On “Zune HD,” or, Why “iPhone/iPod HD” Might Sound Great, But Suck

On “Zune HD,” or, Why “iPhone/iPod HD” Might Sound Great, But Suck 1

A month and a half after the first images leaked out, Microsoft officially confirmed what it was tacitly acknowledging before: the next generation of Zune is coming, and it’s called Zune HD. As an iPod touch competitor, it features a new body casing, multi-touch screen, web browser (Internet Explorer) and so on. It looks pretty cool, as deliberately angular devices go, and though the last few Zunes have been also-rans, we’re open-minded to the prospect that it might offer something of interest when it ships this Fall.


But what’s with the Zune HD name? Ever since that part leaked out, we’ve been thinking about similar naming possibilities for Apple devices: “iPhone HD,” “iPod HD,” and so on just have a nice, progressive ring to them. Microsoft chose well when it picked that suffix. But since HD implies “high-definition,” consumers are going to assume that the devices will offer superior video display resolution—perhaps something approaching the bottom rung of modern HD televisions. At least, that’s what we thought before Microsoft’s announcement today.

As it turns out, Zune HD has a decidedly non-HD 3.3” screen, smaller than the iPhone/iPod touch displays and with fewer pixels (480×272 versus 480×320). It should look a lot like the iPhone and iPod touch screens that debuted almost two years ago, minus of course Apple’s interface, and apparently the ability to fit the whole word Marketplace on screen at once next to an icon. So where’s the HD here? From a video perspective, it’s not in the box: Zune HD will only do HD-ready, 720p video output if you purchase an optional HD video dock. To be clear, we have no objection to such a dock—the iPhone and iPod touch frankly need one.* But it would be shady to call a device “HD” when it doesn’t do anything HD without additional parts.


On “Zune HD,” or, Why “iPhone/iPod HD” Might Sound Great, But Suck 2

Microsoft avoids that with a cheesy disclaimer** and a little trick: it’s including HD Radio. Yes, that HD Radio, the one we’ve previously covered with little joy, as the receivers have been expensive, mediocre at tuning in “HD” stations, and all but pointless—in short, digital radio designed by the radio industry for the radio industry, rather than for customers. We’ve only seen one really good iPod/iPhone audio system with HD Radio, and even then, the feature’s not worth paying any premium to purchase. The chances of it working in a portable device are only higher than the chances that it will work well.


On “Zune HD,” or, Why “iPhone/iPod HD” Might Sound Great, But Suck 3

Tossing the HD suffix onto a product’s name is a nice marketing idea, but doing so without having the right HD hardware inside is a mistake. Give us the 800-pixel-wide, next-gen screens and HD video output we’re looking for and we’ll be glad to jump on the HD bandwagon—by comparison, HD Radio support seems like little more than a cheap attempt to make a product match its otherwise unfit name. Hopefully Apple won’t be led down the same path.

[* = Note: Some current-generation Apple devices can already output video via existing Apple Composite AV Cables at 480p, the bottom-rung of HD standards—also known as Enhanced Definition. The reason we care about "higher than 480p” output is simple: since iPods and iPhones don’t support the playback of higher-definition 720p videos, many iTunes users are forced to maintain separate SD and HD video libraries, SD files for the iPod/iPhone and HD files for computer and Apple TV viewing. There are many arguments to be had over whether it’s better to keep doing this because of the limited storage capacities of some iPod and iPhone models, but ultimately, higher-capacity devices will end this debate.

** = "Zune HD & AV Dock, and an HDTV (all sold separately) are required to view video at HD resolution. Supported 720p HD video files play on the device, downscaled to fit the screen at 480 x 272 – not HD resolution.”]


On “Zune HD,” or, Why “iPhone/iPod HD” Might Sound Great, But Suck 4

Updated: Any similarity between the Zune HD’s promotional web page and Apple’s iPod web pages is obviously purely unintentional.

  1. Anything MS does is a copy of something else typically 2-3 years later and not done as well. What makes anyone think that the interface will be as good as an iTouch, have as many apps as iTunes, and generally work as well as the iTouch? NOT. AND Apple is about to release some new stuff (if not in June, then well before the new school year begins for its back-to-school promos). MS will then have another 3 years lag. Lets see 6 months from now how well this Zune HD stacks up (actual sales of units).

  2. If it wasn’t for the fact that I bought an iPhone for the sole reason of not carrying two devices, I would go back to my Zune in a heart beat. The Zune Pass (now with 5 saved songs per month) is a wonderful addition.
    The applications are nice, but most of them are no more then lengthened mini-games, (god damn 75% of them are those stupid web-based text MMOrpgs that failboat) and the price of them can be expensive at times, especially when they don’t have free versions to try, as sometimes the touch controls just DO NOT WORK.

  3. Producing a money losing product for several years and not making a profit is the MS way. After about 5 years of bleeding, they eventually catch up. Only a company with a dual cash cow that gives them funding for failing product can do this. Thats their greatest advantage over other companies. Thats why they eventually win.

  4. @ricardo:

    1. That’s not the point.

    2. See 1.

    3. Connector? Problem. Dock? Not a problem, if the price is reasonable. But if they call the iPod “HD” and it doesn’t have true HD capabilities without optional accessories, problem.

    4. Not true. The iPod nano has a 200/204 ppi display. And Zune HD is at 167dpi… 2ppi different than the iPhone and iPod touch, with fewer pixels and a smaller screen. And you say that like it’s a good thing? Ridiculous.

    5. With bated breath.

    7. See 1 and 2. Text running off the side of the screen doesn’t look so hot.

    8. See the entire preceding article. The Touch HD has an 800×480 display – over twice the resolution of the iPhone/iPod touch and Zune HD – and the Omnia’s 640×360 screen has 50% more pixels. The Zune HD screen has the lowest resolution of any of these devices.

  5. @ReyZero: it is 10 *FREE* songs per month. just saying

    1. do you know what “orangenta” means in the zune world. that “portable perfection” slogan follows the overall zune color scheme since *ever*

    2. the Zune HD playsback HD content in the device just downscaled by the SOC to match the resolution of the OLED screen

    3. What will you say when Apple requires a “new” connector/dock for any future HD ipod ?

    4. the dpi of the Zune Hd is higher than any current iPod device.

    5. They havent released all the features yet since the device is running beta firmware. Watch the MSFT keynote at E3.

    6. Zune 80 and Zune 120 can do 480p, too.

    7. the icon next to the marketplace word is an album cover. non-disclosed feature in fact.

    8. what is the problem with the Zune HD name ? The Omnia HD or the Touch HD doesnt have a HD display either….but I dont see your complain about it, right ?

  6. the resolution of this device may be low, but you people fail at realizing what difference more pixels do for such a small screen, with a lower pixels MS can have a lower price, and ontop of the lower pixels may i remind you about the OLED screen. did you forget? but that things the best screen out their, something like that can make any image more crisp and brighter making the resolution seem better (but really not) hens you will not realize the difference with 480×272 compared with 640×360. All i can say is that this thing is going to prove to be a good competator to ipod, as it already has more/better specs than ipod touch does…but then again you can only make a full assesment when this comes out in september.

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