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All posts tagged "microsoft"

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pogue and Mossberg Review the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 09:00 AM

"Next week, Microsoft Corp. will launch the most serious challenge ever mounted to Apple Computer's iPod and iTunes juggernaut in digital music. The software giant is introducing a portable player called the Zune, an online music store called Zune Marketplace and a new music software program called Zune that links the two. It plans to put plenty of marketing muscle behind Zune, and promises to expand and refine this new product line in coming years."

Blind iPod comparisons aside, NYT's Pogue and WSJ's Mossberg have put together two (mostly) unbiased reviews of the Zune. Both have their fair share of criticisms (and I'm going to do my best here to highlight the least discussed ones, since re-hashing isn't fun). ;-) Mossberg twice claims that album art on the Zune looks shabby (the first without reason; the second blaming it on PPI), though I'm willing to question the quality of his album art. All of my tracks have album art in at least 320 x 320, and they're a source of ocular pleasure on a standard sub-3" QVGA display. Mossberg goes on to argue that the Microsoft Points pricing mechanism is an annoyance. I don't really disagree with him here, at least as far as the Zune Marketplace is concerned. It's been largely successful on the Xbox Live Marketplace, simply because game content is typically worth a few hundred Points, not 79 Points (the cost of a single track on the Zune Marketplace). 79 Points translates to around 99 US cents, yet it's not as simple as taking out your credit card and purchasing 79 Points. They come in blocks of at least $5, so if you only want to purchase one track, you still have to spend an extra $4.01 on Points and leave it aside for a rainy day. I do hope Microsoft finds a way around this. I don't mind their implementation of Points, but they should at least allow single Point purchasing to keep the crowd happy.

Those aren't all of the negative points that Pogue and Mossberg raise, though I hate to spoil a good (at times, good for a laugh) read, so I'll leave it to you to discover the rest. However, at the risk of having their reviews sound like pages of Zune bashing, it is worth pointing out that there are plenty of positive things said about the Zune: the large screen, the UI, the FM tuner, and even guest sync support. Both think it'll take a while before it poses a significant threat to Apple's dominance, and this is something I largely agree with. As we've seen with the Xbox/Xbox 360, it usually takes Microsoft at least one generation of hardware revisions, firmware updates, and introduction of new services before the magic starts happening. By the time the second-generation Zune arrives, I'm convinced that a higher percentage of the population will be taking the Zune a lot more seriously.

What Microsoft Thinks of the Universal Deal

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 04:50 AM


"Today we're announcing that we'll pay UMG a per device royalty for every Zune player sold – a first in the industry. Why? We're about supporting artists, and ensure they continue to prosper with the emergence of the digital music model. The distribution of digital music isn't that old, and the current method isn't really doing a lot to compensate artists fairly. We worked closely with Universal to create this revenue opportunity for artists, as the industry transitions to a time when it can fully take advantage of new opportunities that digital experiences offer, both for consumers and for artists and labels."

There were more than a few eyebrows raised yesterday when it was revealed that Universal would be getting a cut of Zune sales. Unfortunately, Microsoft and Universal couldn't talk specifics, but the former did raise a couple of points today that I thought were worth sharing. Firstly, a portion of the cut goes to Universal's artists. Now who the artists are and how much of that cut they get is still a question mark. We did say they couldn't talk specifics, right? ;-) Secondly, Microsoft is talking to other labels (indies and majors) about the opportunity to participate in a similar manner. Yes, we'll give you a minute to get your head around that one. It's a "power to the labels" approach that not everyone is going to want to embrace. The upside of all this is that there'll be more tracks pre-loaded on the Zune than first announced, and there'll be more tracks available for purchase in the Marketplace (yay to choice). The downside is that over time, the strong-arm tactics of the labels is only going to worsen (nay to money-grubbing). They'll make money off the songs. They'll make money off the hardware. Soon, it'll be your clothes, and your soul.

Engadget's LA Preview Event Gallery

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 04:20 AM


Engadget crashed the LA preview event this week and snapped oodles of pictures for our viewing pleasure. All of a sudden, the brown Zune doesn't seem all that bad. Maybe it's the lighting.


Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Universal Gets a Cut of Zune Sales

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 11:45 PM


"Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research) has agreed to pay Universal Music Group a fee for each new Zune digital music player it sells when the iPod rival launches next week, the companies said on Thursday. The groundbreaking deal could redefine the digital music business pioneered by Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL.O: Quote, Profile, Research). Rivals including cell phone makers eventually could pay for hardware sales as well as for the music itself, Universal said. Microsoft is trying to break into an industry closely aligned with archival Apple, which is credited with nearly single-handedly building the legal Web music world with its iPod players and iTunes music store. But Apple does not give a cut of sales of iPods to music companies. It only pays labels for songs sold on its iTunes music store."

