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Microsoft To Join iPod Competitors

22 Sep, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

The Zune

The iPod may be the most visible and pervasive mobile entertainment gadget on the market, but Apple's not the only player in town when it comes to video-enabled portable media devices.

Apple's arch tech nemesis Microsoft Sept. 14 unveiled specs on its upcoming digital music-video player: the Zune.

The Zune boasts a 3-inch screen, a built-in FM tuner and a 30GB hard drive that can hold up to 7,500 songs or 100 hours of video. It comes in black, brown or white. The Zune also is wirelessly enabled so its users can wirelessly share songs with each other (up to three times in three days).

Each player also comes preloaded with select music and videos from record labels DTS, EMI, Sub Pop Records, Virgin Records and several others. Microsoft also is launching Zune Marketplace, where owners can download music on a per-track or album basis or via a monthly subscription, Zune Pass.

“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,” said J Allard, VP of design and development for Microsoft.

Microsoft's Zune details did not include an official street date or price, though Microsoft did promise the player would be available “this holiday season in the United States.” Shortly after the announcement, several gadget-obsessed Web sites such as www.geek.com, www.technewsworld.com and www.theinquirer.net reported seeing the player listed at Wal-Mart.com for $284, which would put the retail price around $300. Wal-Mart has since pulled the listing.

Microsoft also did not announce any specifications on what kind of video content will be available for purchase to use on the machine, or if it would be compatible with services such as Amazon.com's Unbox. What is certain, not surprisingly, is that the Zune will not be compatible with Macintosh computers.

Company representatives did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Meanwhile, there's more competition in portable media devices. The following is a look at a handful of the other companies and players.
  • Creative Worldwide has several portable media devices, including the Zen Vision at $399.99 with a 3.7-inch screen and a 30GB hard drive. It can hold about 120 movies, according to the company, and can get up to 4.5 hours of video playback before having to recharge the battery. The Zen Vision W boasts a larger 4.3-inch LCD screen capable of 16:9 widescreen ratio and can run 4.5 hours of video as well. It comes in a 30GB or 60GB model. This is the company Amazon recently singled out as compatible with its Unbox digital download service. For more information, see www.creative.com.

  • Archos has two models, including the Archos 404 ($299.99), which has a 30GB hard drive that can hold about 85 DVD-quality movies, a 3.5-inch 320x240-pixel screen and up to four hours of video playback. The Archos 604 model ($349.99) has a 4.3-inch screen capable of 16:9 viewing and boasts up to five hours of continuous video playback. These devices also have an optional DVR station that allow them to record from the TV, cable box, VCR or DVD player. For more information, see www.archos.com.

  • Gigabeat, a Toshiba player, comes in 30GB ($299.99) and 60GB ($399.99) versions. Both have a 2.4-inch screen with 320x240 resolution and 2.5 hours of playback. A next-generation 30GB Gigabeat V model is coming soon ($499.99) with a larger 3.5-inch display and up to eight hours of video playback. It also can be connected to the TV. For more information, see www.gigabeat.com.

  • Kingston offers the affordable K-PEX 100 in a 1GB ($129) or 2GB ($179) option. The price is low because of the lack of a hard drive and the device is tiny. It weighs in at a scant 0.14 pounds and with a tiny 2-inch screen offering 220x176 lines of resolution. An expansion-card slot allows a storage boost, and the 2GB version comes with a free 256MB miniSD card. For more information, see www.kingston.com.

  • Rover TV/Doghouse Electronics carries two pocket-sized players compatible with both Mac and PC. The RoverTV Big Screen ($299) has a 3.5-inch display. The RoverTV Widescreen ($349) has a 4-inch screen. For more information, see www.rovertv.net.

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