Microsoft Announces Zune Digital Music Player, Online Store

New 30GB player with wireless capability to be ready for holidays.

Microsoft's long-rumored digital music player, the Zune, was unveiled Thursday (September 14) with a 3-inch screen, a built-in FM tuner and wireless capability that will let Zune users trade photos, music and video.

The device, which comes in white, black and brown, is expected to be available in a 30GB version in time for the holidays at a yet-to-be-announced price. It will hold around 7,500 songs, 25,000 pictures or 100 hours of video, and according to a Microsoft spokesperson, the handheld is all about making connections.

"The digital music entertainment revolution is just beginning," J Allard, Microsoft's vice president of design and development, said in a statement. "With Zune, we are not simply delivering a portable device; we are introducing a new platform that helps bring artists closer to their audiences and helps people find new music and develop new social connections."

Along with the player, Microsoft is launching the Zune Marketplace, a download service, which — unlike rival iTunes — will offer a monthly, all-you-can-download Zune Pass as well as per-track downloads. Prices for the downloads are not yet available, according to Scott Erickson, Zune's senior director of product management, but will be announced within the next few weeks. The store will have more than 2 million songs at launch from all the major record labels and a host of indie labels.

Using the wireless feature, users can share full-length samples of songs with friends — which they can listen to up to three times over three days — and then, if they like it, the track can be flagged on the device for purchase from the Marketplace. Users can also share homemade recordings, playlists and pictures wirelessly with no restrictions, though Erickson said songs purchased from iTunes or other download stores that have digital rights-management protection will not play on the Zune.

"If it was ripped from a CD in your personal collection, you can import all of that," he said, "including your playlists, album art, ratings and play counts." For now, Erickson said the Marketplace is focused solely on music and there are no plans to offer movie or TV content, though that could come in the future if users request it.

The screen can view pictures and video in either a vertical "snapshot" mode or a horizontal "landscape" mode and will be able to display slideshows while music is playing. Each Zune player is preloaded with music and videos from labels including Astralwerks, Virgin Records, Ninja Tune, Sub Pop Records and V2/ Artemis Records. Erickson said he could not reveal what the preloads are, but he said the 20 or so items are split equally between music, video and photos and they come from some up-and-coming bands as well as more well-known acts.

The Zune will have a few restrictions off the bat, including limits on the sharing of some songs on the device, a block on resending music that has been received through the sharing feature and the ability to show radio and song information only for stations that broadcast the Radio Broadcast Data Standards signal. According to the National Association of Broadcasters, about one-third of the approximately 9,000 FM stations in the U.S. currently offer some RBDS feeds.

For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.