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Microsoft Reveals Next Zune Player -- Months In Advance

Late yesterday, Microsoft announced the next move in its long-running, thus-far-unsuccessful campaign to chip away at the iPod's dominance of the media-player market.

The new Zune HD will ship this fall at a price not yet revealed and will share some key features with Apple's iPod Touch (assuming that Apple doesn't redesign that device first, which is not necessarily a safe bet). Like the Touch, the Zune HD will feature WiFi wireless networking, a Web browser and a color and a touch-sensitive screen big enough to watch downloaded TV shows and movies.

zune_hd.jpg

Those movies could come from Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, one of the few video-download options I've found competitive with Apple's iTunes Store, but Microsoft's press release is vague on that point: "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."

Unlike the Touch -- and other handheld media players -- the Zune HD's screen will use organic light-emitting diode technology, which should allow for deeper blacks and a faster response time (not so important on a pocket-sized display) and better battery life (quite important). It will also include a digital HD Radio tuner, making this Zune the first portable HD Radio device announced -- and fulfilling a prediction made by Columbia-based HD Radio developers iBiquity Digital in January.

In one way, the Zune and HD Radio make a perfect pair: Both have spent years struggling for relevance. At least the Zune has Microsoft's marketing budget behind it; although it's fallen short of the iPod year after year, I would expect that most people know it exists by now. HD Radio, by contrast, remains a mystery to many listeners -- thanks in part to the failure of most FM stations to make creative use of the extra, digital-only channels this technology allows.

So perhaps Microsoft's public vote of confidence can raise HD Radio's profile in the market. Or perhaps Zune HD buyers, however numerous they might be, will ignore the device's HD tuner and instead use its Web browser to listen to Internet radio stations.

One thing, however, seems easier to predict: Zune sales will only get worse between now and the HD's arrival. By pre-announcing the next Zune this far out, Microsoft has essentially told anybody contemplating a Zune purchase to put the credit card away until this fall. That's a gutsy move, but "gutsy" can sometimes be a synonym for "disastrous."

Are you interested in seeing how the Zune HD works out? Or did you stop paying attention to Microsoft's efforts in this area years ago?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 27, 2009; 12:51 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Music  
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Comments

I am definitely interested in Zune HD. I am sick and tired of Apple's monopoly in this area. I used to use iTunes until it got so bloated I couldn't use it anymore. Now I use Zune 3.0 which is a more than capable alternative.

Posted by: tundey | May 27, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

"By pre-announcing the next Zune this far out, Microsoft has essentially told anybody contemplating a Zune purchase to put the credit card away until this fall."
_______

it is not disastrous if hardly anybody was buying the device in the first place. so you can say that they don't have much to lose.

Posted by: gmail | May 27, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

It seems a few entities, particularly sports teams, are catching on to the HD Radio wave. Both the Dallas Cowboys (NFL) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL -- and booo!) will have HD Radio subchannel by this season (2009-2010). I wouldn't be surprised if the Redskins and Dan Snyder's ESPN 980 follow suit.

It's funny to me that Microsoft is taking advantage of the HD Radio while Apple has opted to use HD-R as a link to its iTunes platform via the Tagging technology. Hopefully, the new iPhone and iPod Touch rumored may address an HD-R application but I hear they are rumored to add a camera, so HD Radio may be SOL in this new generation.

Since the death (and I mean death) of XM, satellite and digital radio have yet to really understand that there will likely be no major megastation such in back in the days of WPGC (its pre hip-hop incarnation), WMAL (when Harden and Weaver ruled and Limbaugh was a beforethought) -- more likely popular, niche and cancelled formats (jazz, classical, bluegrass, local bands and comics, as well as local sports teams -- and high school or college teams) can all be supported on HD Radio, if some programmer is willing to take a risk. But I'm not a radio guy just a civil engineer and gadget geek -- what do I know? :)

Posted by: huoduengr | May 27, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Will definitely take a closer look. I assume that HD radio tuners include regular FM tuners. Otherwise why bother?

The questions come down to:
1) Cost. If an iPod Touch is less expensive then probably wouldn't buy a Zune.

2) Audio. Can it play DRM free AAC from the iTunes store? If not, probably wouldn't buy a Zune.

3) Video. How hard is it to get video on the thing? Will Handbrake transcode videos it can read? Can those videos be copied over? If not, probably wouldn't buy a Zune.

