zune

Last week we announced a minor update that was pushed for Xbox Music on Widows 8.1.  The update had seemed to simply include a variety of bug fixes and performance tweaks, but a member from our forums has pointed out that the update has brought back a feature that had been previously taken out in a past update – full screen artist visualizations.

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Remember Microsoft’s Zune line of multimedia players? I haven’t forgotten, and to this day, the Zune 120 GB Black "Brick" remains as one of my favorite pieces of hardware from the past. To help everyone relax, while bringing back some Microsoft nostalgia, below is a short video list of some of the rocking (and mellow) tunes used in the original commercials.

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The desktop Zune client could easily go down as one of the greatest desktop applications of all time. It was loved by many for its modern interface, features, and operability with Windows Phone 7. Unfortunately, Microsoft decided to unify its entertainment offerings under the Xbox branding, which is why we now have Xbox Music and Xbox Video. Zune still lives though, it’s essential to users who are still on Windows Phone 7.x or those hanging onto their legacy Zune devices. Sadly, video won’t work after February of 2014.

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GDR2 is slowly rolling out to Windows Phone 8 handsets around the globe. Some devices, like the Lumia 925 and 1020, already come with GDR2 preinstalled. For everyone else, the updates are slowly coming.

We’ve always had a pretty good idea of what’s new in GDR2, but some items were slightly vague. For example we knew Microsoft made "improvements to Xbox Music", but didn’t know exactly what that meant. Thanks to a blog posting by the Windows Phone team, we now know what's changed.

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Microsoft is continuing their phased closure of the Zune Marketplace, which has been replaced with Xbox Music and Video. The latest change involves users not being able to purchase music or video through the service starting as early as August 22nd. For that reason, Microsoft is encouraging you to spend any Microsoft Point balances before that date.

The move appears to be a combination of Microsoft wanting to move away from Zune, a necessary decision if they want to support only Xbox Music and Video, and the retirement of the MS Points system, which is being replaced by cash across their entire ecosystem.

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Sometimes technology is a collection of circuitry and silicon, sometimes though – it is a magical moment full of feelings and memories. The best experiences are born when technology transcends our knowledge and connects us with what we love. British science fiction writer and futurist, Arthur C. Clarke, once said:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Microsoft has been around for a long time and for those of us who live off of the technology they provide, some of the memories will never seep away.

In 2007, the company released a four minute commercial that has come to be known as “Your Digital Lifestyle”. The ad highlighted the then current hi-tech Microsoft products of the time and how one green shirted hipster used them to party the night away. The commercial is set to a cover of Ash’s Girl from Mars by Canadian group, Magneta Lane.

Buckle up, because we are going on a field trip to six years ago; along the way, we are going to jam with our green shirted friend and revisit some of our past Microsoft technology goodies. Windows Vista will probably be seen along the way, but there will be plenty of other experiences to combat that bad flavor.

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Microsoft has fired out an email introducing consumers to the Xbox Music Pass, which was previously branded the Zune Pass. The subscription model opens up an impressive catalogue of music that's available for streaming, download and purchase (should one wish to cancel the subscription but retain music tracks). We've previously expected the company to launch the rebranded streaming service as successor.

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Quick tip for Xbox Music on Windows Phone 8

This post started as a quick 30 second tutorial on how to make your music experience a bit better on your new device running Windows Phone 8. However, it kind of morphed into a bit of a rant about one aspect of Xbox Music. So sit back and read my thoughts and criticisms about the cloud collection or jump to the end for a quick tip that could save your sanity and help your wallet.

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As we move ever closer to the launch of Windows 8 we also near the relaunch of Microsoft’s music services. All traces of Zune branding are being replaced with the upcoming Xbox Music.

On trying to go to www.zune.net we now get a re-direct to Xbox.com to be told that Zune Music is now Xbox Music. We’re going to miss that crazy pink and white website but it's had its time.

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If you’re a current Zune Pass subscriber, you may want to check your email. Microsoft has just sent out the Xbox Music update details for those who are using Zune Pass and what’s more, they’re throwing in a 1,000 MS Points to celebrate.

Those points (worth $12.50 or an average album) can be used “on any of the music, video, or game content on Xbox LIVE”. (Wait, we’re still calling it Xbox LIVE?)

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This morning we woke up to a few app-updates on our Windows Phone but before we were able to process them, we were prompted with a new pop up from Microsoft.

