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Microsoft Readies 64GB Zune HD

Redmond, Wash. – Microsoft plans April 12 availability
of a 64GB Zune HD in multiple colors at an everyday $349 through its online
store,, followed by summertime availability of a black
version through other online merchants.

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

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

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
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