One of the main gripes we’ve had with Microsoft as it pertains to the Zune platform is that they have stubbornly decided to keep it to a PC-only experience, leaving those of us who live in OS X out in the cold. Well, starting today, that changes. Kind of.
You see, the Zune Marketplace is now a part of Zune.net. Aside from having the largest audio and video podcast streaming directory, Zune now allows you to log in and listen to music from the Marketplace in any browser that supports Silverlight 3. Technically, Microsoft says that this experience is officially supported in Internet Explorer and Firefox, but we will have to give it a shot in Safari. Anyhow, the caveat here is that you can log in as a Zune Pass subscriber and stream music. This doesn’t solve the problem that those on a Mac have where they can’t sync their Zune hardware or download music. Still, though, it’s a step in the right direction, and a nice bonus for Zune Pass subscribers to be able to access and stream music, including Smart DJ playlists, on the fly. This basically turns any computer running IE or Firefox into a terminal for you to log in and crank those Zune tunes, and we like it.
For those wondering, any activities you do with Zune.net stream will also be reflected in your Zune account and Zune Card. How cool is that?
The wait for the big Zune refresh that a lot of us have been clamoring for is finally over. Today, the Zune HD launches, available from the Microsoft online store, Amazon, Best Buy, and others. Alongside that launch comes a much-improved Zune software and services package. That’s right, Zune 4.0 is here, and there’s lots to cover. Let’s dive in and take a look at all the major new features in Zune 4.0, as well as some of the smaller pieces of fit and finish that make this release shine, including the Zune Marketplace, Zune PC software, Zune on Xbox Live, and Zune.net.
From everything we’ve seen as it pertains to the Zune 4.0 software, this update is all about making music more enjoyable to listen to, easier to discover, and easier to manage. In addition, you get movies in the Zune Marketplace now (both rental and purchase,) Xbox Live integration, and a bunch of other features that make Zune 4.0 one of the best pieces of media management software that we’ve used to date.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Zune 4.0 is the Quickplay screen. Similar to the Quickplay area on the new Zune HD, the Zune desktop software gets similar treatment. Here you’ll be able to pin specific content to the area, get a look at new content you’ve recently added to your library, pull up recently played content, and also get direct access to your Smart DJ mixes. Smart DJ, you say? Yes, read on.
The Zune HD launches today, and we know a bunch of you are considering picking one up, but want to know how it stacks up agains other items like the iPod touch, and even the older hard drive based Zune 120 (since they’re all on clearance now.) We’ve taken the liberty of putting together a size comparison gallery that puts the Zune HD up against those very items. Yup, check out our Zune HD size comparison gallery for all the goods.
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Gallery: Zune HD size comparison gallery
That’s right, y’all. It’s Zune HD day, and Microsoft’s newest portable PMP is ready to make its debut. Of course, we’ve got your hook-up, and have put together an unboxing gallery looking at the Zune HD, as well as everything else in the box. We must say, we were definitely stoked about this. For gadget lovers and lusters, the Zune HD is an adrenaline rush, what with its thin profile and gorgeous screen. Be sure to check out the full Zune HD unboxing gallery for all the goods.
Gallery: Zune HD unboxing
We will of course have a Zune HD review coming for you as well, but since Microsoft opted to give us review units that wouldn’t work until the Zune 4.0 software update was available, that’ll have to wait a bit. We don’t wanna go singing the praises of (or totally trashing) a device until we’ve had some legitimate time to play with it while fully functional, thank you very much. But hey, if you like the pictures, then be sure to also check out our Zune HD size comparison gallery as well.
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Gallery: Zune HD unboxing gallery
While not as exciting when the Apple Store online goes down, you should still be aware that Microsoft has taken all Zune services down in preparation for the launch of the Zune 4.0 software, and the release of the Zune HD tomorrow. We are guessing things will be functional again around midnight tonight. In fact, you may wanna stop by Gear Live around that time as well. Just sayin’.
One things we’ve been wondering today, admidst all of the Apple It’s Only Rock and Roll event news, is how Microsoft was feeling, especially as it pertains to their Zune business, which is set for a major overhaul in six days. We got in contact with a Microsoft spokesperson, and asked them about what they thought of the new iPod and iTunes announcements. Here’s what they had to say:
Since our debut, Zune has offered a different kind of end-to-end digital entertainment experience that includes wireless MP3 players, a robust online store, music community and innovative software features that help users easily find the music and videos they love.
The entertainment experience for consumers hasn’t changed that much after Apple’s announcement today. Our point of view has always been that people want to be entertained, and they want a better way to watch and listen to the digital entertainment they love. We’re interested in getting you your content where you want it in rich, exciting ways. We look forward to sharing more on September 15th.
Okay, so Zune is all about music and videos - not games, video recording, and all that other stuff. We get it, and we like the focus. What we don’t like, though, is how Microsoft allowed Apple to steal their thunder by announcing the new line-up way after Microsoft announced the Zune HD, followed up by Apple launching the new iPods a week before the Zune HD hits stores.
In the meantime, if you’re a music fan looking for a new music player, we say wait until the fifteenth. What you see come out of the Zune camp may surprise you. All of you. I’ve already said too much.
Microsoft is jumping on that whole thin-is-in bandwagon with the Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000. As the name implies, this is a Bluetooth-only device, powered by AAA batteries. The keyboard slopes downward, making the front event thinner. There’s also a curved keyboard layout, which Microsoft refers to as Comfort Curve. The keyboard is $89.95, and the numeric keypad is an extra $44.95. You’ll see these on store shelves in October.
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Okay, hang on, we just posted about the Xbox 360 Elite price cut news, and now we are getting word that there may be a 250GB version of the Xbox 360 that will be dropping soon? According to Amazon Germany, there will soon be an Xbox 360 bundle that includes a 250GB head drive (over twice the size of the currently available 120GB drive,) 2 controllers, and Forza Motorsport 3. It’s priced at about $397, and we want it to be really. Very, very much.
It’s been rumored for weeks now that Microsoft would be slashing the price of the Xbox 360, and it’s finally been confirmed. Starting tomorrow, the Xbox 360 Elite drops $100, down to $299. The Xbox 360 Pro drops $50, down to $250, but that is while supplies last. Once they are gone, they are gone. The Xbox 360 Arcade will remain at $199. Going into the holiday season, that gives consumers two choices for the Xbox 360 - the $299 black Elite console, and the $199 white Arcade. This brings the Xbox 360 Elite in line with the $299 PS3 Slim at first glance, but of course, the Xbox 360 doesn’t have Wi-Fi built-in (that’ll cost you an extra $100,) nor does it play high definition physical media out of the box. Still though, it’s $100 less tomorrow than it is today, and that’s always a plus. You can pick one up over on Amazon.
I realize that many shoot their own version of EdTV or The Truman Show with their webcams every day, what with this whole YouTube thing we keep hearing about. If that is you, then you may be interested in Microsoft’s LifeCam Cinema, which records in 720p HD at 30 frames per second. The LifeCam Cinema also touts autofocus, 4x digital zoom, noise-canceling microphone, and ClearFrame for “smoother video” (whatever that is.) It will support Windows 7, and will be available for $80 on September 9th.
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