portable perfection

By Dan Nosowitz

Microsoft officially announced the Zune HD today, confirming the earlier rumors and fleshing out the hardware side a bit. It’s clearly going to go head-to-head with the iPod touch, featuring multitouch and a web browser, but will its high-end media features be enough to dethrone the touch?

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. The Microsoft rep I talked to hinted that the Zune environment may not stay exclusive to Zune hardware: “Obviously,” he said, “mobile is a key and critical investment for the company.” So don’t count out that Zune phone quite yet. I got just about the same response when inquiring about a possible version of the App Store: Possible, but no confirmation. So keep your eyes peeled for new developments on that front.

We’re still mostly in the dark about the big, important facts: Release date is only specified as “early fall,” and both pricing and storage capacity are still under wraps. This is still pretty bare-bones; we haven’t seen the redesigned touchscreen GUI or even held the thing in our hands. I’m a proud Zune owner myself (somebody had to take over as Angry Windows guy after Adam’s defection, right?), and while I think Zunes are great, I’m not thrilled with what I’ve learned so far. It’ll be a polished and great-sounding player, I’m sure, but I really want to see something that pushes boundaries, and to me, that doesn’t mean HD radio. We’ll update with the full press release and hopefully some more info as soon as possible. Update: Here’s that release.

For Immediate Release

May 26, 2009

Microsoft Announces the Expansion of the Zune Entertainment Service to New Platform and Markets; Confirms New Zune HD Portable Media Player

Premium Zune digital entertainment service to be available internationally on Xbox LIVE.

REDMOND, Wash. – May 26, 2009 – 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.

“The Zune music player is an integral part of the overall Zune experience, and we’re proud to be growing and extending our offering beyond the device,” said Enrique Rodriguez, corporate vice president of the Microsoft TV, Video and Music Business Group. “Delivering on Microsoft’s connected entertainment vision, this news marks a turning point for Zune as it brings cross-platform experiences and premium video content to living rooms around the world.”

Zune Service Expands to New Platform

Zune will be a premium partner in the Xbox LIVE Video Marketplace, bringing an exciting catalog of TV and film to the platform. Zune will occupy the first slot within the Xbox user interface in the Xbox LIVE Video Marketplace, exposing the Zune brand experience to millions of new consumers for the first time. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) next week, attendees will see firsthand how Zune integrates into Xbox LIVE to create a game-changing entertainment experience.

Introducing Zune HD

Zune HD is the next iteration of the Zune device family and brings a new level of listening and viewing experiences to the portable media player category.

· 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 (480×272 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.

More information on Zune and related images is available at http://www.zune.net/press and http://www.zune.net/ZuneHD.

About Zune

Zune is Microsoft’s music and entertainment brand that provides an integrated digital entertainment experience. The Zune platform includes a line of portable digital media players, elegant software, the Zune Marketplace online store, Zune Pass music subscription service, and the Zune Social online music community, created to help people discover more music. Zune is part of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division and supports the company’s software-based services vision to help drive innovation in the digital entertainment space. More information can be found online at http://www.zune.net/en-us/press.

About Xbox LIVE

Xbox LIVE connects more than 17 million members across 26 countries to each other and the entertainment they love. Home of more content from one remote than can be found from any device connected to the television, Xbox LIVE is also a unified online social network bringing friends together, no matter where they are – in the living room or across the world. More information and Xbox LIVE membership can be found online at http://www.xbox.com/en-us/live.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

* 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.

HD Radio™ and the HD Radio logo are proprietary trademarks of iBiquity Digital Corp.

VIA: Gizmodo