At this stage, we're not quite sure how this adds up. None of the pre-loaded content appears to belong to Universal or its sub-groups, and they still get a cut even if the user doesn't load a single Universal track on to the device. So what's going on? Perhaps Microsoft and Universal are getting ready to ink a deal that will put the Zune in a favourable light, and this is just a woo tactic to keep Universal from getting too cozy with Apple. We'll be keeping our eye on this one.

Wired Talks About the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 10:30 AM


"I got my hands on a Microsoft Zune portable media player for the first time today at a press event in an industrial part of Manhattan's Chelsea district (the same location where the Zune launch party will be tonight). I'm not going summarize what's already been said, having already posted about the Zune (the summary of another hands-on test, how it doesn't support PlaysforSure, MSN Music's 11/14-starting redirection of sales to the Zune store, speculation about a referral bonus [still unconfirmed although strongly hinted at today], and even a reference to the alleged similarity of the word Zune to a Hebrew swear word). Instead, the focus here is on new aspects of the service, device, and accessories that I noticed today while seeing them in action."

has joined the fortunate few who have managed to get some hands-on time with the Zune. Thankfully, most of their post isn't a re-hash of the points we've heard over and over again. They talk a bit about privacy settings (which is a nice touch for those of you who prefer not to let others know what you're listening to / watching), the time it takes for a transfer (10-15 seconds), streaming content from the Zune software to an Xbox 360 (something we'll definitely be showing the moment we get our hands on a Zune), and what's on the Zune Marketplace (over two million tracks and editorially-featured content). Overall, they were pretty impressed with what they saw, and think that given enough time, iPod sales will suffer.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Watch the Zune Ads

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 07:02 AM

For those of you in the US who tend not to switch on the tele, or for those of you outside the US who are unfortunate enough to miss out on all this Zune action, here's your chance to watch the ads. They may seem a little odd at first, but if you consider who the target audience is, they make sense (though, I admit the whole limb gnawing in The Ballad of Lion and Gazelle is a little strange). Best of all, it's a welcome break from all those silhouette ads that we're used to.

More after the break.


Monday, November 6, 2006

Sizing Up the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 08:00 AM


A Flickr user by the name of "fatherfork" managed to snap a few shots of the Zune (okay, it's a non-functional retail display unit, but it's not like it matters in this case) next to the 5G iPod, iPod nano, Zen Vision:M and Sansa e200 series. While it does appear a little on the large side, Engadget assures us that it's "deceptively small and still quite pocketable". Now that's what we like to hear!

Saturday, November 4, 2006

CNET's First Look at the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 05:18 AM


"Overall, the Zune is a well-designed portable media device with good playback performance, a snappy processor, and an excellent interface. Wi-Fi sharing worked well, but prospective owners should know that its format support, especially for videos, is limited. The Zune looks like a good fit for MP3 player novices."

CNET's James Kim got some hands-on time with the Zune and whipped up a short video preview and a reasonably-sized article. Unlike Engadget's video which has a greater emphasis on the software layer of the Zune device, CNET's video pokes around some of the hardware components, so do check it out. The article covers a lot of points, though one worth highlighting is the issue of file support. By now, you're probably aware that the Zune is not PlaysForSure-compatible, so all of your existing DRM'ed WMA tracks won't work. Native WAV and WMA Lossless are apparently out the door as well, so that leaves you with MP3, unprotected AAC, and Zune's WMA (tracks you'll end up pulling from the Marketplace). Video support is weaker, with the Zune supporting WMV only. There's no love for DivX or XviD. MPEG-4 and H.264 aren't supported natively, though the Zune software on the PC will convert these to WMV. On the topic of video, you can't share them wirelessly, unlike music and pictures, which is understandable considering movie-length videos would take an eternity to send over Wi-Fi (either the battery or user's patience would suffer a miserable death). Pictures are limited to JPEG, and unfortunately, the Zune software won't convert other picture formats to JPEG, so this is something you'll have to perform manually (boo!). Otherwise, the Zune appears to be a smashing device. I certainly hope that Microsoft will solve some of these file support issues with an upcoming firmware update. The Xbox 360 team have done an excellent job at adding new features, so fingers-crossed, the Zune team will follow in their footsteps.

Engadget's Video Walkthrough of the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 12:05 AM


Good ol' Engadget has posted a video walkthrough of the Zune - covering just about every feature that you could poke a stick at. Seeing all this in action makes me want to play with a Zune now. Oh, the agonizing wait. ;-)

Figure 1: Large album art with zero whitespace. Yeah!


