CDM got some early exclusives on the future of Microsoft’s media plan and PlaysForSure, including an explanation of why Zune isn’t part of the PlaysForSure program, thanks to Dave McLauchlan of the Windows Media Group:

Microsoft Not Turning Back on PlaysForSure with Zune Player
MTP, Portable Player Standard? Microsoft’s McLauchlan Sets Us Straight

At the time, Microsoft wouldn’t say anything publicly about its upcoming player. Now, it has made its Zune announcement official. Translating the marketing-speak is too painful for me today, so you can read the press release after the jump, but here are the interesting points:

  1. Wireless sharing: As widely predicted, the Zune will feature wi-fi music sharing, via Zune-to-Zune connections. Microsoft also promises a “platform” for sharing music and video. Sounds interesting; as long as this eventually involves the ability to freely stream VJ sets and sound files in any format I want anywhere I want, I’ll be really happy. (Okay, that could be wishful thinking …)
  2. Share recordings: The portable music consumer product makers generally don’t seem to understand that lots of people make their own recordings. So it’s comforting to see among the sharing features that you’ll be able to share “homemade recordings.” (Homemade, I think, is in contrast to the DRMed music purchased for the Zune, which will have plenty of sharing restrictions — but all the more reason to stock up on your own stuff and non-DRMed music and share that instead.)
  3. Surprise! Hip music! Microsoft apparently wants to build its street cred by pre-loading indie music on the device. The device will feature music from “DTS, EMI Music’s Astralwerks Records and Virgin Records, Ninja Tune, Playlouderecordings, Quango Music Group, Sub Pop Records, and V2/Artemis Records.” Sup Pop? Ninja Tune? Quango? Wow, we might actually get some music we like. And meanwhile Apple is shilling with John Legend. Am I in bizarro world?

Zune’s focus seems to be music discovery and sharing. Whether Microsoft actually pulls that off or it’s just marketing hype, it’s nice to see them trying, at least — even if they aren’t giving Last.fm a run for its money any time soon.

Anyway, that’s how I put it. Here’s how Microsoft puts it, in marketing speak:

Microsoft’s Zune Delivers Connected Music and Entertainment Experience

Built-in wireless technology lets consumers share experiences device to device.

REDMOND, Wash. � Sept. 14, 2006 � Marking the next big milestone for its Connected Entertainment vision, Microsoft Corp. today unveiled details of the first products to be released under its Zune™ brand. Designed around the principles of sharing, discovery and community, Zune will create new ways for consumers to connect and share entertainment experiences. The Zune experience centers around connection � connection to your library, connection to friends, connection to community and connection to other devices.

â€Å“The digital music entertainment revolution is just beginning,â€Â? said J Allard, vice president, design and development, at Microsoft, who is leading the charge for building the family of Zune products. â€Å“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.â€Â?

The Zune Experience

Available this holiday season in the United States, Zune includes a 30GB digital media player, the Zune Marketplace music service and a foundation for an online community that will enable music fans to discover new music. The Zune device features wireless technology, a built-in FM tuner and a bright, 3-inch screen that allows users to not only show off music, pictures and video, but also to customize the experience with personal pictures or themes to truly make the device their own. Zune comes in three colors: black, brown and white.

Every Zune device creates an opportunity for connection. Wireless Zune-to-Zune sharing lets consumers spontaneously share full-length sample tracks of select songs, homemade recordings, playlists or pictures with friends between Zune devices. Listen to the full track of any song you receive up to three times over three days. If you like a song you hear and want to buy it, you can flag it right on your device and easily purchase it from the Zune Marketplace.

Zune makes it easy to find music you love â€â€? whether it’s songs in your existing library or new music from the Zune Marketplace. Easily import your existing music, pictures and videos in many popular formats and browse millions of songs on Zune Marketplace, where you can choose to purchase tracks individually or to buy a Zune Pass subscription to download as many songs as you want for a flat fee.

To get started with great music and videos out of the box, every Zune device is preloaded with content from record labels such as DTS, EMI Music’s Astralwerks Records and Virgin Records, Ninja Tune, Playlouderecordings, Quango Music Group, Sub Pop Records, and V2/Artemis Records.

Zune Accessories

To enhance the Zune experience, three accessory packs help Zune users enjoy their music where they want to, at home or on the road. The packs and the individual accessories, all designed exclusively for Zune, will be available at launch:

o The Zune Car Pack includes everything needed to hit the road with a Zune device, such as the built-in FM tuner with AutoSeek and the Zune Car Charger.
o The Zune Home A/V Pack enhances your experience in the home through five products that integrate Zune with the TV and music speakers: Zune AV Output Cable, Zune Dock, Zune Sync Cable, Zune AC Adapter and the Zune Wireless Remote for Zune Dock.
o Zune Travel Pack is a set of five products designed to keep friends and family entertained on the road: Zune Premium Earphones, Zune Dual Connect Remote, Zune Gear Bag, Zune Sync Cable and the Zune AC Adapter.

Providing consumers with additional options to customize and personalize their Zune experience, Microsoft is also working with leading accessory manufacturers Altec Lansing, Belkin Corp., Digital Lifestyle Outfitters (DLO), Dual Electronics, Griffin Technology, Harman Kardon and JBL, Integrated Mobile Electronics, Jamo International, Klipsch Audio Technologies, Logitech, Monster Cable Products Inc., Speck, Targus Group International Inc. and VAF Research

The Future is Bright

In addition to the features available at launch, built-in wireless technology and powerful software provide a strong foundation to continue to build new shared experiences around music and video. As Zune evolves, the device can be easily updated. The Zune software on your PC will let you know when these updates are available for download.