Posted by: wiredog | May 27, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

During CES 2009, iBiquity admitted that its new KRI Armband MP3 player uses 500mW of power. SiPort duped CES by claiming 110 mW, but that was for HD Radio Playback Mode ONLY! The HD chipset will eat the Zune alive. And, good-luck picking up those elusive HD signals with just the earbud antennas - most people have problems with even dipole antennas! This will blowup in Microsoft's face, but they don't have much to lose with the Zune having only 3% of the MP3 marketplace.

"Are Ford and HD Radio in Sync?"

"The radio industry will, of course, promote Ford for free in exchange for this development as part of the presumably soon-to-expire pledge of airtime to the HD radio effort."

tinyurl.com/r4cg27

The only reason corporations consider HD Radio is for the free publicity. HD Radio simply doesn't work and never will, even after the power increase for FM-HD, which will cause more massive interference on analog FM. And, HD radios can't be found in any of the major retailers, anymore.

"HD Radio™ Troubleshooting Guide"

"Station Volume changes. Audio repeats or jumps forward in time. An echo occurs when the radio switches between Analog and Digital audio. Digital audio sounds worse than the Analog audio. The HD-Radio™ sound keeps switching between Digital and Analog audio quality. HD-Radio™ Indicator keeps turning on and off."

tinyurl.com/d4molp

Those are some wild predictions that you referred to by iBiquity. It is interesting that BMW, and of course all other automakers, are having nothing but complaints about HD Radio. So, what's up with that? Free publicity, that's what's up.

Posted by: sidwellfriends | May 27, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I just wish they'd added Bluetooth to the Zune.

Posted by: ronjaboy | May 27, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I'm amused by your statement "I would expect that most people know it [the Zune] exists by now" -- pick any random 10 people on the street and ask them. I bet fewer than 4 have heard of it.

Posted by: barryrosenfeld | May 27, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I think companies are too hasty to ride a "future" wave of technology that hasn't really surfaced the entire network infrastructure and personally, it's very frustrating the promises of better services from Apple and Microsoft who seem to be the only companies jocking for position in this game. I could really care less about HD anything unless the network can TRULY support the feeds to the devices and not just "HD capable" devices.

We already know HDTV is here and running good, but in smaller devices not yet tested for durability and longivity? I'm not in a rush. I'd give the new Zune some time before even considering it. I wish another company altogether squashes them both into oblivion...namely Archos

Posted by: cbmuzik | May 27, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I'm psyched for this. I have the original Zune, and (mostly) love it, save for its kinks -- mainly the "shuffle" feature (it doesn't, really) and the video issue (can't get 'em on my device -- my friend with a newer version doesn't have this problem, though he did on the older version). I don't like any of Apple's products and the monopoly it holds, and I'm a big fan of radio, so the fact that the Zune includes this feature makes it a sell for me. The good thing is that, in the meantime, the latest Zunes currently on the market will start to plummet in price -- I don't need the latest and greatest, so this will work just fine for me (I got the Zune I have now on Woot.com before the current versions came out). Worst case scenario, if I decide I do want the newest Zune with HD radio (which I don't quite get yet, but will check it out regardless), I can just wait until the fall.

Win win for me!

Posted by: cbr1 | May 27, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

they still make the Zune? really? wow. i can't see this ever truly competing with the iPod. Microsoft is no match in this arena.

Posted by: odenton | May 27, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I have owned my Zune 120 since Christmas. I feel committed to it, since I have had to "sync" about 700 albums from my collection onto it. This latest Zune news does not bode well for the product. To do well, Microsoft is going to have to improve the ease of its software and product features.

The "sync" software is ultra-frustrating (no such thing as "drag and drop"), time-consuming, counter-intuitive. The player is boxy and heavier than sleek IPod. Other than these drawbacks, sound quality is slightly superior to IPod (I do notice these things). I do not watch video on it, but it is a high quality, large screen. Microsoft needs to make Zune easier to use and more affordable, otherwise they are sunk.

Posted by: ncaadan | May 27, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

microsoft should make zune the first portable wifi device where the internet connection is free...
it should also get am radio...
and like someone said, it should be bluetooth capable...

Posted by: DwightCollins | May 27, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

also microsoft should develope a way to run .net applications on this device...
and give developers a way to develope these applications...

Posted by: DwightCollins | May 27, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

One of the often ignored realities is that you really can't have more than one type of player ... it's too hard to manage your music and playlists. So at the moment you have to choose either the MS or the Apple world to live in. Until MS realizes it's Apple's world, they just live in it, and creates something that works with iTunes ... they will make zero progress.

BTW, radio has become irrelevant. Their programming choices run counter to everything people want in a personal player, especially choice and quality. Why would HD Radio be relevant.

