Microsoft Releases Zune HD Touch Screen Device, Adds Music Streaming, Videos

Microsoft released an updated version of the Zune Tuesday, the Zune HD. The digital media device offers a touch screen interface that follows in the footsteps of Apple's iPod touch, and features an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) multitouch screen, an NVIDIA Tegra HD processor and HD Radio capabilities. The company also released a new version of the Zune PC software that adds video purchasing and rentals through the Zune Marketplace and music streaming through a Web browser.

The most significant changes are in the physical properties of the device. Microsoft is using an OLED screen, which could well offer a brighter image than competing devices, including Apple's iPod touch (The Mac Observer has requested a review unit).

The device also includes a built-in HD radio receiver. Zunes have long had FM radio receivers, whereas Apple only just added an FM receiver to the iPod nano this month and the iPod touch doesn't offer radio at all. The boost to an HD radio receiver in the Zune HD marks what Microsoft said is the first such receiver in a portable, WiFi-enabled device.

HD radio songs can be tagged for immediate purchase (when on a WiFi network) or later purchase through the Zune PC software.

Microsoft has added an MSN Weather application, some non-specified casual games, and a calculator to the apps that come with the Zune HD. Even more exciting is the news that Twitter and Facebook will be coming to the device later this year. The Zune HD is still not open to third party developers.

Lastly, Microsoft has added a feature called QuickPlay that offers one-click access to favorites, recently added content, and recently played content. That coupled with Smart DJ automated playlists brings the device current with some iPod features circa 2007.

Zune HD is available immediately with a black 16GB version for US$219.99 and a platinum 32GB version for $289.99. This contrast with Apple's iPod touch line, which is currently priced at $199 for 8GB, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB.

Zune HD
The Zune HD in 32GB Platinum, complete with four screws on the back