Useful gadgets: Creative Zen

A couple of weeks ago my old an reliable MP3 player… disappeared.

I was planning to buy the same player again, when I discovered that for almost the same price (70€), Creative was selling a new Zen model which seemed to have all I wanted (and more): 2GB, audio, radio, video, photos, micro, rechargeable battery… and expandable memory with external cards. I doubted for about five seconds before buying it.

Since then I’ve been using it in a daily basis and all I have to say is that it’s a very good player. The audio/video quality is fine, the battery works, the radio tunes without difficulties, and the interface is intuitive. The accompanying software is simple and useful, thanks to it I’m rediscovering podcasts (specially vodcasts) .

The problem

It doesn’t work in GNU/Linux. Or to be more precise: I haven’t found a comfortable way of using it in GNU/Linux. Creative, shame on you! It’s not recognized as an external drive. I’ve also tried KZenExplorer and Gnomad2 and I’ve got many problems. I’ll check the Ubuntu bugs database, and I’ll manually update to the latest versions. Let’s keep the fingers crossed.

The tip

The player supports several audio and video formats, but I have my media in a myriad of formats. Therefore I needed a simple way of converting any audio/video file into a format supported by Zen. This is the way to do it (in GNU/Linux):

$ mencoder [input.*] -oac mp3lame -ovc xvid -xvidencopts bitrate=-1 -vf scale -zoom -xy 320 -o [output.avi]

[It will convert any MPlayer supported format into a XviD video, with MP3 quality audio (the bitrate is calculated automatically, and the video is scaled to the size of the Zen screen to save disk space). Of course, you need to have mencoder installed. Creative provides a small tool for doing the same in a graphical way, but it’s slower, gets a poorer compression rate, and doesn’t support as many format as MPlayer.]

You can see some results below. For example, a video downloaded from Youtube:


A long P2P video (originally DivX):


And a .mov video downloaded from the Apple website ;-)


They all play smoothly.

All in all, I cannot be more satisfied with this gadget, specially taking into account what it costs. If you’re thinking about buying a player, I strongly recommend you to have a look at it. Apple, you have to do it much better.

Update: gnomad2 2.8.12, in Ubuntu 8.04, is detecting the player!


20 thoughts on “Useful gadgets: Creative Zen

  1. Pingback: La fatiga del Geek

  2. Hi man. Its good post . It helped me a lot in converting videos for the zen .
    But you try to run the gnomad2 as root or sudo gnomad2 .. because its working for me ..

  3. Thanks for the post. I picked up a zen last Nov and have been booting back to windoze to use the creative converter or superc.

    I used the above to convert a couple of videos, but the zen doesn’t seem to get the time for the video or be able to seek in it. The quality comes out fine, but no seeking is kind of a bummer. I wonder if it’s a consequence of using gnomad2 and it doesn’t update the zen’s .xml for video files. (gnomad2 will only transfer the videos in a “data transfer” mode)

    Also, I recently installed fedora core 8 and found that gnomad2 works with the zen out of the box. Probably ubuntu will get the same updates and work with the next version.

    In my search, though I found a site that showed you how to get the latest libraries (libmtp was the primary one) and update amarok to work with the zen. I couldn’t find that link again with google, but here’s a guy that has a similar page

  4. Hey fizzix, thanks for the info, I’ll check the new versions.

    Have you tried upgrading the firmware? I think they have corrected some close issues in the latest version.

  5. First of all, thanks for posting this, I just got a couple of Zens for my kids and this post was a lifesaver.

    When converting some of my movies though, I have 3 out of about 18 so far that don’t have audio after the conversion. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?

  6. Hi Bill, glad to know it helped. As you’re using mencoder (part of the MPlayer suite), why don’t you try playing the problematic video with mplayer? Probably there you’ll detect what’s the issue (likely a missing codec).

  7. I ended up getting it. I needed to add -aid 128 to the cmd line to make it work. I’ve tested it on two of the three that didn’t have audio, and both do now. The full cmd line I used was:

    mencoder [input filename] -oac mp3lame -aid 128 -ovc xvid -xvidencopts bitrate=-1 -vf scale -zoom -xy 320 -o [output.avi]

    Thanks again, this will be an awesome way to convert the videos. I’ve just setup batch files and kicked them off to run overnight.

  8. A couple of questions for you…

    Does the cmd line you posted produce the best quality, or would it need to do two passes to produce better quality?

    Have you tested much with different settings (bitrates, etc.) to find out what produces the best compression and quality combined?

    Thanks again for sharing the solution.

  9. Hi Bill, I guess a two passes encoding should give better quality, but I haven’t tested it. I haven’t tried either different bitrates cause I was happy with the result (bitrate=-1 calculates bitrates automagically).

    My concern now is to find out why sometimes I get audio/video unsync :-?

  10. I’ve been playing with fixed_quant=4 and the size to quality ratio is pretty good. The sizes are measurably smaller than bitrate=-1, and the quality is still pretty good from what I’ve looked at.

    Here’s another person who complained about sync issues. They mentioned using ffmpeg instead. I’ve not messed with it yet because I haven’t had time, but it may be worth the minute or two to check out.

  11. Hi, great post Antonio, I have spent 2 days trying to get all manner of linux GUI converters to convert for my sons Zen… your a lifesaver…
    Is there a way to alter the script so that it will convert any vid file found in a folder to zen capable file?

  12. Thanks Heath, in Linux you may try a script like the following:

    for i in $( ls *avi ); do
    mencoder $i -oac mp3lame -ovc xvid -xvidencopts bitrate=-1 -vf scale -zoom -xy 320 -o converted-$i

  13. -aid 128 made audio not work for me… but with the original, I couldn’t seek on the Nomad…

    The error message for the run with -aid 128 included the line “AVI: invalid audio stream ID: 128 – ignoring (nosound)”, so I’m thinking that’s the problem there. Any clue what the seeking problem could be?

  14. I had good luck with this code and also the iriverter package via Ubuntu 8.10 … youtube vids (when converted to MP4 using the Firefox media converter add-on) for the kids look OK on their new 4GB Zen player.

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