This week Microsoft took the wraps off the next Zune, dubbed Zune HD. It seems to be your basic next-generation touch screen only media player with the common additions of WiFi and an web browser (IE based). There are some other interesting parts such as a HD Radio tuner, an OLED screen, multitouch, and even HD output at 720p via a dock.
The most interesting part of the announcement is not the device, but rather the service. The Zune Marketplace will now integrate with the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, finally drawing a realistic picture of Microsoft’s “3 screen” vision of the future. Getting the most press is the HD Radio tuner, the non-HD resolution of the OLED screen, and the concept of Microsoft competing with the iPod touch.
HD Radio tuner doesn’t do much for me, it will give people a chance to explore something they likely have never heard of before, and apparently the FM radio tuner has been a big selling point among existing Zune buyers. The resolution on the OLED screen is only 480×272, which many have noted is not even close to HD. I’m not really sure why people think they need 1080p on a portable player, the lower resolution screen likely benefits the majority of people who put low-bitrate and resolution content on the device in the first place. If you have HD content, the dock now outputs 720p over HDMI. The big question in terms of resolution is actually what codec’s and resolutions it supports syncing. If it supports all popular codecs and HD resolutions, that means I can sync without transcoding.
I have never seen the Zune as a good competitor to the iPod, I don’t feel much different about this one. Microsoft is still playing catch-up here by connecting their services. This is something Apple has mostly had for years. Within the next 2-3 years I can finally see the landscape start to change a bit, but Microsoft is going to have a very hard time going after Apple when you compare numbers.
Lacking is any mention of Media Center, which wasn’t a shock to me personally. I firmly believe Microsoft has moved on from what most reading this wanted Media Center to be, and of course for years I’ve said the Xbox was the real competition to Media Center (this will become much clearer as we go on). Connecting the Xbox, Zune, and Windows finally makes all of the products marketable. Microsoft also just announced that Xbox 360 has sold 30 million units and has 20 million on Xbox LIVE.
A few have noted that all the details have not been released and that Media Center integration could still be there. I don’t anticipate it, but would welcome it. I doubt we will see this act as a Media Center Extender as many have wanted. If Microsoft could of improved anywhere in the Zune-Media Center connection I hope it was with syncing content, mainly TV. The Zune does support syncing TV, but it doesn’t support anything copy protected (CableCARD, likely any future premium Cable/Sat services), and also doesn’t support syncing content with Dolby Digital audio. If this stays true just about the only TV content the Zune can sync (in the US) will be analog cable/satellite captures. Even OTA content will be purely Dolby Digital next months, so even your favorite local channels will not sync unless Microsoft decides to change.