updated 12:25 am EDT, Wed October 3, 2007
Microsoft on Wednesday released its promised update to the Zune, adding a completely new flash-based series as well as a major upgrade to its hard disk model. The entire range now becomes one of the first major media player lines to support media sync over WiFi and will receive music, photos, and videos over a local network. Microsoft's controversial restrictions on wireless sharing between Zunes have also been partially lightened, according to the company: while shared songs are still limited to three plays, users can keep shared songs for an unlimited amount of time. All players now also get podcast subscription support (including WiFi sharing), native support for H.264 and MPEG-4 video, and a from-scratch reinvention of the Zune media player software which more closely matches the Zune's own interface and provides quicker access to the store and new social networking features.
The new flash players, dubbed the Zune 4 and Zune 8 for their 4GB and 8GB of storage respectively, are completely new and usher in a new directional controller known as the Zune Pad: rather than the physical, circual controller of before, new Zunes use a touch-sensitive pad with a hidden center button. Although equipped with a smaller 1.8-inch screen and much thinner at 0.33 inches, the flash Zune still shares the same hardware features, including the wireless link, video playback, and an FM radio tuner with RDS to display basic station text. The Zune 4 and Zune 8 will be priced at $150 and $200 respectively and will ship in black, green, pink, and red hues during November.
Almost as radical is an upgrade to the large Zune. A new version, the Zune 80, represents the first storage upgrade and stores 80GB while still slimming down by a third compared to the old player, reaching half an inch thick. Primed for video viewing, the screen is slightly larger at 3.2 inches at the same resolution. It too features the Zune Pad, WiFi, and FM but adds a set of "premium" headphones to improve sound quality out of the box. It ships exclusively in black during November for $250.
In a surprise move, Microsoft has also retained the pioneering Zune. Now called the Zune 30, the 30GB device is exactly the same in hardware as before but gains all the software sync and playback additions as its newer counterparts. It should stay at the same $200 price and is already available, though the software upgrade will follow later. Color schemes are also unknown.
As part of the introduction, Microsoft has also introduced a series of accesory packs to get users started. These include a Home AV Pack ($100) that bundles a dock as well as a remote, AC adapter, and RCA cable; the Dock Pack ($80), which includes just the dock and AC power; the Car Pack ($80) with a reworked FM transmitter and dashboard mount; and the Cable Pack ($40), which includes an extra sync cable plus RCA and audio minijack cables. All accessory packs will be ready in the fall along with the premium headphones ($40) and a leather case ($50).
Zune 4 and Zune 8