About Zune

Zune is Microsoft’s music and entertainment platform that provides an end-to-end solution for Connected Entertainment. The Zune experience includes a 30GB digital media player, the Zune Marketplace music service, and a foundation for an online community that will enable music fans to discover new music. Inspired by the vast and varied community of music fans, Zune focuses on helping emerging artists shape the digital canvas. Zune is part of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices division and supports the company’s software-based services vision to help drive innovation in the digital entertainment space. More information can be found online at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/presskits/zune.

  • http://www.metro-sonus.com Metro:Sonus

    Ok, nobody take this the wrong way .. but can it still be called indie?

    Why is it called best buy, when it's not the best buy?

    Why do they call it small, when all they did was drop the small, and call the medium, small ?

    Why do I now where a an M sized tshirt, when I haven't since I was 13, and had the figure of a 12 year old girl?

  • MW

    This thing doesn't look quite so ugly in black, but I can't see it making a dent into the iPod's market share at all – I suspect it will just eat away at some of the existing MS DRM licensees. The music sharing thing is never going to be the killer app MS would like it to be – people forget that the DRM requirements are set by the record companies not the Apple/MS's of the world. Sure if you record your own music, sharing is kind of cool, but there's probably 1 of those people for every 10,000 that just buy music and play it, and you'll have to share it with someone else using a Zune – and what are the chances of that?

    Apple has nothing to worry about here.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/rcaaarts/rcaaarts/pages/06RcaaArtists/JohnDingler/index-JohnDingler.html John Dingler

    With Bluetooth capability, the Zune will become the darling of IT departements who will force corporate secretaries to record the meeting's minutes.

  • Adrian Anders

    Great, wireless file sharing… except that the files "shared" are wrapped in DRM, even when the original was an MP3. Totally bogus. What if you want to share an original track/remix with someone?

    Ooops, they can only listen to it 3 times, that's it. You can't even bypass the DRM when it's a track YOU 100% TOTALLY OWN ALL RIGHTS TO.

    Great idea, totally useless product.

    ATA

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    UGH! Okay, I hadn't heard that. Let's hope there's time to fix that before the product ships … ahem … Microsoft. Thanks, Adrian.

    This hot on the heels of Apple announcing a $300 that apparently streams stuff you buy from them but not anything else (even if it plays in iTunes). (I've got that right, yes?)

    Brilliant.

    Who do we get to slap?

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis Loveday

    All of them. Line them up, in a line, faces presented, then run down that line, palm out, delivering a slap to each as you run past.

    I think the biggest problem with DRM is what it does to the people who don't understand it and don't even know it's there. (Uneducated) People will buy Apple or MS player, because they think that's the only real choice. They'll take it home, and it won't do some things, so they'll think that's the norm.

  • David

    The concept of a peer-to-peer music marketplace is a good one, but DRM simply kills it.

    It appears that the Apple box they've codenamed iTV will stream anything it gets from your home network. The current AirPort Express is capable of acting as an ordinary 802.11g wireless router plus it can stream music to the local subnet. The next step is to add video streaming.

    Apple would LIKE you to buy all your music, TV and movie content from them, but they still make most of their money from hardware. Making the iTV a general purpose router greatly increases their sales opportunities.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Thanks, David! That's good to hear. That would mean we only have to slap Microsoft. (this time, anyway)

    Actually, I realized I was confused … I think the sync service in iTunes 7 is limited to iTunes-purchased media. And apparently it's also limited to Macs only. Too bad, as I'd like to sync my Windows and Mac machines and their copies of iTunes. Then again, with non-DRMed music I can just sync the old-fashioned way and use whatever player I want.

  • masterslave

    Sounds great! We can now put start putting bets how long it will be before hacked firmware is released bypassing protection and playing all formats known to man!

  • bliss

    Who would want to buy that thing? So it comes preloaded with music. What if one doesn't like that music? Then how attractive would it be? Which it is not anyway. Why would someone buy something that is going to tell them what, when and how much they can do something? Especially when they can do those things ad nauseam, ad infinitum through other means? Pure buffoonery. And even with the sharing limits of this thing it doesn't prevent anything! If I share a tune three times with three different people and others share the tune three time with three different people each – it will go on and on forever. This scenario is a lot closer to how sharing is actually done. So what's the point? I agree with Anders, "totally useless product."

    And can somebody please tell me what the hell this means: "Inspired by the vast and varied community of music fans, Zune focuses on helping emerging artists shape the digital canvas." I don't think I've ever heard a worse credo.

    It's a good thing that all of this points to better ways of doing things.

  • http://www.andrewswihart.net Andrew Swihart

    Any word on the converters used in this thing? That will have a big part in my decision for a new media player, for sure.

  • rigel

    i'm guessing this is going to be an xbox-style loss-leader for MS. so my plan is to wait for the FCC photos to show up. if it uses, for example, the portalplayer chipset, then it's a go for rockbox to pick up. and when they release new firmware for it that allows you to play every format known to man AND SHARE WIRELESSLY SANS DRM, then i will have a little packet of MS-subsidized joy.

  • Valis

    Apple may not strictly lock you into their player, but having to funnel everything through itunes software is close enough imi. I second Peter's comment about being able to sync manually, I can't stand the way itunes has a tendency to magically reorder compilations into separate folders per song, etc. Apple has always tried to make the nuts & bolts irrelevant, but you'd think with BSD behind the scenes now they'd adopt a friendlier attitude towards users who want to manage their directory structure by hand.

    I also recall when itunes took 30% cpu on my g4 laptop. The same era PC winamp used 3% and sonique etc ~7%.

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