Filed under ‘Setup Account’ the new agreement centers on ‘Personalize my Music’ and simply says "Send us your music playing and rating data to tailor the Zune experience to your interests". Of course there is no mention of Xbox Music, the new service that is replacing Zune Music, but it is clear that Microsoft is starting to roll out some features for consumers.

Now what makes this interesting is as far as we know, Zune always had this feature of rating music and songs you liked, then giving you recommendations under the Zune Desktop client. But from what we remember that would only happen when you manually synced with your desktop—but now it seems as if your recommendations will go over-the-air.

What we still don’t see though is a ‘Recommendations’ section on the phone in the Windows Phone Music Store, which is an odd omission (unless we’re missing it). Currently you have to use the Desktop sync client to get personalized choices, something that we hope comes to our phones directly in the future (we don’t really sync that often with our computer these days).

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Lyrics for your Windows Phone was recently updated which added a few performance tweaks and Music ID. Lyrics is integrated with Zune to pull up not only the tracks in your music library but also the ability to list the lyrics as well.

Lyrics by Musixmatch  has a library of over 5.5 million officially licensed lyrics in eighteen languages. If the lyrics are in the library, Lyrics will help you sing along without missing a beat (or a word).

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The Lumia 610 to get a successor?

According to The Verge, Nokia plans to release two more Windows Phone 8 devices, code names "Zeal" and "Flame" in early 2013. The "Zeal" is rumored to be a mid-range offering and will sport a unibody design and will be "Zune-like" in its appearance. We're not exactly sure what that means, but it consider our interest officially piqued. The Zeal will have a 4.3-inch display and will feature a 1.0GHz dual-core processor, 512MB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and a microSD slot.

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Enjoying music collections while on the go is a breeze with Windows Phone. Simply synchronise selected media onto a device and either Zune or the Windows Phone Connector for Mac will do the rest. But what if you wanted to organise music into moods, easy-to-sync lists or to quickly extract favourite music? This is where playlists come in.

Many make use of playlists in media players already. Sorting through 30,000 songs to build a collection of favourites is a task majority of music fans go through when wanting to take their sounds on the move. Most devices and smartphones have a limited capacity for media, so until we have 1TB storage options for Windows Phone, it makes sense to move across said playlists.

How does one go about achieving this?

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By now it’s old news that the Zune Desktop as we know it will be phased out—in fact we’ve seen features already removed over the last few months.  What was to replace it though was always a bit of a mystery though there are only so many options available.

Now an image has leaked out of what appears to be the ‘companion app’ for Windows Phone and Windows 8—think of it as Zune Desktop the next generation. There's really not too much to the image though we suppose it is better than nothing.

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If you've launched your Zune Desktop lately, you've probably seen the pop-up message alerting you that features have changed. When you re-launch Zune you will find that there is no longer a Zune HD marketplace listing.

The only options available under the Zune Desktop Marketplace listing are Picks, Music, Videos and Podcasts. The option to view Apps, both Zune and the resurgent Windows Phone 7 apps, have vanished. We know that Microsoft is in the process of renovating the Zune services over to Xbox Music and this change could be part of that process.

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Back at the end of May, Microsoft surprisingly turned off the Windows Phone Marketplace from Zune Desktop. The “update” wasn’t software based but instead just altered a configuration file on the user’s computer, causing the Marketplace to be hidden.

We ended up using a simple hack (more of that below) to bring ours back but now a user in our forum (“rockstarzzz”) is claiming that they’ve received another feature-change notification…

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Uploading photos from your Windows Phone to SkyDrive can be a pain, especially since full resolution photos are resized when sent to the cloud. This is presumably due to Microsoft taking measures to optimise transfer for those on tight data plans who may not be connected to a WiFi network. While perfectly understandable, it would make sense to have this option in the Windows Phone settings for the user to configure how they'd like their photos uploaded to their SkyDrive account.

For now there's a workaround of sorts. Unfortunately a Windows PC is required with Zune installed, sporting an active Internet connection, and of course the native SkyDrive client for Windows. Luckily, Microsoft has developed sturdy software enabling Windows users to access and synchronise their SkyDrive storage locally with a smart folder set on their machine. This is what we'll be using through Zune to automatically upload photos from the Windows Phone to the cloud.

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