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May 27, 2009

Microsoft teases with Zune HD preview

Posted by David Hunter at 12:35 PM ET.

Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled the much rumored Zune HD or at least what little they are willing to say until next week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) conference:

Microsoft Corp. today announced the evolution of Zune, the company’s end-to-end music and entertainment service, to a new platform and new markets. Zune will extend its video service to Xbox LIVE internationally this fall. This marks an important development in the Zune strategy and brings the Zune brand to more than 17 million international Xbox LIVE subscribers. In addition, Microsoft confirmed the next generation of the Zune portable media player, Zune HD. Available in the U.S. this fall, Zune HD is the first portable media player that combines a built-in HD Radio receiver, high-definition (HD) video output capabilities, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) touch screen, Wi-Fi and an Internet browser.

Gizmodo fills in some of the blanks based on conversations with Microsft’s PR crew:

The flash-based Zune HD features a new industrial look compared to the line’s earlier understated matte style, and is the first to feature a touchscreen: In this case, it’s a 3.3" 16:9 widescreen capacitive OLED with multitouch, packing a resolution of 480×272. The "HD" badging comes from the inclusion of HD radio and HD (720p) video-out, though the latter is available only with an optional docking station. The Zune HD will thus be the world’s first portable media player to include HD radio, which offers song and artist info and far better sound quality than traditional radio. It’ll also include an accelerometer, which is pretty much standard at this point.

Wi-Fi has always been a part of the Zune brand (however half-assedly implemented), and the Zune HD might be the first Zune that actually encourages its owners to keep that battery-sucking Wi-Fi turned on. Yes, the Zune HD will feature multitouch browsing, using a portable browser based on Internet Explorer. We’ll do our best to reserve judgment on that last part.

The other big news is a refocus on Zune integration with the Xbox environment, as the Zune’s video (though not music, yet) marketplace will replace the current Xbox Live version. Microsoft reps were pretty tight-lipped on the subject, but come E3, they’ll enlighten us with the details of the redesign.

Other tidbits: The Zune Marketplace is set to cross oceans, coming to several western European countries and, finally, Canada.

No information has been released on capacity, pricing and release date other than "early fall." I’ll reserve judgment until all the details are in, but so far I am not particularly impressed which is not an uncommon reaction (eg. ParisLemon).

Update from Harry McCracken:

Does this mean the end of the current Zune line? Actually, Microsoft did answer this one: It’ll retire the current iPod Nano-like flash Zune models, but keep the hard-drive based ones on the market.

Filed under Argo, Xbox, Zune

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