Friday, November 3, 2006

Belkin Goes Crazy Over Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Accessories" @ 01:30 PM


A great case and car kit: those are two accessories I'm on the lookout for, and the ones that Belkin is preparing for Zune launch day seem like a good fit. A couple are featured below, but if you want to see them all, check out the Gizmodo news post.

TuneBase FM ($79): a car kit with an FM transmitter, programmable memory, and LCD display that plugs into a vehicle's cigarette lighter port (and judging by that green light, we're assuming it makes juice). Also included is a line-out port, if your stereo happens to feature a line-in port.

Folio Kickstand Case ($29): Soft, leathery goodness with a kickstand to enhance that portable video experience.

Other accessories: TunePower ($59), Acrylic Case ($29), Holster Case ($29), Neoprene Sports Armband Case ($29), Sports Jacket Case with Armband ($19), and Zune Screen Protector ($14). If Belkin's Pocket PC screen protectors are any indication, we suggest you stay right away from its Zune screen protector (unless you like a bit of goo).

MSN Music Hangs Up the Boots

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 08:53 AM


"Beginning November 14th, 2006, MSN Music will no longer offer music downloads through the MSN Music store. The "Buy" buttons that you are used to seeing on the MSN Music album and artist pages will change to links that connect you to Zune and Real Rhapsody."

If you were one of the many who said that some of Microsoft's existing music stores would die in favour of the Zune Marketplace, you get a brownie point. Starting November 14, customers of MSN Music (a giant in the United States, Australia, and parts of Europe) will be referred to the Zune Marketplace and Real Rhapsody for online music purchases. What will this mean for songs you've already purchased? Not much. They'll still play in accordance with the existing DRM rules (five authorised computers, support for CD burning, and transfer to compatible PlaysForSure devices), and will still receive support from Microsoft even after the store closes its doors. Furthermore, any existing credit will be refundable on or after November 14, though whether this will be able to be channeled into Microsoft Points is still uncertain.

On to the bigger picture, the death of MSN Music probably won't affect the US all that much. After all, with URGE, Rhapsody, and (soon) the Zune Marketplace up and running, customers will have plenty of choice as far as PlaysForSure and Zune devices are concerned. What's not yet known is whether MSN Music stores outside of the US will also hang up the boots on November 14. If so, this will be an extremely damaging move. In Australia, for example, nineMSN Music is the largest Microsoft-based online music store (the iTunes Store takes the cake for being the largest overall). Its death would force consumers to look at lesser offerings, at least while the Zune remains a US-only release. As you can see, there are many questions that remain unanswered. Hopefully, this will become clearer in the coming days.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Download the Zune Desktop Theme Today

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Software" @ 08:15 PM


Click above for a larger version (1680 x 1050, 336KB).

Deep within the innards of the Zune Software page is a free Zune Desktop Theme for Windows XP. Download and install it and you'll see a new UI sporting Zune-like colours (dark grey and bright orange) and Zune wallpaper for standard and widescreen displays. Go get it, especially if you grow weary of the common Luna blue.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Zune Pays to Share?

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 09:35 PM


"Damn it. Quit yanking my chain. Now it turns out that Microsoft just may reward you for sharing tunes with the Zune media player after all, if a recently leaked whitepaper is to be believed. The document outlines "off-line economies for digital media", describing how you can "sell" content to another Zune owner while still sending the profits to the copyright holder. In exchange, maybe you get some brownie points or something. The paper goes on to talk about immediate purchases on-the-go, Bluetooth sharing, anti-piracy practices, and so forth."

Courtesy of Artghost.com

Well, that's the buzz going around, but I'm not convinced. The whitepaper (PDF) talks about an isolated, tamper-resistant economic ecosystem composed of media players, eager sellers and buyers, and a whole lot of care factor. It has merit, but seems difficult to execute with current-generation Zune devices. Maybe it'll have a place in a few years time, when Microsoft has its digital partners sorted, enhanced hardware, and a more widespread market base. After all, it's a Microsoft Research paper centred highly on theoretical material. Such material often takes a few years to come into effect, if at all. Although, now that I think about it, if it really did come into effect, would I really want every Zune user on the street bugging me to buy their tunes? Probably not. I'll go to a store for that.

Microsoft Gives the Xbox 360 Some Zune Love

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Software" @ 12:07 AM


"Part of the change to the streaming story is the addition of Windows Media Player 11 and Zune™ as supported PC streaming software. If you install WMP 11 or Zune, it takes over for Windows Media Connect, and you manage connections from within the player itself (look for Media Sharing in WMP 11 or the Zune software). You can, of course, continue to use Windows Media Connect if you don't install WMP 11 or Zune."

