On the Zune, any picture on the device can be set as the background for all of the menus, providing a great way to customize the look of your Zune. The screen on your Zune is 240 pixels wide and 320 pixels high (holding it in ‘portrait mode’, with the navigation pad at the bottom), so that is the proportions you want to shoot for as a background, but if you are making your own background images, then there are few things you should be aware of.

  • First, the image you choose will be cropped and displayed differently when your Zune is hooked up to output to a TV than it does when you are using the Zune normally.
  • Second, whenever you leave the main page the image is zoomed in a bit on all four sides.

Given a 320 x 320 square photo, here is what happens when it is displayed in the four different ways (device screen home page, device screen zoomed in, TV home page and TV zoomed in). The outermost red rectangle is what you end up seeing on the Zune’s screen when you are on the home page. This is the standard 240x320 image you’d expect, taken from the middle of the picture. The next smaller red rectangle is the slightly zoomed in image you’ll see when you navigate to any page other than the home menu page.

320 x 320 Zune background

When you hook up to a TV though, you may be surprised by the result. We expected the image, (given that it is 320x320 originally) to be zoomed into an area that is 320 wide by 240 high… but instead, the home page screen displayed only the outer blue rectangle’s worth of the image. This is an area of approximately 225px x 170px and even less (see the inner blue rectangle) when you navigate to another page while hooked up to the TV.

If you decide that the first issue matters to you (and it might not, TV output is not the main usage scenario for a Zune), then you need to make sure that a centered horizontal slice approximately two thirds the size of the image will still make a good background. If you don’t care about TV out, then you can focus only on how the image looks at 240x320, which is what we did when making the Halo image shown below, but you still run into issues when the Zune zooms into your image on secondary menu pages.

Halo Background

With only a 240x320 image, you may see distortion when zoomed in; you can avoid this affect by creating your images at a slightly higher resolution while still maintaining a perfect ratio of 3:4 for the width and height. Following this plan, we created another copy of that same Halo image that works zoomed out as a background, looks good zoomed in, but doesn’t look good at all when hooked up to a TV. This second background is 400px by 533px, but you could experiment with various resolutions to see which ones scale down the best on your Zune.

Larger Halo background

(both Halo images are cropped versions of a wallpaper from 360Style.net)

Once you have a picture (or pictures) created that you’d like to use as a background, put those pictures into one of the folders that your Zune software is monitoring (such as your My Pictures folder) then, when they appear in the library you can drag them onto the synclist and click “Start Sync” to get them onto your Zune. Disconnect your Zune after you’ve sync’d and browse to the picture and select it so that you are viewing it on your Zune. Click the center navigation button to bring up a menu listing what you can do with this image and pick the “apply as background” option. Hold down the back button to jump back to the home page and check out your creation!