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Zune HDs Go On Sale With Updated Software

Zune HD
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Source: Microsoft

Microsoft's new Zune HD music player went on sale Tuesday, after months of mystery and sudden revelations.

But still unanswered is whether Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) competitor to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPod Touch will be able to live up to the hype that built up behind it since spring, when word surfaced of the new player.

Microsoft first publicly showed the Zune HD in early June at the E3 conference in Los Angeles. Since then, the company has kept up a steady drumbeat aimed at generating fresh buzz around its newly enhanced player, an effort that swelled in mid-August when retailers began taking pre-orders for the new device.

Those orders began fulfillment Tuesday as well.

The Zune HD carries an estimated retail price of $219.99 for a 16GB unit and $289.99 for the 32GB version. As for the feature set, the new units will provide a built-in HD Radio receiver -- adding support for the 2,000 or so HD radio stations in the country -- as well as high-definition (HD) video output capabilities, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) multi-touch screen, Wi-Fi support and an Internet browser.

At the same time, Microsoft is phasing out its original line of Zunes, so that only the Zune HD will be available going forward.

Simultaneously with the Zune HD, Microsoft is also updating its free Zune PC software as well as enhancing its Zune Marketplace, where users can buy and stream music and videos.

"For the first time, standard- and high-definition (HD) movies can be purchased or rented through the Zune Marketplace online store, and a new streaming music service on Zune.net lets Zune Pass subscribers listen to music from a Web browser," Microsoft said in a statement.

Thanks to the enhancements, Zune HD users also will be able to store and play videos through an HDTV in resolutions up to 720p using a new audio/visual dock accessory.

Later this year, Microsoft plans to release Twitter for Zune and Facebook for Zune applications to run on the Zune HD.

Beyond that, however, Microsoft is working to integrate its media offerings across what the company refers to as "four screens" -- meaning TVs, PCs, Zunes, and Xbox consoles.

As part of that initiative, Microsoft before the end of the year aims to expand access to Zune video to the 20 million or so Xbox Live users, combining the two devices' video stores.

Once that's done, users will be able to play purchased movies and TV shows across the Xbox, the PC and Zune HD. Microsoft also said Zune users will be able to download HD video in 1080p with 5.1 surround sound from Xbox Live.

Microsoft also plans to launch the Zune video service later this year in 17 international markets, including Canada, the UK, Australia and parts of Europe.