Microsoft Officially Unveils Zune

As expected, Microsoft on Thursday took the wraps off its Zune portable media player, set to be available in time for the holidays. Zune features a 30GB hard drive, wireless connectivity and will come in three colors. But pricing has not been decided.

Microsoft confirmed a number of expected features about its new player, which is being manufactured by Toshiba and has become one of the worst kept secrets in the technology industry. Zune sports a three-inch LCD display that can be viewed in portrait or landscape mode, and includes a built-in FM tuner.

The device will be available in three styles -- black, brown and white -- and the interface can be customized with pictures.

But connectivity is what Microsoft hopes will set Zune apart from its competitors, and give it a shot at lessening Apple's dominance in digital music. With built-in 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, users will be able to share selected full-length sample tracks, homemade recordings, playlists and pictures with other Zune users wirelessly. Not all songs will support sharing, however.

"The digital music entertainment revolution is just beginning,” remarked Zune lead J Allard. "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."

Songs shared with others can be listened to up to three times in three days. The idea, of course, is that if a user likes a track their friend has sent them, he or she will go purchase it from the Zune Marketplace. The Marketplace is Microsoft's new online music store that will offer a la carte downloads and a subscription service called Zune Pass.

Zune Marketplace will also support Microsoft Points, which were developed for the Xbox Live Marketplace and can be purchased as gift cards at a variety of retail outlets.

Other features of Zune include the ability to import music from iTunes and Windows Media Player, although songs purchased from Apple will not be compatible with the player. Software upgrades will also be provided by Microsoft, which says the future is filled with possibilities due to the built-in wireless capability.

Zune is slated to go on sale in the coming months, but no specific launch date was announced Thursday. Also noticeably missing from the Zune unveiling was a price. But Microsoft did announce three accessory packs, also without prices: the Zune Car Pack, A/V Pack and Travel Pack.

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