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Microsoft cancels Zune HD leaving one last portable HD radio on the market

The Microsoft Zune HD

This week Bloomberg reported that Microsoft will introduce no new versions of its Zune HD portable music device. Conceived as a competitor to Apple’s market-dominating iPod line, the Zune added an HD Radio receiver in 2009, making it one of only two portable HD radios available. The other comes from the Best Buy Insignia house brand, which has a touch-screen making it look like an MP3 player, even though it’s only a radio.

It appears that Microsoft will retain the Zune brand which includes a music store platform accessible on the XBox games system and Windows smartphones. But none of those devices includes HD Radio reception.

While iBiquity, owner of the HD Radio technology, cheered the technology’s inclusion in the Zune, it’s doubtful that any significant number of consumers chose a Zune specifically for its HD Radio. Similarly, I doubt many people bought an iPod Nano because of the radio. I’m certain that a small segment of buyers are won over to a model in order to get a radio, but other features are likely a bigger determinant.

It’s still not yet confirmed if Microsoft is ending production of the Zune HD. The fact that the last model was released in 2009 would indicate that it’s the end of the line for the dedicated Zune hardware. By comparison, Apple revises its iPod models about once a year. Without a hardware update in 2011 it doesn’t seem like Microsoft would have any hope of keeping the Zune competitive. So my guess would be that Microsoft has plenty of the players still in the supply pipeline and hasn’t announced its imminent death so as not to completely spoil the value of that inventory.

In retrospect, 2009 was a relatively big year for HD Radio, seeing the introduction of the Zune HD and the first Insignia portable HD receiver. 2011 has seen very little in the way of new HD Radio products. And while Insignia refreshed its portable HD receiver this year, that is pretty much it in terms of anything new in HD-land aside from car radios.

Frankly, HD Radio is ill-suited to portable devices to begin with, due to the fact that the HD digital signal is broadcast at a fraction of the analog signal’s power in order to keep the digital signal from interfering much more with adjacent stations. Anyone who has listened to a pocket FM radio knows that keeping a clear signal while moving around can be a challenge due to FM’s directionality. You really have to be close to a powerful station in order to maintain uninterrupted audio. With HD the challenge is even greater.

I seriously doubt we’ll see another portable media player or smartphone device that includes an HD Radio receiver. It adds very little value to a device that can already play audio files or access the internet to play streaming audio. There are few HD broadcasts that offer programming that isn’t already available elsewhere on the radio dial or online. Combine that with reception challenges and there’s very little to motivate a manufacturer to include the technology.

One or two models of portable HD Radios–like the Insignias–may stick around as niche items if they move enough units. Beyond that, HD is actually less popular than analog FM, or even shortwave.



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8 Responses to Microsoft cancels Zune HD leaving one last portable HD radio on the market

  1. David March 17, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    Actually, a lot of folks chose them for the radio… When you are in the gym, the televisions broadcast on radio stations.

  2. Karan March 17, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    I guess David is right …. I bought the Zune HD player specifically for HD radio ..because its a cool feature….it didnt harm my Zune player at all….something nice to have … an additional feature…..also, I could listen to my country’s music too on HD2 channels…..I didnt mind having a Hd radio,… i would love to see HD radio on ipod as well in coming years……Zune in general didn’t do tht well nothing related to HD radio in that……I am sure when apple gets an Hd radio in there devices … it will boost the sale and technology….we know that FM also took a while to be widely accepted …. on the other hand HD radio is much faster than that .. and I wont be surprised if I see HD radio in many many portable devices/phones in very near future

  3. Shakira March 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    yeah …. thts a cool feature ..i own a insignia portable player….although the player isn’t tht great but HD radio sounds cool … plays better and clear … like dolby digital ….

  4. roman2025 March 18, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    MS canceling the Zune…. What a shame… The Zune HD was an incredible device, an amazing mp3 player, it did 720p video out, 3D gaming, responsive capacitive touch screen, internet browsing, really easy to use and cool slick interface, the physical aspects of the device were amazing as well…. I could go on…. I owned a 1st gen zune when they first came out, aside from the size, they were excellent devices for the time. I guess they just aren’t profitable with them. I really did consider them to be one of the few legitimate iPod competitors. Don’t get me wrong, iPod is a great product, but it would be nice to have continue having a choice going forward. I think the problem with the Zune HD was the relative obscurity of the brand… YES everyone knows MS, but when it comes to MP3 players, most consumers (ignorantly) just refer them all as “iPods”…. :(

    Good job Apple (and I really do mean that), but I think it will be a net loss for consumers…

  5. J. Grant March 24, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    The Zune HD player is, hands down the best MP player out there. I didn’t have much luck with the HD radio, but I’m pretty rural… My feeling is that the player failed due to improper and ineffective marketing by microsoft. While the MP player is the best some of it’s other and optional add on’s were poorly conceived, like the remote that comes with the AV dock, other then pause & start, and advance tracks it does little else. Some of the lamest Apps ever conceived and the zune site was completely out of touch with the listeners. Without doubt I’ll use mine till it dies. Hopefully by then Archo’s will be up to this audiophile’s snuff…

  6. hameiri July 11, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    Two big drawbacks to the Zune were:

    No internet radio

    and

    Microsoft’s own Media Center recorded vidio that is not compatible with the Zune HD

    Had they fixed those two things, I think they would have had a runaway hit!

  7. Tighe H. October 19, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    I’ve owned both, Ipod Touch and ZuneHd. When you plug the ZHD into the home stereo you get awesomely clear sound. Not so with my Touch. I did want the Hd to have flash but I was happy that it did what it did. I love the zune pass also. The screen is more clear. Put them side by side and watch the same movie through them both. You will see the quality in the Zune. Oh well I guess. I will continue to use the ZHD until it wont go anymore. Quality in music and movies matter to me not the name Ipod or Zune but the Zune had both.

  8. Robert March 3, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    I bought a 1 gen 30GB Zune and sfill love it because it came with fm tuner unlike ipods did at the time then I bought a 32GB Zune HD and love it as well. I drive in rural mountainous ares and the HD hookd up to a powered speaker lets me get stations I can’t get with my portable radio. Sometimes you get tired of the same old songs you downloaded and want to hear local or HD stations. I like listening to the stations and win tickets and other prizes while I’m working. I hope my Zune hd lasts a looooonnnngggg time!!

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