First Look: Microsoft Zune HD
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First Look: Microsoft Zune HD

3:36 /

The Zune HD is one of the strongest contenders to the Apple iPod Touch, bringing unique features such as HD radio, a beautiful OLED screen, HD video output, and subscription music.

^M00:00:03 Hey, I'm Donald Bell senior editor for Digital Audio and MP3, and today we're taking a first look at the Microsoft Zune HD. This is a touch screen portable media player that comes in 16GB for $219 and 32GB for $289. Stores are stocking both capacities in either black or silver. But you can also find engraving options and other colors from Microsoft Zune Originals Online Store. Now anyone watching this video is bound to be wondering how this thing stacks up to Apple's iPod Touch. So let's just cut to the chase. Why would somebody buy a Zune HD over an iPod Touch? I think the most noticeable advantage of the Zune HD is it's screen quality. Microsoft really stepped things up here by putting a gorgeous 3.3 inch wide-screen formatted OLED screen that knocks the snot out of the Touch. Granted the screen real estate is technically a little smaller but the colors and contrast are unreal. If I was stuck on a plane and I wanted to watch a movie, I would choose the Zune HD in a heartbeat. Plus Microsoft is now offering low-cost movie rentals for the Zune HD. The second advantage to the Zune has over the Touch is a radio tuner that supports both HD broadcasts and standard FM radio. If you like the idea of listening to your favorite radio broadcast, no iPod is going to offer as many stations in as high a quality as the Zune HD. Plus if you hear a song you like, you have the option to tag the song and download it later which is pretty cool. The last feature the Zune HD can really brag about is subscription music integration. If you buy a Zune and really love hearing new music, you can sign up for a Zune Pass subscription that allows you to download and synch all the music you want for $15 a month. Included in the plan are 10 free MP3 purchases a month which are yours to keep even if you cancel the subscription plus you get unlimited song and album streams from any computer when you log on to zune.net. The long story short the Zune subscription service is one of the better values out there and no other device does a better job of integrating, streaming and downloading subscription tracks than the Zune HD. A few other things worth mentioning, the Zune now has a web browser and it's pretty awesome definitely comparable to the Touch. Photos look great on the OLED screen. There's also a new category for Apps where you can find any games or utilities downloaded from Microsoft's Zune Marketplace. At launch they've got a handful of games and a promise of more to come including Apps for Twitter and Facebook. And with that we come to the Zune HD's real Achilles heal when it comes to competing with the iPod Touch. People are just nuts these days about Apps and games. There may be a day when the Zune gets a Pandora App or a Wine Buying Guide or Maps but until then I think people are going to have a hard time choosing a premium media playback device over a do-everything gizmo like the Touch. It also doesn't help that the Zune can only be used with it's own Zune software with is a PC-only program. That said if you're a big music fan looking for one of the richest music playback and discovery experiences you can get on a portable device, the Zune HD is it. And there's one more thing. Everything you see on the Zune can be output to your HDTV. For another 90 bucks you can get AV Dock with HDMI Out in both analog and digital audio outputs. Plug in your Zune and all of your music and videos can be thrown on to the big screen controlled by an included remote. It's pretty cool and yet another thing you just can't do with any iPod. So there you go. That's the Zune HD in the nutshell. It's a beautiful product that still isn't destined for mass appeal but will definitely find an audience with people who want the very best from their music and videos. For cnet.com, I'm Donald Bell. ^M00:03:35

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