After many months of waiting, the Zune HD, Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iPod Touch, has finally landed in the United States and a few other areas around the world. Microsoft were pushing for simultaneous release across the globe, but logistical problems prevented that, so the Zune HD will be launched in stages.
Zune HD marks a significant step forward for portable media players, combining powerful hardware components such as an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) multitouch screen, an NVIDIA Tegra HD processor and HD Radio capabilities with software advancements such as the new Quickplay menu, a well-featured Web browser, and engaging music and video playback features to deliver a new portable listening and viewing experience. The device is also capable of output of 720p high-def content to a HDTV.
The Zune HD also features an FM tuner, which is also present in the iPod Nano but not the Touch. But its the NVIDIA processor that is most exciting, as the 3D capabilities offered surpasses what could be done on most consumer electronics device out there currently, including the ageing PSP. Microsoft has already stated their commitment towards bringing exciting 3D titles such as Project Gotham Racing and Audiosurf later in the year though the Zune Marketplace, an online service similar to the iTunes Store. However no titles will be available at launch.
Another huge selling point of the Zune HD is the incredibly gorgeous screen, using not the old LCD technology used in almost all modern devices today but the more advanced, thinner, more detailed OLED screens offering a stunning experience especially when watching movies on them.
With the launch of Zune HD, Microsoft faces an uphill battle to populate its Marketplace with good apps whilst the Apple App Store boasts millions of applications with tons of games that can be downloaded and played right now. It is expected that Microsoft will take anywhere from 6 months to a year before people will take the Marketplace seriously.
Secondly, the pricing of the cheapest 16GB Zune HD is at $220, which is a tad higher than the cheapest 8GB iPod Touch 2G at $199. If you spend your time watching lots of video and listen to songs and have a use for the FM tuner, the Zune is the better device. But if the sole reason for owning a media player is to have a multipurpose portable entertainment device, the iPod will still remain the device to beat.
Although Microsoft has been trying again and again since 2006 with the original Zune to take on the iPod, it seems like the Zune HD is not the answer… yet. But it does provide a refreshing alternative to the be-all-end-all iPod Touch. Maybe the Zune HD 2 will meet the bar that Apple has set… assuming it hasn’t been moved higher by then. Before committing your money on either device, I highly recommend you go to a store and check out the Zune HD in action, especially the screen quality. It might be just the thing to sway your opinion.