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Microsoft gives pricing for new Zune players

August 14, 2009 |  7:00 am

The new Zune HD players will come with an HD radio and other treats. But can it take on the iPod? Credit: Microsoft.

Zune strikes back, this time with HD!

Pricing on new versions of Microsoft's portable audio/video players, available Sept. 15, has been announced. A 16GB Zune HD will carry an estimated retail price of $220; the 32GB model will be $290.

What's the HD about?

Well, these players will have built-in radios that can receive stations broadcasting in the HD format that provides enhanced audio quality and can access digital stations that regular radios can't pick up. (The players will also be able to receive regular stations.)

(Hopefully, these Zunes will do a much better job of handling HD Radio than an Insignia-brand player that was the first attempt at making the format portable.)

The new Zunes will also be able to play downloadable videos. And with the use of optional docking stations, they'll even be able to play HDTV-format videos on a TV set.

Lastly, the players, which will have touch screens, will also be Wi-Fi equipped for Web browsing and downloading audio and video.

But will all this be enough to make even a dent in Apple's tremendous lead in this area with its beloved iPods?

In the first six months of this year, Apple had 73% of the portable player sales in the U.S., according to NPD. Microsoft, which introduced Zunes in 2006, wasn't even second -- that went to Sandisk with 9%. Then came Sony with 3%.

Finally, the house that Gates built came in fourth with 2%.

The Zune HDs will be priced lower than iPod Touch models that can also have touch screens and can browse the Web. And the new Zunes will have an edge in that no iPods have radios, nor are they able to handle high-definition video.

But iPods use Apple's enormously successful iTunes software for buying and organizing content, and they've proved to be wondrously easy for people to use. On top of that, the iPod Touch models are highly sophisticated little computers that can run the apps that are so popular on iPhones.

Also keep in mind that Apple sometimes announces new iPod models in the fall, so something to make the Zune HD out of date before it barely gets started could be on the way.

Microsoft is not willing to completely concede the music player battle, yet. But if the Zune HD doesn't catch on, you gotta wonder whether it will keep on trying.

-- David Colker