Microsoft takes wraps off of Zune HD

Microsoft is taking the battle with Apple to the next level. 

The company on Tuesday officially announced the Zune HD, a
completely redesigned media player that looks set to go head to head with
Apple’s iTouch and iPhone. And to help it in its fight, it’s enlisting the Xbox 360. From the press release:

Zune HD_low rez “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.”

Since the Zune was first announced, Microsoft has
been teasing integration with the Xbox. And tying together the video
marketplaces of the two systems is long overdue. (Previously, XBL downloads
haven’t been able to transfer to the Zune.) The ability to carry your
downloaded films and TV shows with you takes away an advantage Sony was able to
boast with the PS3 and PSP.

Meanwhile, 360 owners who previously hadn’t given the
Zune much consideration may now rethink their stance on the device.

“Many of our Zune customers are Xbox Live Subscribers,” said
Brian Seitz, a spokesperson for Microsoft’s Zune division. “For Xbox Live
subscribers that aren’t Zune owners, we’re hoping they’ll be impressed with the
video offerings they see … and give us a second look when they’re looking for
a new device.”

Look at some of the Zune HD’s new features and
it’s pretty obvious that Microsoft realizes their first efforts weren’t game
changing enough to make a real impact on the portable entertainment
marketplace. If it lives up to the hype, the Zune HD could become a much larger
player in the field.

Among the new features are:

  • Built-in HD Radio receiver
  • HD video output capabilities
  • OLED touch screen, allowing you to flip through
    music, movies and other content

  • Wi-fi
  • Internet browser optimized for multi-touch

Of course, today’s announcement was a tease.
While oodles of intriguing features were listed, nothing was said about price
or memory capacity. The release date is technically “this fall,” but Seitz said
mid-September was a “pretty safe bet.”

On pricing, Seitz avoided specifics, but said “This
thing’s meant to go head to head with the [i]Touch, so we’ll be priced

We’ll have more next week when we’ve seen the Zune HD and
Xbox 360 in action together.