New Zune Moves to Cloud

REDMOND, Wash. – Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009 – Zune HD starts rolling off the shelves today, and with it comes Microsoft’s vision of connecting entertainment seamlessly from your pocket to your PC to your TV.

The new Zune HD boasts an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen, high-definition video output to television, HD radio and a touch screen that allows for easy navigation.

The launch of Zune “Wave 4,” which includes Zune HD, the first touch-screen version of Microsoft’s multimedia player, marks a significant shift in how the company will deliver music and video to consumers, says Dave Alles, general manager of Zune Service software. “The premise is that you should be able to access your movies, music, and TV shows wherever you are, on any device, and that there is value for customers beyond pure file playback,” Alles says. “We’re putting all the pieces together so consumers can get their entertainment however they want and have the world’s best way to discover and share more.”

How Zune will help consumers do that is through a combination of new hardware, software and services, Alles says. In the past, Zune was mostly focused on being an MP3 player. With today’s simultaneous launch of the device and the Zune 4.0 software, Microsoft is positioning Zune as an entertainment platform that allows people to watch video or listen to music on their Zune HD, their PC, or their TV and seamlessly transition among them.

Designing the software in tandem with the hardware was what let the Zune team put the end user at the center of their entertainment, says Kevin Shields, general manager of Zune Devices. He acknowledges that people will compare the Zune HD to the iPod touch, but states that Microsoft’s focus is not on a device-to-device competition, but rather on the complete service: “With the work we did with both the hardware and the software, Zune offers the best experiences for music and video lovers anywhere and on their terms.”

Right out of the box, anyone holding the device will quickly notice it has received a significant makeover, boasting an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen, high-definition video output to television, HD radio and a touch screen that allows for easy navigation through intuitive menus. Other new features include an Internet Explorer browser; Quickplay, a new menu that puts your favorite content, latest downloads and recently viewed files right in front of you; and Artist View, where the user can easily find more information about an artist including bio, discography and photos.

The new Zune HD is available in 5 colors, including Platinum and Ebony.

With Zune 4.0, customers will be able to access their music and video in more places than the new OLED screen, though. The software delivers the Zune experience on the PC, where users can organize music or download new songs from the Zune Marketplace, Shields says. With a Zune Pass, users don’t even need the software to access great content; they can sign in on from any PC and instantly start playing their favorite music.

Starting this fall, the Zune service will expand to the nearly 20 million users of Xbox 360 LIVE. That means Xbox 360 users soon will be able to buy or rent movies for the console using the Zune service, later downloading the files onto their Zune device or Windows PC for no extra fee. The new collection for Xbox 360 users will include an extensive library of music videos available for download to the Zune.

Alles says it makes sense to expand Zune beyond a piece of hardware into a service when you think about the number of devices people use every day. “If you think of the customer at the center, as opposed to a specific device, you start to realize all these things are important, and you want some of your experiences to flow across your devices,” Alles says. “In the entertainment space, Zune video will be the tip of the spear for Microsoft’s ‘three screens and a cloud’ strategy.” He says to expect Microsoft to continue expanding Zune into other Microsoft platforms.

That strategy, outlined previously by Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie and other senior leaders, refers to the concept that people soon will access Web-based information and applications through their PC, their mobile device and ultimately their TV. Zune is Microsoft’s initiative to connect video and music entertainment across those screens.

The connected experiences can come together in a variety of ways, says Jose Pinero, director of public relations for the Microsoft TV, Video and Music Business. For example, say a father wants to leave the house, but the kids are watching “SpongeBob SquarePants” on TV. He could download the episode from the Zune Marketplace onto his Zune HD, where the kids could watch it while in the car. When they get back from running errands, Dad can place the Zune in its dock and output HD video to the big TV screen in the living room.

Pinero is confident that placing the consumer at the center of their entertainment is how Zune will win. “Putting it all in front of the consumer and making it seamless — Microsoft is the only company that can do that,” Pinero says. “Letting people enjoy their entertainment on any device is our winning strategy.”

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