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iPod vs. Zune HD: FIGHT!
Remember when MP3 players were, well, MP3 players? Few seemed convinced in the early days of the MP3 that it would be here to stay, least of all those in charge of major music labels. Of course, time has proven that the MP3 is not only here to stay, but that it was in fact just the tip of a mobile media revolution. Both of today's latest MP3 players from Microsoft and Apple, the Zune HD and the iPod Touch, are capable mobile video players. They promise to do for video what the MP3 did for music, slowly whittling away the traditional physical formats in favor of digital content.
But if you'd like to get in on the mobile video phenomena you have a question to ask yourself. Should I purchase Zune HD or an iPod Touch? We'll examine both to determine which product is the better mobile video solution.
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The importance of the screen on a mobile video player is obvious. It is the interface through which you'll be watching your favorite films, and because it is integrated into the device it can't be upgraded or changed. A mobile video player with poor video quality wouldn't be worth anyone's time.
The iPod Touch features a 3.5" screen with a resolution of 480x320, while the Zune HD has a 3.3 inch screen with a resolution of 480x272. The Zune HD does, therefore, have less screen real estate in terms of pixels, but the story does not end there. Although the Zune HD has a smaller screen, its aspect ratio is 16:9. This makes it perfect for viewing wide-screen content. On the other hand, the 3:2 aspect ratio on the iPod Touch is more accepting of older content which might not be in the widescreen format.
When it comes to image quality, neither is a slouch, but the Zune HD is the clear winner. The Zune HD's OLED displays victory becomes most evident when watching extremely colorful video. There is a pop to colorful images on the Zune HD which you don't get with the iPod Touch.
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The Apple iTunes store has been the example of how to run a digital storefront for years, and that has yet to change. While the iTunes application itself is restrictive and fails to feel as smooth as one might hope, it is hard to argue with the store's content and value. Nearly every popular TV show and movie can be found on iTunes, and there is a large quantity of niche content as well.
The Zune's store is relatively new, and it shows. While the Zune software itself is remarkably solid - in fact, I'd say it feels smoother than iTunes - the selection of the Zune store is less impressive than that of iTunes. On the other hand, the Zune store will soon be integrated with the selection of media offered on the Xbox 360, a feature which is very appealing for console gamers.
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While both the Zune HD and iPod Touch are great mobile video players, it would be ridiculous to ignore the scope of their features. The iPod Touch has evolved into something like a pocket-sized MacBook. The famous App Store gives the iPod Touch a huge amount of additional functionality, allowing it to be used for far more than playing media on the go.
The Zune HD is much less evolved when it comes to applications, and while Microsoft will likely make headway in this respect - the success of the Xbox 360 Arcade shows Microsoft does know how to open a platform to third parties - I doubt the Zune HD will ever catch up to the iPod Touch. However, the Zune HD has its own unique features, the most important of which is the Zune HD dock. Although pricey, the Zune HD dock allows anything on a Zune HD to be played on an HDTV via HDMI, a very handy feature.
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When it comes to value the Zune HD and iPod Touch are neck and neck. The 8GB iPod Touch currently sells for $200, while the 16GB Zune HD is $189. The 32GB versions are physically the same, but more expensive. Both have interesting unique features, so neither delivers more for the money.
Ultimately, the choice between the Zune HD and iPod Touch will depend on just how dedicated you are to mobile video. The Zune HD's screen is clearly superior to the iPod Touch. It provides a better picture and an aspect ratio more suitable to watching mobile video. This gives the Zune HD the edge and makes it my pick for the best mobile video player.
It is hard to ignore the plethora of functionality provided by the iPod Touch, however. If you're looking for the absolute best mobile video player, the Zune HD is it - but if you're looking for a pocket sized computer which also excels at playing video, the iPod Touch is a better choice.
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Images are from manufacturer press materials