Protected content are purchased song downloads (and now video) that incorporate DRM (digital rights management). They can only be played on your computer and on certain mp3 players.
Songs purchased on iTunes can only be played on iPods (without doing any sort of conversion or burning to cd then ripping back onto computer process). iTunes DRM scheme is called Fairplay. Microsoft developed Plays For Sure (actually called Windows Media Audio DRM 9). Players certified as "Plays for Sure" devices can play protected content from a variety of stores. There are many such devices from different manufacturers such as Creative, SanDisk, Archos, Cowan, etc. Microsoft even had a music store - MSN Music Store that sold songs with this DRM. This was before Microsoft officially entered the mp3 player market.
With the new Zune player, Microsoft pretty much abandonded Plays For Sure. If you bought tracks off of MSN Music Store you cannot play them on the Zune. The MSN music store doesn't exist anymore - users are directed toward Rhapsody. Instead, if you want to purchase downloaded content to put on the Zune you must go through Microsoft's Zune Marketplace. eMusic, Audio Lunchbox and other such sites that sell songs in mp3 format are exceptions that can be played on any player including iPods. Video content hasn't been rolled out on the Zune Marketplace yet.
As for your original question, is the $50 worth it? Well, I don't own one, but was interested until I found out about the lack of Plays For Sure content support. You also must use their Zune software, kind of like iPod + iTunes. You can't even use Microsoft's own Windows Media Player. The software doesn't have podcast support - you can't subscribe to podcasts through it. That's not to say you can't put podcasts on it. It's just that you got to do a little more work to get them in your Zune library and perhaps create a playlist so that you can easily find them. And the final nail: you can't use it as an external drive without hacking it. All of this Microsoft could rectify with a software update. Whether or not they do remains to be seen. If I want to be locked into software and music store, I will stick with iPod.
Yeah, I'm a multiple iPod owner. But I'm a gadget lover as well who is always looking for my next gadget. I do like the Zune, especially the black one, but I was disappointed in the rollout and will stay away for now. I do like the Creative Zen Vision M. It has a better screen than the video iPod (I own a 5.5 gen) and I think comparable battery life.
my ipod was recently stolen and i cant make it any longer without some type of mp3 player. i have over 15 gb in music and a few videos. i am struggling wether to go with the older creative zen vision: M or the newer microsoft zune player. i cant lie i would have to say i like the zunes interface more, looks really nice. but i dont know how it is in dependibility, like everyday use. considering its not that old and their hasnt been much said about the zune i am scared to go spend the money on something im not completly sure of. some one help me decide which one and if the zune is worth 50$ more.
o and what exactly is meant by the zune cant play protected content?