Can the Zune HD Trump the iPod Touch?

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Can Microsoft's Zune HD compete with Apple's iPod Touch?
Get ready for Zune HD versus iPod Touch in a battle set for this fall when Microsoft will take the wraps off of its first touchscreen portable media player (PMP), the Zune HD. Microsoft says this is the first PMP to combine a built-in HD Radio receiver, high-def video output, an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display, and Wi-Fi. But will it be good enough to steal the glory from Apple's iPod Touch?

ZuneHD's multitouch display is the centrepiece of Microsoft's new PMP. The OLED display sports a 16:9 aspect ratio (perfect for those widescreen movies) and supports a resolution of 480 by 272 pixels. Indeed, this resolution is not enough to play HD movies on the device itself, but the ZuneHD will be able to play back HD video externally via an HDMI-based docking station (sold separately) at 720p HD quality.

OLED screens are something new to the mobile handset market still, and they have significant benefits over the more traditional LCD displays. OLEDs are thinner and do not require a backlight to function, hence giving longer battery life and superior picture quality.

Besides the already-announced Zune HD, a number of other mobile devices are expected to feature OLED screens, including the upcoming incarnation of Apple's iPhone and the Samsung I7500 with Google Android. That said, it would be safe to assume that the new iPod Touch will feature an OLED screen as well, going head-to-head with the Zune HD.

Like the Zune HD, the iPod Touch already has Wi-Fi capabilities and a fully functional Web browser: Safari. It is not clear whether the Zune HD will use a mobile version of Internet Explorer or a specially developed browser for the Zune platform. Zune HD will also be able to stream music over Wi-Fi, which the iPod Touch is not yet able to do out of the box, but can do via various third-party apps.

The Zune HD will also feature a built-in HD radio receiver, which gives better sound quality compared to traditional radio output. Of course, stations will have to broadcast in HD in order for Zune to receive full-quality sound. The iPod Touch does not have an FM or HD radio receiver, but again, the new iPhone is said to come with one as well, which could translate down to the Touch.

However, the real competition between the Zune HD and the iPod Touch will come down to software. The new Zune will be based on a custom version of Windows CE, while the iPod Touch runs on the already popular iPhone platform, for which thousands of applications are available.

But more details on the Zune HD will be revealed next week at the E3 Expo, when Microsoft said it would demo how Zune movies and TV shows will be streamed on XBox Live to create a "game-changing entertainment experience". Meanwhile, my colleague Matt Packham has an interesting analogy on how good the Zune HD will be as a gaming platform.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @danielionescu

This story, "Can the Zune HD Trump the iPod Touch?" was originally published by PCWorld.

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