Microsoft (s MSFT) is indeed creating and launching a Zune HD digital audio player later this year, having confirmed its plans with CNET. The HD part of the name essentially represents the HD Radio receiver in the device, although Microsoft says it will be capable of playing high-definition videos as well. The Zune HD will sport a touchscreen, run on WindowsCE (possibly a custom Windows Mobile version?) and use Internet Explorer for browsing. Sounds good, but is it enough to break out of the pack?
I’ve been thinking about adding an HD Radio to either my home or car for some time, so the aspect of a portable HD Radio tuner is very appealing. But I’m not sold on the rest of the Zune HD just yet — at least, not based on what little bit we now know. I’m struggling to see where this device fits into my day. It’s not a phone, at least it won’t be in its first iteration. So I’ll have to carry it in addition to a phone. And I’m carrying it in addition to a phone mainly for the HD Radio function because my phone already does everything else that the Zune HD will do. That’s why I think the phone will eventually rule over the digital audio player market: It can do “all that and more.”
As far as the capability to play high-definition video, there are plenty of devices that can play such content. But the biggest benefits to watching HD video aren’t found on a small screen; they’re on a big screen. To even display the lowest form of high-def video, the Zune HD would have to be capable of showing 720 horizontal lines of resolution, and the lowest likely vertical res in that case would be 1,280 lines. That’s overkill on a device with a screen size of 3 to 4 inches. Heck, that’s overkill right up to 10- or 12-inch displays. Microsoft has already stated that the OLED display is 480 x 272 resolution, so again, the “benefit” of playing high-definition video on the go is lost on me. I will give Microsoft credit on a better use for those videos. With an optional docking station and HDMI cable, the Zune HD can play HD content on a high-definition digital television. Actually, I shouldn’t give them too much credit on this one: I proposed this idea nearly four years ago. ;)
Don’t misunderstand me because I’d love to see a hot new Zune device be successful by offering unique features. We’re early on the information cycle on the new Zune HD, so there could be plenty of great surprises yet to come. But based on what we know now, I’m simply not sold. Get me a solid phone with these capabilities and the ability to stream Netflix and Xbox 360 video content to my device and I’d probably change my mind. Thoughts?