Posted by: pilgrim1629 | May 27, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Rob, Haven't you said that we will soon see the death of TV? Well, why do you expect radio to be any different?

Posted by: donlibes | May 27, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Microsoft's Zune and iBiquity's HD Radio - two loser technologies married together. This is a simple case of symbiosis:

http://hdradiofarce.blogspot.com

Posted by: sidwellfriends | May 27, 2009 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Stopped paying attention to Microsoft Zune?

Yep.

Stopped paying attention to Microsoft too.

Once you go Mac you never go back.

Posted by: AlanBrowne | May 27, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

I have not nor ever will buy an iPod, so bring on the Zune! Either that or the Creative Zen. Apple can bite me.

Posted by: bryan2369 | May 27, 2009 9:32 PM | Report abuse

If microsoft put me in charge of the Zune, I would have it the #1 player in about 18 months. Here's how:

1) Drop the price. Get marketshare at the expense of profit.

2) Drop support for DRM.

3) Stop requiring special software to load songs/videos

4) Get an application like "Songbird" and adapt it so it works perfectly with the Zune.

5) Make software to rip videos and music directly to the device.

6) Support any video format, avi, mov, mkv, rm, everything

7) Sly-ly advertise that these babies will work with any videos/music

8) Stop hiring ex-Soviet designers

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | May 27, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

I'll concede that Apple is dominant in the mp3 player market -- but it makes me laugh (ironic laughter) to hear people talk about buying Microsoft over Apple as some kind of protest against Apple's "monopoly"
A few year's back, when the first gen nano came out (and was just a big bright box much, much larger than current version), Dell came out with a player the same size, twice as many gigs, played wma which are half the size of aac but sound better, had more intuitive controls, and cost half as much. But no one bought it despite the add campaign and great reviews. Did apple conspire against it and try to destroy it in the market place by offering huge discount or free give-a-ways or bundling itunes on the ubiquitous PC? Nope. People just thought the nano was more fun and just a little (maybe a lot) more cool. Add all the features you want to the Zune but it's still a minivan while the itouch is a convertible. Just puh-leeze don't say "monopoly" when what you mean is "competitive"

Posted by: guybrarian | May 28, 2009 7:18 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Softie clearly has a trick up their sleeve by not giving away too many details right now. They are in this game to win; not just compete. And one thing we've learned from microsoft and history is that they always win in the end. Haven't seen lotus 123, word perfect, netscape, ibm dos, etc., in a very long time! the xbox connection and eventual phone connection are just around the corner. the xbox will obviously come first, but wait and see! www.slicknetbooks.com

Posted by: jennyG1 | May 28, 2009 7:32 AM | Report abuse

Can't wait to get mine. Unlike the rest of the world I chose the Zune and could not be happier with it. Of course I've been waiting patiently for this new model and integration with XBox Live so I'm all too happy to see it finally happen.

Microsoft has made a lot of mistakes with the Zune in terms of not moving fast enough to upgrade the line and bring more content to Zune Marketplace but last years dismal holiday sales FINALLY made them sit-up and take notice.

I'm sure many will instantly shoot the Zune down but it doesn't matter. I love it and can't wait to get my hands on the HD.

Posted by: huristm | May 28, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

ncaadan - I have the Zune80 and to be honest I have never had any problems syncing content. If you are having issues with this I would suggest you uninstall Zune, Run a registry cleaner like (RegCure), Run Defrag, Restart, then Reinstall Zune. You'be be surprised how much better your PC runs with a little maintenance particularly after you run RegCure.

Its also important to have more than that bare minimum system requirements to run the software. Never a good idea to run a program with minimal system requirements.

I hope this bit if information will be helpful to you.

Posted by: huristm | May 28, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

I'm paying close attention to this new Zune, as I've been looking at the iPod Touch but despise Apple snobbery. I have two Zune 30s in my household, and my wife and I are perfectly happy with them and the Zune software.

On a side note, it is impossible to beat the Zune pricepoint. I paid $90 apiece for my 30Gb Zunes, and found the full accessory pack for under $50. If I'd gone with the iPod, I'd have spent easily $200 per player and $25-30 per accessory. The standard line of music/video iPods are for those of us with more money than sense.

Posted by: willpender | May 28, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: janeseven | May 28, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

I have the first model Zune. I love it. When I showed it to my wife, she asked me to get one for her, then gave her ipod away.

We're both very happy with our Zunes.

I'm looking forward to the Zune HD.

