Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Zune HD Coming This Fall: Microsoft

A high-definition version of the Zune, Zune HD, which I wrote about earlier when images and specs were leaked to the Web, has been finally confirmed by Microsoft.

Definitely targeted at Apple's iPod touch, the Zune HD will finally get a browser. Microsoft also notes that Zune HD will feature an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) touch screen, but if leaked specs for the next-gen iPhone are correct, it won't be long before the iPod Touch has a similar screen.

Other highlights, according to Microsoft, will be:
  • Zune HD comes with a built-in HD Radio receiver so users can listen to higher-quality sound than traditional radio on the go. Users also will have access to the additional song and artist data broadcast by HD Radio stations as well as additional channels from their favorite stations multicasting in HD. If you don’t like the song playing on your station’s HD channel, switch to its HD2 or HD3 channels for additional programming.
  • The bright OLED touch screen interface allows users to flip through music, movies and other content with ease, and the 16:9 widescreen format display (480x272 resolution) offers a premium viewing experience on the go.
  • The HD-compatible output lets Zune HD customers playback supported HD video files from the device through a premium high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) audiovisual docking station (sold separately) direct to an HD TV in 720p.*
  • Zune HD will include a full-screen Internet browser optimized for multitouch functionality.
  • Zune HD is Wi-Fi enabled, allowing for instant streaming to the device from the more than 5 million-track Zune music store.
* Supported 720p HD video files play on the device, downscaled to fit the screen at 480 x 272 — not HD resolution. Zune HD and AV Dock, and an HDTV (all sold separately) are required to view video at HD resolution.

Microsoft has also launched an official Zune HD site, which is, unfortunately, not working at this time. Prices and capacities have not been announced, though we know the device will use flash-based storage.

Thing is, while Microsoft told C|Net that Zune HD is targeted at the iPod touch, if Microsoft really wants to battle Apple's top-of-the-line iPod, Zune HD will have to be more than just a multimedia player; it will have to be able to run software applications just as the iPod touch does.

And there's a hint of that in the press release, which though vague around these lines, does indicate that there will be Xbox Live integration for Zune Marketplace videos. In fact, it adds that at next week's E3, "attendees will see first-hand how Zune integrates into Xbox LIVE creating a game-changing entertainment experience."

Sounds good (no pun intended), but will it deliver?

Finally, one more thing that would really place the Zune HD in a battle with the iPod touch: yep, a so-called Zune phone. No word on this, but I wouldn't count it out just yet. It would be a natural extension of this product.
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