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Microsoft Unveils Zune HD

Redmond seeks to counter iPod's popularity with high-definition music and video player.

Microsoft looked to resurrect its flagging Zune franchise Tuesday with the launch of a version of the MP3 music player that can display high-definition video content and play HD radio signals.

The Zune HD touch-screen media player features an organic, light-emitting diode (OLED) multitouch screen and an NVIDIA TEGRA HD graphics processor for fast action. It also includes a new Quickplay menu that puts consumers a click away from favorite tracks, videos, and other content, according to Microsoft.

Zune HD also features a number of casual games and applications such as a calculator and MSN waeather app. Additional games and programs can be purchased separately.

Microsoft also launched a companion service that allows consumers to download HD movie files from the Zune marketplace for purchase or rent. The files can also be played on consumers' televisions or PC screens.

"With today's announcement, the Zune business is growing into a comprehensive entertainment service that's no longer tied to any one screen or device," said Enrique Rodriguez, corporate VP of Microsoft's TV, Video, and Music Business.

"Zune lets consumers connect to their music, TV shows, and movie content and enjoy it on the three screens they use every day," added Rodriguez.

Microsoft is offering a 16GB version of Zune HD for $219 and a platinum, 32GB edition for $289. What it's not offering is a version that includes a cell phone to compete with Apple's iPhone.

Some analysts believe that's not necessarily bad. "Our research indicates that there's strong consumer demand for dedicated media players and Zune HD offers visible differentiation in this market," said Michael Gartenberg, VP at Interpret LLC.

Still, Microsoft trails Apple badly in the market for personal entertainment devices. Sales of Zune and other entertainment hardware, including the Xbox, slipped 25% in the most recent quarter, according to Microsoft's financial records.

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