You haven't mentioned the Zune Pass, which lets you download as much music as you want for $15 a month. You can keep 10 of the tracks a month if you cancel the Zune Pass.

Posted by: rw-c | May 28, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

It will be another Microsoft failure. Apple owns this space and most musicians, artists, video folks (like me) prefer apple technology when it comes to audio/video.

Microsoft looks like IBM when it tried to enter the PC OS market by trying to enter the MP3/video market. The boat has sailed on and they missed it.. A long time ago. I believe Apple's downfall in this market will be due to either their own hand or by a company like Sony or Pioneer. Not Microsoft, they have no clue when it comes to usability or interface.

Posted by: clark202 | May 28, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

In reading the comments, I also have to do a double take at folks calling Apple snobs and MP3 supremacy... Zune is owned by Microsoft...AKA Big Brother... AKA The Man, the company that stuck its middle finger up at Janet Reno and The Justice Department and said, "We won't change how we do business, but we'll gladly pay the fine." Have I missed something here?

Posted by: clark202 | May 28, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

@ncaadan - you can actually drag and drop to your zune icon on the bottom left on the software once the device is connected.
I have both the first and second generation zunes and will definitely get the new one if at a reasonable price. I think it s kind of funny how most apple users won't consider gtting a zune because of how much they invested in itunes. I love the zune pass and my capacity of unlimited download plus keeping 10 free songs a months. It s like buying a CD every month while getting to play unlimited music. I just wished the video and audiobooks were easier and invorporated better. also that DRM free issue is a little frustrating. Maybe also a higher than 120gb capacity zune? But overall, i would not trade my 120 Zune for an ipod for nothing!

Posted by: claceltete | May 28, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I have three 120 gig Zunes, one for Classical music and mp3 recorded radio talk shows, one for Jazz and Pop (60's-70's Rock), an one for video.

I really love the device, perfect for air travel. But one of them went to "Code5:Contact Support", which was totally useless in getting me into the repair system.
Also, the teeny tiny manual was less than useless.

Posted by: mitrich | May 28, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Let's call it this "Why I won't buy a Zune."

This post summed it up for me:

"If you are having issues with this I would suggest you uninstall Zune, Run a registry cleaner like (RegCure), Run Defrag, Restart, then Reinstall Zune. You'be be surprised how much better your PC runs with a little maintenance particularly after you run RegCure.

Its also important to have more than that bare minimum system requirements to run the software. Never a good idea to run a program with minimal system requirements."

That's way too much to do to listen to some music! Sounds like Windows OS steps ...

@willpender

No one is buying Zunes, that's why you got them for $90 a piece. The retailers want their shelves back!

Posted by: ummhuh1 | May 28, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Will fat sweaty Ballmer be on a commercial telling kids how "cool" the zune is?....

Posted by: pwaa | May 28, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Your post implies that the Zune is the first touch-screen MP3 player with an OLED screen. I am quite happy with my Cowon S9 - with touchscreen and AMOLED screen. See:
http://www.cowonamerica.com/products/cowon/s9/tech_specs.html

Posted by: GreenHawkIA | May 28, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I have stopped paying attention to Microsoft Zune. My iPhone does most everything I need.

HD Radio? Good luck without a decent antenna.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | May 28, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

M$oft's history shows that without the headstart provided by illegal business tactics their products don't achieve mass acceptance. Just consider Zune, Internet Exploder, M$ Search, Hotmail and the list goes on. This shouldn't surprise anyone- closed-source products that are released according to quarterly-report demands, without regard to quality, lead to buggy attack targets. Thanks to the recession, people have stopped buying and the layoff have already started in Redmond. That means even weaker products get shipped, still fewer are bought and more layoffs occur, in a downward spiral. Watch out for the final act of this play- drowning people get desperate.

Posted by: hairguy01 | May 28, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

The only thing needed with these touch devices now is a webcam. Add a webcam to Zune HD or Ipod Touch to be able to skype people while I'm on the road at wifi spots and I'll buy, otherwise I'll wait until they get it, if they get it...

Posted by: praxis22 | May 29, 2009 7:14 AM | Report abuse

Great to see major company promoting HD Radio technology! HD just needs some time and additional exposure so that people can understand the benefits.

Posted by: teamscatt | May 29, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Great to see a major company supporting the HD Radio technology! HD Radio needs more time and exposure till people catch on and understand the benefits. For more info on HD radio and a great selection of HD radio receivers, HD radio tuners, and home audio go to http://www.hdradiotuner.org

Posted by: teamscatt | May 29, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

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