Yesterday's Fall Dashboard update for the Xbox 360 added many new features - among them, support for Zune. With the update in place, the Zune software (or Windows Media Player 11 or Windows Media Connect) allows you to stream content from your Windows XP-based or Windows Vista-based PC to any Xbox 360. The upside here is that you no longer need a Media Center PC, which was originally a requirement when the Xbox 360 launched late last year. In addition, the Dashboard update allows you to stream music, pictures, and video (we're assuming wirelessly) directly from your Zune to an Xbox 360. The moment Zune launches (and the moment we can get our hands on one), we'll show you how the Xbox 360 and Zune add up.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Customized Zunes For Auction

Posted by Darius Wey in "Thoughts Media Off Topic" @ 12:00 PM


Say hello to customized Zunes. Unlike the U2 and Product Red versions of its rival, there aren't that many of these going around (just two of each [Union, Stussy, Undftd], making six in total). They come complete with logo art and staff-picked playlists, with Shure E5c headphones, JBL On Tour portable speakers, and a ZeroHalliburton 5" black aluminum attache. No, don't bother hitting Amazon. These are up for auction only with bids to be placed via e-mail until November 13. Check out the digital flipbook for more information. Any of you interested? ;-)

No UK Zune Until 2008?

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 10:15 AM


"Although the device is on track for release in the US on November 17th, it will miss the lucrative Christmas market in the UK and Europe this year and possibly next, according to a report in New Media Age. One reason for the delay is reported to be that Microsoft has had no one to head up a UK and European launch – however the recently appointed head of Zune International will be building relationships in those areas."

There's word on the streets that Microsoft hasn't found a suitable Zune Marketplace provider in the UK, which sets the UK release date well into the future. One can only hope that by then, they will be marketing next-generation Zune devices. Having the first-generation Zune on store shelves in 2008 is a no-go zone as far as market penetration is concerned.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Steve Kaneko Tackles the Brown Question

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 07:40 PM


"Why brown? Because love it or hate it, people feel something. Artists and musicians take chances everyday, and so will we. What few people haven’t seen yet is that we didn’t stop with just brown, we encased it in an “anti-freeze green” double-shot. There’s nothing like it out there that resembles the warmth and grittiness of certain styles of music. It is both formal and informal. And it appeals to men and women. It’s a color that’s both everyday and high fashion at the same time"

I guess that's a fair response to Microsoft's choice of brown as the trademark colour of the Zune. I'll admit that it's grown on me. The brown Zune doesn't seem as bad now as it did weeks ago when it was first revealed, though I'm still a sucker for the black Zune with its cool blue trim. Back to the interview, Steve goes on to discuss other aspects of the Zune design. Most of it is focused on the current. I'm actually interested in the future. What does Microsoft have in store for the second-generation Zune and beyond, and even nano-sized Zune devices (assuming they're in the making)?

Zune Offers New Opportunity for iPod Accessory Makers

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Accessories" @ 09:19 AM


"iPod killers have come and gone, but even Apple acknowledges that its popular multimedia player is going to face some stiff competition from Microsoft’s Zune this holiday season. And when the $249 device debuts next month, it figures to draw attention not just from consumers, but from companies that have enjoyed a booming business making accessories and add-ons for the iPod."

Accessories have always played a huge part in the digital media industry - even more so over the past few years following the success of the iPod. A number of accessory makers have leveraged the power and portability of the iPod and extended the music listening experience to the gym, cars, and even shoes. With the Zune set to be released next month, there's a new window of opportunity for said makers to expand even further. And we're already seeing that. A good handful of them have already partnered with Microsoft and promised to deliver third-party accessories, so the industry is about to get a whole lot more bigger.

Monday, October 23, 2006

2Old2Play's Hands-On Time with the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 03:29 AM


"The top of the Zune had a clear glass layer while the exterior had a tactile feel to it, nothing like the hard metal and plastic of the iPod devices. The ‘skin’ of the Zune was a ‘rubberized’ material that had a smooth seductive feel to it. I found myself unable to stop stroking the device, so much that the demo assistant asked me to put it down."

2Old2Play is the latest site to join those that were lucky enough to score some hands-on time with the Zune. Their article covers a couple of new points on Zunetags and the software component of the Zune product. Head over there and give it a read.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Speck Preparing Tough Case

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Accessories" @ 07:51 PM


Zuneguy's Bill Wittress has posted an image of an upcoming Zune "Tough Case" from Speck, a company well-known for its iPod accessories. Alas, it's nothing more than a teaser at this stage. No details on price, size, or toughness have been revealed. Although, as far as the latter is concerned, we expect a "Tough Case" to live up to its name and withstand the force of a monster truck, Strong Guy's fist, and even Godzilla. We'll fill you in on details as they come in.

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