Tag Archives | Zune HD

The Zune HD is Only HD to a Point

The term “HD” is often more about marketing than it is about accurately describing a product’s capabilities. Microsoft’s upcoming Zune HD is the latest example of that trend. The Zune HD looks like it will delivera compelling evolution over the previous-generation Zunes, with features including a touch-screen interface and a widescreen 480-by-272 OLED display. But while it will also offer HD video output and HD radio reception, it will fall short in delivering genuine HD playback.

The Zune’s OLED display is a 480-by-272 widescreen, which doesn’t meet anybody’s definition of HD. It’s only when you use a premium HDMI A/V docking station to output video to an HDTV that you get high definition–720p, to be exact.

That’s as far as its HD support goes. High definition video requires a minimum of 720-pixel resolution, and high definition audio is 24-bit; the Zune HD’s built-in playback falls short on both counts. A Microsoft spokesperson said that the company does not have any details to share regarding audio tracks or specific video files.

Microsoft is not alone in its marketing practices. “My daughter’s Sony VAIO has a sticker that says ‘Full HD’ [which suggests 1080p]. But the screen resolution is 1280 x 800. The “Full HD” comes from connecting the computer by HDMI to a monitor or TV,” said Joe Wilcox, an independent technology analyst.

While OLED screens deliver sharp colors and deep blacks–one benedit of HD–those advantages are almost entirely lost on a small screen with low resolution. And video marketplaces sometimes decrease the size of downloads by limiting black levels and other palette-related settings, said Matt Hargett, a noted technology author.

Microsoft could compensate for the Zune’s lack of HD video playback with 24-bit audio, Hargett said. Microsoft obtained the rights to the HDCD format in 2000. “Having 24-bit audio would be a great step forward.”

CDs introduced 16-bit lossless audio almost 30 years ago; High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD), a 24-bit audio format, is 20 years old; and DTS (Digital Theater System), a format used in DVDs and other media, has provided 24-bit lossy audio for over 15 years.

Despite these decades-older technologies, the Zune HD device and marketplace doesn’t appear capable to deliver a better audio experience.

“By adding the “HD” to the name, [Microsoft] is trying to secure a market who appreciates the details, but that same market will likely reject the product if it doesn’t deliver a real HD experience beyond the “HD Radio”, which isn’t really HD at all,” said Hargett. HD Radio’s quality “is below what CDs, Apple Lossless, and FLAC downloads already deliver consumers for years. Does that really count as HD? I don’t think so,” Hargett quipped.


Microsoft’s Handheld Entertainment Intentions, xYzposed!

xboxmock2-thumbAs if two rumored Microsoft handhelds weren’t enough, the latest chatter from Redmond holds that the company is designing a new “digital entertainment handheld” to take on Apple’s iPod Touch and Sony’s PSP.

The news comes from Team Xbox’s César A. Berardini, who says he waited months to corroborate and clear his report with sources in Redmond and Santa Clara. One source referred to the device as “xYz,” alluding to a hybrid of the Xbox and Zune, but said the actual name hadn’t been decided on, to the source’s knowledge.

Before we go any further, let’s get all the Microsoft handheld device rumors out on the table. We know that Microsoft is working on a Zune HD, complete with a touch screen and due in the fall. There’s also talk of an iPhone rival, codenamed “Pink,” that involves collaboration with Verizon. This third device seems to fit in the former category simply because it’s entertainment-related, but Berardini writes that newly reported Pink specs “coincide with the scoop I got.” This suggests in a roundabout way that Pink and this gaming device are one and the same.

Except for one thing: One source said the device doesn’t have and “doesn’t need” access to a phone network. Berardini was also explicitly told that the device is not a “Zune Phone.” He speculates that the device will include WiMax, but who knows.

As for other hardware, the “xYz” reportedly has a WVGA touch screen and “features not found on any handheld on the market,” one source says, but the real kicker is in the software. The story says this device will blur the lines between the Zune, Xbox Live and the “Sky” market — supposedly the code name for a cloud-based mobile App store that Microsoft also hasn’t announced yet. It’ll also apparently compete with Google by integrating Live Search services.

Also interesting is the idea of content that’s transferable between each device, including video games. That’s where I get excited.

There’s obviously a technical disparity between handhelds and home consoles, but the simpler games found on Xbox Live Arcade — Braid and Marble Blast Ultra, for example, or classic ports such as Doom and Sonic the Hedgehog — could easily coexist on both platforms. That idea hasn’t been done since the Sega Nomad, a portable Genesis console that was ahead of its time.

The article gives off a vibe that this is all part of a carefully-planned strategy to pull several of Microsoft’s entertainment services under one umbrella. As an Xbox 360 owner, I see the potential in adding a handheld to the mix, but as always, execution is crucial. So now, we wait and see.

(Oh, and before you get too up in arms, please know that the image above is pure fakery.)


Confirmed: Zune HD is Third Generation Model

Zune LogoTechnologizer has learned that rumors surrounding the fourth third generation Zune model are indeed true, and Microsoft’s music player would be getting a high-definition upgrade sometime in the fall, most likely in September or October. Sources close to the Zune team indicate that Engadget’s shots of the marketing materials are indeed authentic, but are fairly tight lipped on exactly what the player may have.

What we do know is this: the size of the device is set to come in smaller than the iPod touch (although we believe in size, not in thickness). Capacities should be competitive with that of the iPod touch, and like the touch, it would sport a touchscreen interface. The old click wheel would be replaced with a single-button as the pictures show.

We’re still trying to source out more information on it, but we do know with a good deal of confidence that this information is correct — these sources have accurately called the launches and specs of two previous launches (see my stores at Betanews: here and here).

More as we get it…

New Details: We’re being told that the Engadget marketing materials are likely not the final art for any advertising. So while the device is real, this art is probably just a draft.

Update 2: We made a bit of a mistake. While generally every year since their launch there has been some type of revision, this is technically the third gen model, not the fourth.