updated 04:25 am EDT, Thu August 13, 2009
Zune HD Launch Set
Microsoft early this morning set the final launch for the Zune HD. True to leaks, the company's first touchscreen player will ship on September 15th and will come in a 16GB black version for $220 and a 32GB platinum-colored version for $290. Pre-orders start later today through Amazon (16GB, 32GB) as well as Best Buy, Walmart and Microsoft's own company store. Best Buy stores in major US cities will also have in-store previews on the 22nd and 23rd.
The new Zune is the first major update to the player line in two years and centers on an NVIDIA Tegra APX processor and its HD playback. Videos can play in 720p natively on the device without downsizing the clip, albeit only at the 3.3-inch display's 480x272 resolution; an optional dock (not yet priced) puts video out through HDMI at its full quality. Microsoft also adds a number of other significant firsts for itself and in some cases for anyone, including a multi-touch OLED screen and HD Radio tuning. The organic, backlight-free display gives the Zune HD 33 hours of music playback and 8.5 hours of video.
Wi-Fi use has been significantly expanded on the Zune HD and now brings an Internet Explorer 6 Mobile-based web browser with pinch-to-zoom gestures and an on-screen keyboard. In the Zune Marketplace, subscribers to the Zune Pass can stream songs directly over the wireless link instead of having to download them first. Microsoft has also vowed Xbox Live integration, though so far it's believed this involves recognizing video purchases from the Xbox for download on the Zune.
The launch of a major new Zune is crucial for Microsoft's ailing music business. In its spring quarter, the company's Entertainment and Devices division that supports the Zune dropped 42 percent in year-over-year revenue despite a successful Xbox 360 season, hinting at a sharp drop in Zune sales triggered by the lack of major hardware and software updates.
Apple is unofficially but widely expected to counter the Zune's low pricing with a third-generation iPod touch at or near the same timeframe as the Zune HD launch.