands-on experience with them, and I was very impressed in the short time I was able to play with around.

A lot of people have a lot of bad things to say about Microsoft, but I'm quite a happy user of a great many of their products (Windows XP, Windows CE, Office Suite, etc...). And before the hate mail starts from the panting fanboys/girls, do note that I also have a eMac desktop, and am looking at getting a MacBookPro laptop. Plus, I've had my eye on a Linux-powered eee PC mini-laptop.

I've been quite involved with Pocket PCs and Windows Mobile devices for a long time (although Microsoft is now more about the smartphones than the pocket pcs), even writing print articles and blog posts for Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine since 2000, as well as serving as a Lead Judge in their Best Software Awards, and being one of their forum moderators. And while those positions are unpaid, they have served to raise my profile in the mobile computing industry, and have lead to a number of paid gigs over the years.

While waiting for my Zune 2 to arrive - there were a few hiccups, due to FedEX oddly not being able to find my delivery address - I signed up for ChatThreads, and started spreading the word. I also spent quite a bit of time checking out the official sites, including and to really familiarize myself with the product and the community.

When it comes to handheld devices, my specialty is mobile video, and I made sure to let everyone know when Give-Away-of-the-Day offered a special program to help people convert their videos to the Zune movie formats. I was also trying to decide how else to let people know my thoughts about the Zune beyond just writing a few blog posts, and showing them in person. Following the suggestion of my friend, Mitch, I decided to go ahead and do an unboxing video using my new Sanyo Xacti camera.

So there I was a short while ago shooting it, and lo and behold, I hear this little beep and realize that I just ran out of battery power. That never happens to me, but there's a first time for everything. And since I had been cutting and ripping the packaging, I couldn't really start over, so I decided to do part one and part two, so without further ado:

Part one:

Part two:

While I was waiting for the second video to encode to FLV format, I made a nice wallpaper, my very first one.

Just right click on it to download it. To install it to your Zune, follow these steps:
  1. On your Zune, select pictures
  2. Choose the picture you want to use for your Zune background
  3. Press the center of the Zune pad to bring up picture options
  4. Select apply as background

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My New Sanyo Xacti VPC-E2BL 
Thursday, July 17, 2008, 12:28 AM - Audio/Video, Stuff Worth Getting

A few weeks ago, I was on the site and noticed that they had a sweet sale - almost C$100.00 off - on a waterproof digital video camera, so I decided to go for it.

It's a Sanyo Xacti VPC-E2BL, and shoots on an SD card. I already have a Sony mini-DV camera, but I have to say that it's a lot simpler to just take out the card and pop it into the computer than it is to hook up the Sony and transfer everything off the tape. I found out a bit later that reading the supposedly universal .mp4 format that it was shooting in was a bit problematic for me. I should have been able to play it in my QuickTimePro, but it didn't. Not sure why, but I was able to view it in good old stalwart, VLC.

Still, this little problem might not bode well if I can't edit the videos on my windows machines. True, I have an eMac over in the corner that I don't use much, and I am getting a MacBookPro in a month or two, but still. It came with Adobe Elements Premiere 4, maybe I'll try loading that up in the next short while, and giving it a go. Sigh, yet another program to learn, as if I didn't already have a long enough list.

So, back to the Xacti: It's quite a sleek unit and I really like how it fits in my hand, but it's hard to get used to not using earphones to monitor the recording. Doing that was really drilled into me in class. Using it is quite a different experience from the cameras I used to shoot my show, and do my freelance work with. It's lightweight and fun, almost like a toy, but it actually shoots very nicely. It also shoots stills, and very uniquely, it can do so while I am shooting video. And it's blue, my favourite colour (heh, heh). I found an old holster-style case that I got years ago at a conference and it fits nicely. Yeah, I know, kinda geeky wearing it around my waist.

Using this little camera, I recorded my first videoblog post and it came out quite well I thought. No editing was required. I've already been playing around with the settings, and I guess I'll have a look at the manual and pick up some tips. I like that it's small enough to fit in my back pocket. I think it would be a good idea to start taking it everywhere as one never knows when there might be something good.

Here is a list of its main features:
  • Waterproof CameraCorder *
  • 8 Megapixel digital still photos
  • 5x optical zoom lens (up to 60x with digital zoom)
  • 2.5-inch Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) with rotation up to 285 degrees (for self-portrait photo and video)
  • Advanced MPEG-4 VC/H.264 video compression – reduces file size up to 25% smaller than that of typical MPEG-4 files
  • Full motion video up to 1.25 hours on a standard SD card and up to 10 hours of full motion video on an 8 GB SDHC memory card (TV-HQ mode)
  • Face detection (up to 12 faces for still photos and 6 faces for video
  • Ergonomical designed for single-hand operation
  • Records both digital stills and video onto SD/SDHC memory card
  • Simultaneous still image capture while shooting video
  • New underwater scene mode for better colour in underwater photos and video
  • Image stabilizer
  • Full-range digital stereo recording
  • In-camera editing (correct or delete portion of video clips without a computer)
  • Itunes-Friendly – MPEG4 video files can be directly imported into iTunes software and easily transferred to video-capable iPod®,and other portable digital media players
  • Webcam function
  • Super fast start-up @ approx 1.7 seconds!
  • Taking navigation for first-time users
  • Simple or sophisticated menu option
  • Sequential photo setting up to 10 photos@ 5fps
  • Total connectivity to TV, VCR, DVD Recorder and/or PC
  • Bundled with “Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0’ for movie editing and DVD authoring
* IPX8 International Standard for Waterproof – Full motion video at 5ft/1.5m underwater for up to 60 minutes

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Youth Videographers compete for $10 000 
Saturday, September 9, 2006, 03:24 AM - Videos Worth Screening, Audio/Video
Mobile Jam Fest is an event based in Toronto, Canada which is being billed as the world's first international mobile youth film festival.

MJF wants to
"celebrate the creative potential of today's youth. This movement towards the mobility of ideas signifies a revolution in both borderless communities and connectivity where creativity, thoughts, ideas, values, and expression can be shared."

Designed for youths aged 14 to 17 and 17 to 24 who will participate by producing, directing, acting and interacting in their own films. MJF is offering two $5 000 prizes towards tuition for the best 2-minute original entries.

From September 4th to November 30th, young people can upload videos they've shot with either their cameras or mobile phones to Audiences will be able to view the videos online and then vote on them.

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