Zune HD Is Real, Has Multitouch Web Browsing, OLED Screen and HD Video

Microsoft officially announced the Zune HD today, confirming the earlier rumours and fleshing out the hardware side a bit. It's clearly going to go head-to-head with the iPod touch, featuring multitouch and a web browser, but will its high-end media features be enough to dethrone the touch?

The flash-based Zune HD features a new industrial look compared to the line's earlier understated matte style, and is the first to feature a touchscreen: In this case, it's a 3.3" 16:9 widescreen capacitive OLED with multitouch, packing a resolution of 480x272. The "HD" badging comes from the inclusion of HD radio and HD (720p) video-out, though the latter is available only with an optional docking station. The Zune HD will thus be the world's first portable media player to include HD radio, which offers song and artist info and far better sound quality than traditional radio. It'll also include an accelerometer, which is pretty much standard at this point.

Wi-Fi has always been a part of the Zune brand (however half-assedly implemented), and the Zune HD might be the first Zune that actually encourages its owners to keep that battery-sucking Wi-Fi turned on. Yes, the Zune HD will feature multitouch browsing, using a portable browser based on Internet Explorer. We'll do our best to reserve judgment on that last part.

The other big news is a refocus on Zune integration with the Xbox environment, as the Zune's video (though not music, yet) marketplace will replace the current Xbox Live version. Microsoft reps were pretty tight-lipped on the subject, but come E3, they'll enlighten us with the details of the redesign.

Other tidbits: The Zune Marketplace is set to cross oceans, coming to several western European countries and, finally, Canada. The Microsoft rep I talked to hinted that the Zune environment may not stay exclusive to Zune hardware: "Obviously," he said, "mobile is a key and critical investment for the company." So don't count out that Zune phone quite yet. I got just about the same response when inquiring about a possible version of the App Store: Possible, but no confirmation. So keep your eyes peeled for new developments on that front.

We're still mostly in the dark about the big, important facts: Release date is only specified as "early fall," and both pricing and storage capacity are still under wraps. This is still pretty bare-bones; we haven't seen the redesigned touchscreen GUI or even held the thing in our hands. I'm a proud Zune owner myself (somebody had to take over as Angry Windows guy after Adam's defection, right?), and while I think Zunes are great, I'm not thrilled with what I've learned so far. It'll be a polished and great-sounding player, I'm sure, but I really want to see something that pushes boundaries, and to me, that doesn't mean HD radio. We'll update with the full press release and hopefully some more info as soon as possible.

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