Microsoft launches new Zunes, DRM-free Marketplace

As expected, Microsoft has taken the wraps off a new generation of Zune portable media players. The devices include a hard drive-based model with an 80GB storage capacity and two flash-based models with 4GB and 8GB capacities. Prices are $149.99 for the 4GB Zune, $199.99 for the 8GB model, and $249.99 for the 80GB, hard drive-based Zune. All three models are scheduled to become available for purchase some time in November.

Physically, the new devices are smaller and sleeker than the original, and they're all outfitted with a control system dubbed the Zune Pad. Essentially, the Zune Pad is a large, semi-rectangular touch-sensitive button. Users can scroll through songs by dragging their finger across the button, or they can press on the button's four sides or its center to navigate while the player is in their pocket. The new devices all have Wi-Fi capability, too, and they feature new software that allows them to sync music over a wireless network—a feature absent from the original Zune.

Microsoft says current Zune owners will get an update that incorporates these new capabilities: "Ensuring that existing Zune owners benefit from the advances in this release, all Zune 30GB devices will be automatically updated with all the new features as well as the new device software design this fall."

The firm will make a few changes to its PC software and Zune Marketplace music store next month, as well. First and foremost, the Zune Marketplace will stock "more than 1 million" songs in MP3 format with no digital rights management protection. The Zune software will allow users to automatically import TV content recorded on Windows Media Center for Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate. In addition, Microsoft will launch Zune Social, an online community site where users will be able to share their music tastes.

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