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Microsoft Readies 64GB Zune HD

3/31/2010 02:45:31 PM Eastern
Redmond, Wash. - Microsoft plans April 12 availability of a 64GB Zune HD in multiple colors at an everyday $349 through its online store, ZuneOriginals.net, followed by summertime availability of a black version through other online merchants.

 Microsoft Zune HD
Microsoft declined to say when or if the 64GB Zune HD would be available in brick-and-mortar stores. Although Best Buy and Walmart stores offer the current Zunes, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "This new 64GB device will be available online at this time."

In addition to launching the new 64GB capacity, the company also reduced the prices of the current 16GB and 32GB Zune HD models by $20 to an expected everyday $199 for the 16GB Zune HD and $269 for the 32GB model. Both models became available last September.

Apple's iPod Touch media players with the same capacities usually retail for $299 and $399, respectively. An 8GB Touch retails for $199.

Microsoft's price changes "are going out to retailers today," a spokesperson said. "You should see the new prices start to take effect immediately through online sites. It might take a bit longer to be reflected at brick-and-mortar retailers."

For its next act, Microsoft is preparing to launch a version 4.5 firmware upgrade for the Wi-Fi-equipped Zune HD but hasn't disclosed timing. The update will add a Smart DJ feature; expanded video-codec support; and the ability to access, stream and purchase music from the online Zune Marketplace via a TV display connected to the Zune HD's A/V dock.

Smart DJ was added to Zune PC software last fall and will be available with the firmware update on the ZuneHD itself. Smart DJ lets users build a new playlist mix automatically by selecting one song or artist from the Zune's song library and, for users of the Zune Pass subscription-download service, from the Zune Marketplace catalog as well.

Video codecs will be expanded to include MPEG-4 Part 2 Advanced Simple Profile (ASP), which includes Xvid and AVI support, to make transcoding unnecessary.

The Zune HD A/V dock currently lets users connect their Zune HD to a TV to play videos and music stored on the device, but the firmware upgrade will also let users of the Wi-Fi-equipped device use a TV display to browse and stream music from the online Zune Marketplace.
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