Microsoft Zune Ready for Holidays

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Microsoft has released details of the first products to ship under its new Zune brand of portable media players. The first devices will sport 30 GB hard drives, wireless sharing capabilities, and come in three colors in time for the end-of-year holiday buying season.

“The digital music entertainment revolution is just beginning,” said J. Allard, Microsoft VP of design and development. “With Zune, we are not simply delivering a portable device, we are introducing a new platform that helps bring artists closer to their audiences and helps people find new music and develop new social connections.”

The first Zune devices, made by Toshiba, will include a 30 GB hard drive, built-in FM tuner, 3-inch, 320 by 240 pixel LCD display, and offer wireless Zune-to-Zune connectivity. Users can wirelessly share full-length sample tracks of selected songs (up to three times over three days) along with homemade recordings, playlists, and images. The players will tie in directly with the Zune Marketplace, an iTunes-like online store which will serve as a purchase point for music and videos as well as a foundation for a Zune online community. Zune Marketplace will enable users to purchase tracks individually, or download as many songs as they like for a flat fee. On the format front, the Zunes look to support Windows Media (naturally), along with AAC, MP3, and H.264 video.

Zunes will be available in three colors—black, white, and brown—and will ship with pre-loaded content from EMI, Sub Pop, V2/Artemis, Quango, Ninja Tune, Astralwerks, and more.

Microsoft has also announced three accessory packs to “enhance the Zune experience.” A Car Pack lets Zune users hit the road with FM autoseek and a Zune Car Changer; a Home A/V Pack provides a dock, AC adapter, wireless remote, and AV cabling to connect Zunes to televisions, stereos, and home theater setups. Finally, a Travel Pack includes earphones, dual-connect remote, sync cable, AC adapter, and a gear bag.

What’s missing from Microsoft’s announcement? No hard numbers on prices (expect about $300), and hard dates on availability (except “in time for the holidays”). For now, we think it’s safe to assume the first Zune units will land at North American retailers before major end-of-year festivities…and they won’t be free.


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