Zune $249.99 player to launch Nov. 14

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Microsoft Corp. has promised that its upcoming Zune digital media player and online service will be ready for Christmas by announcing a Nov. 14 launch date.

It also revealed a price tag of $249.99, which makes it 99 cents less than its primary competition, the 30GB version of Apple's market-leading iPod.

Also unlike the iPod, Zune will come preloaded with a selection of audio, video and images. Bands whose songs will be on each device include Band of Horses (Sub Pop Records), the Adored (V2) and Darkel (Astralwerks). Music also is represented in video form from such artists as Coldcut (Ninja Tune), 30 Seconds to Mars (Virgin Records) and Paul Oakenfold (Maverick Records).

Film shorts about skateboarding and other action sports along with still images drawn from "Art of Modern Rock" also are ready for viewing right out of the box.

Zune marketing will spotlight the content along with features like its three-inch screen (half an inch larger than the iPod), its built-in FM radio and its ability to connect wirelessly with other Zune units.

Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg said it is likely that Microsoft will lose money on each sale.

"That larger screen and WiFi all add to the bill of materials," he said. "The key, I suspect, was not being undercut by Apple, and if they need to lose money on Zune to build market share, they will, much as they have done with Xbox."

A Zune Pass subscription to the music service will cost $14.99 a month for unlimited access to every song in the library of more than 2 million tracks. Alternatively, the Zune Marketplace sells individual songs at a price uncannily similar to Apple's iTunes store: Each track costs 79 points, and points are priced at 80 for $1. Points can be purchased like prepaid phone cards and also are valid for video games from Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace.
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