Microsoft's Zune will ship Nov. 14 for US$249

Microsoft's answer to the iPod, the Zune player, will cost US$249.99 and ship Nov. 14.

Microsoft's Zune digital media player will ship in the U.S. on Nov. 14 for US$249.99, the company said Thursday, in line with the price of video iPods already available from Apple Computer.

Microsoft announced its Zune player and the accompanying music store, called Zune Marketplace, earlier this month, but it did not provide pricing at the time. Some industry insiders believe Microsoft had to rethink the pricing after it learned that Apple was about to lower the price of its video iPods, which it recently did. Like the video iPods, the first Zune players will come with 30G bytes of storage.

Microsoft also unveiled pricing for Zune Marketplace. Unlike Apple's iTunes, which lets users buy individual songs or entire albums but does not offer a subscription service, Microsoft will offer a monthly subscription called Zune Pass. For US$14.99 a month, users will have access to millions of songs, Microsoft said. However, they won't actually own those songs and will only be able to access them while they have a subscription.

Users will also be able to purchase songs individually using Microsoft's points system, which works a bit like a prepaid phone card. One track will cost 79 points -- or about US$0.99, which is what iTunes charges per song. At retail, consumers can purchase 1,200 points for US$15, 2,000 points for US$25, 4,000 points for US$50, or pay US$44.97 for a three-month Zune Pass.

Zune accessories will range in price from US$19.99 to US$99.99. They include the Zune Car Pack, which offers a built-in FM tuner with AutoSeek and the Zune Car Charger, and The Zune Home A/V Pack, which includes five products that integrate Zune with a television and music speakers.

More information is at Microsoft's Web site.

Microsoft is differentiating its Zune player from the iPod in several ways. In addition to allowing users to play music, videos and photos on a screen, the Zune player will include wireless technology and a built-in FM radio tuner. So far, iPods lack both of those.

Zune devices also will come preloaded with media content, which iPods don't have. Songs the players will include out of the box are: "Wicked Gil" by Band of Horses, "The Mating Game" by Bitter Sweet, "Alala" by CSS, "At the End of the Sky" by Darkel, "Signs of Life" by Every Move a Picture, "Stay" by Small Sins, "Tell Me Tell Me" by The Adored, "Open Book" by The Rakes, and "A Pillar of Salt" by The Thermals.

The music videos included with the Zune player are from several artists on Seattle's Sub Pop Records label, such as Chad VanGaalen, Kinski and the Fruit Bats. The players also will include film shorts on skateboarding, mountain biking and snowboarding.

Microsoft didn't provide any availability information for outside of the U.S.

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