Zune HD: What we know, what we'd like to know

Hype is building for the Zune HD as the launch date draws near. At this point we can be pretty comfortable that we know the price ($220 for the 16 GB model, $299 for the 32 GB) since various leaks have revealed the same numbers. For reference, $229 will currently buy you an 8 GB iPod Touch, with 16 and 32 GB models going for $299 and $399, respectively.

Launch date? Most likely September 15th (via a leaked photo of an in-store Best Buy display sent to Gizmodo), though a previous rumor said September 8th. Engadget mentions a countdown at buy.com, now removed, that also pointed to the September 15th date.

So we know how much, we more or less know when, but what are we getting? Well some hands on video surface yesterday, which is embedded below. Notice how snappy the interface is. Nice. And we already know about video and music and HD radio. But an iPod Touch gives you access to the App Store and so can do so much more than deliver media (and 'more' seems to mean 'play games' to a lot of people). How will the Zune compete with that? We've heard that the Zune HD will also play games, but there hasn't been a lot of detail around that. Well, yesterday Ars Technica ran a piece about a Microsoft job posting for a LIVE Community Director. The posting was for someone to help as the LIVE Engagement team builds and program's Microsoft's next-generation, LIVE-enabled casual and social gaming platform across the Web, the console, mobile and beyond. So are Xbox Indie Games headed to the Zune HD? The Zune's NVIDIA Tegra processor should give it plenty of horsepower to be a quality gaming platform. And we already know there'll be some kind of integration between the Xbox 360 and the Zune HD in terms of video content (the 360's Video Marketplace is being rebranded with the Zune moniker).

With only a month until launch, Microsoft is going to have to start answering some of these questions very soon. Launching the Zune HD at a lower price point than the iPod Touch is a great start, but in order for Microsoft to steal marketshare from Apple, I think the Zune will have to have some kind of 'AppStore' experience, and Microsoft has plenty of experience delivering digital content to consumers via the Xbox 360's Xbox Live service. It seems like a no-brainer that we'll see some kind of "Zune Live" store sooner rather than later.

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