Say Hello to the Zune HD
See, I had this plan tonight. I was out at a meeting and was getting home a full 45 minutes before the press embargo on the Zune HD was up, so Zune Thoughts would be one of the first sites to bring you the awesome news about the Zune HD. Then a site in the UK broke their embargo and everyone was allowed to publish the news...and I didn't realize that until I got home and checked my email. So that's why Zune Thoughts is bringing you this news late - hopefully when it come to actual hands-on time with the Zune HD, we'll be able to deliver something unique and special. Without further ado, here is the Zune HD and what I'm allowed to say about it so far (yes, there are a few bits of info that I know but can't share yet).
The Zune HD is designed from the ground up to take on the iPod Touch head to head. The hardware design is completely different from previous Zunes - one look at the sleek thinness tells you that. Microsoft wanted to get some information out about the Zune HD, but they're not spilling all the details just yet. Here's what we know for sure.
The Zune Rocks a 3.3 inch OLED Touch Screen: If you haven't seen an OLED screen in person, it's hard to describe how completely OLED kicks the ass of any other screen on the playground. Think about your mobile phone from ten years ago and the screen it had, now compare that to what you have today. OLED is an even bigger improvement. It's hard to say exactly how good the screen on the Zune HD will look until I see it in person, but I've seen plenty of OLED screens at CES, everything from a cell phone screen to the screen on the OQO, to a small TV, and each and every one has impressed the hell out of me. Amazing contrast, stunning brightness, and life-like in every way. The Zune's 3.3 inch screen should make the screen on the iPod Touch pale in comparison - and the iPod Touch's screen makes the Zune 80/120 screen look bad, so that's no small feat.
My one concern? The 16:9 aspect ratio screen on the Zune HD is 480 x 272 in resolution. That resolution isn't very high - the iPod Touch has a screen resolution of 480 x 320. That's right - more pixels. The 16:9 aspect ratio gives the Zune HD a 167 PPI (pixels per inch). The iPod Touch has a higher resolution, but also a bigger screen, so it has a PPI of 163 - pretty much indistinguishable from the Zune HD. If you've seen an iPod Touch, text, photos, and videos should look basically as crisp and clear on the Zune HD. Quite a bit better than the 125 PPI of the Zune 80/120, but nowhere near as crisp and clear as the amazing 222 PPI on the Zune 8/16. I would have liked to see Microsoft go past the screen resolution on the iPod Touch, not just match it - but maybe the OLED screen will make up for that. Oh, and the Zune HD has a capacitive touch screen, just like the iPod Touch. Capacitive touch screens tend to be more sensitive to touch and are generally considered to be superior to resistive touch screens (which all touch-based Windows Mobile smartphones currently have).
The Zune HD Rocks HD Radio: I know very little about HD Radio, never having heard an HD radio broadcast in my life. You can read all about HD Radio on Wikipedia. My take on it is that it's like having a fax machine: if you have the ability to receive, but no one is sending, it's a pretty worthless technology. It looks like there are a healthy number of radio stations broadcasting HD Radio (you can check availability here), but whether or not you can find your favourite radio station broadcasting in HD Radio is anyone's guess. HD Radio has the ability to bring metadata along with the broadcast, so you can see who sings the song you're listening to, and potentially tag it for looking up later. Oh, and in case you're wondering (I was), regular FM radio is still supported.
The Zune HD Outputs HD Video: As you can guess from the name, the Zune HD is all about high-definition content. On the device, the graphics chipset (which just has to be the Nvidia Tegra chip) will support the playback of 720p video content. That's 1280 x 720 content, scaled to fit on the 3.3 inch screen of the Zune. Super high-quality video anyone? Hell yeah! Should be great. Zero word on formats - we can assume HD WMV support, and the Zune would be insane to drop MPEG4/h.264 support, but who knows...what it really needs is Xvid/Divx support to round out the offering. If Microsoft is positioning this as a video device - and with that screen, you know they are - but they're still lacking a major video codec, it's going to be a huge loss. People won't buy a device that won't play back their content. Xvid and Divx support needs to be there - and MKV support is Microsoft is serious. There will also be a dock that will output the HD video over HDMI. This makes the Zune a fantastic portable media device - rip a few DVDs, load up a few HD TV shows, and bring it with you.
The Zune HD Smurfs the Interwebs: Finally, the Zune has a browser. It's based on Internet Explorer, so I'm dubious about how well it will work, but this combined with the built-in WiFi opens up the ability of the Zune HD to use browser-based authentication, which means WiFi in hotel rooms, airports, etc. That's a critical feature that the Zune was missing, and this makes the Zune far more usable in real-world situations. How functionality will the browser be? Will it be the same browser we've seen in Windows Mobile 6.5, which isn't all that impressive? Or will it be something else? Will it support Flash? Embedded videos in formats that the device supports? The Zune HD also has an accelerometer
There's still a lot we don't know. CPU? Unknown. Storage capacity? We know it's Flash-based, no a hard drive, but we don't know the capacities. Will they match the iPod at 16 GB and 32 GB, or will they one-up them and offer a 64 GB model? Unknown. We don't know anything about the software on the device - will the video and photo apps have been improved? What about battery life? That's a big question - a big, bright OLED screen and HD video playback puts a big question mark on the battery. And what about price point? Will Microsoft match the iPod Touch, or under-cut it? And you'll notice there's no mention of it being available outside the USA right away - that's right, Microsoft is again being US-centric in their focus at launch time. It looks like Canada is going from having Zune hardware, but no marketplace, to having no new Zune hardware, and still no Zune Marketplace.
There's more analysis and thoughts from yours truly to come, but I definitely want to hear your opinion. Does the Zune HD look like something you'd want to buy? Yes, no, maybe? If not, why not? And if maybe, what are you waiting to hear confirmed before you want one?
Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys photography, mobile devices, blogging, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog. He really wants to get his hands on the Zune HD.
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