Tom's Hardware's 2009 Gift Guide: Part 2, System Add-Ons

Media Player: Microsoft Zune HD 16GB
By: William Van Winkle

Perhaps you already caught our coverage of the Zune HD over in our Tom’s Guide holiday roundup. That was the fluffy (yet intellectually compelling) version. In case you missed it, here’s the short take: way better player than the original Zune. Sexy. Friendly. WiFi with a half-baked browser. More likely than Apple to leverage future cloud capabilities. Buy it, love it, give it a pet name.

Here on Tom’s Hardware, we need to deal with things from a more technical slant. If you want to know if and why the Zune HD has better audio output than its predecessor, I have nothing to tell you. It sounds great, just don’t ask me why. What I can tell you is why the Zune HD’s UI is so smooth and its video playback so much better than the iPod Touch: Tegra.

Buried behind Microsoft’s gorgeous 3.3" (480x272) OLED touchscreen sits Nvidia’s Tegra APX 2600 processor, a so-called computer-on-a-chip capable of groundbreaking 2D, 3D, HD video, and audio processing. Within the chip, manufactured on a 65nm fab process, are actually eight discrete processor cores, including the video engine and two ARM cores. With these, the Zune HD can flawlessly handle 720p encode and decode. Each core is independently power managed. In fact, Nvidia implements dynamic clock and voltage adjustment in the same vein as Intel's SpeedStep and similar power efficiency technologies. When a core is unneeded, it gets put to sleep, and well-planned power islands within the processor help reduce idle leakage. As a result, the new Zune can play back up to 10 hours of HD video on a single charge.

The Zune HD supports encode and decode for H.264 (baseline profile at 30 FPS), MPEG-4, VC-1/WMV-9, JPEG, and a range of audio formats, although not OGG or FLAC. Interestingly, the Tegra also supports image signal processing and support for up to 12MP camera input, so you might hazard a guess at one of the features laying in wait for future Zunes.

As for this Zune, you can’t go wrong with HD radio reception, the HDMI output dock is a decent optional add-on, and I remain a big fan of the Zune Pass subscription service: $14.99/month for unlimited streaming and music on your player plus 10 DRM-free downloads per month. Whether the Zune HD catches and surpasses the iPod touch will be a matter of personal taste. But if you’re not an iTunes addict, this unit is awfully hard to let go.

  • DjEaZy
    ... interesting... it is very hard to read the descriptions or look on the products... i wonder why...
  • shubham1401
    That dress is cute!
  • presidenteody
    i need a napkin
  • tacoslave
    presidenteodyi need a napkin
  • tortnotes
    And here I was hoping we could all be mature enough to act normally if--gasp!--there are photos of a woman.

  • tacoslave
    ok some troll went through all of our comments and by the way @presidentteody come on this is toms not fapfest 09 holiday edition! Leave the immaturity to the Apple fanboys!
  • jebusv20
    tomshardware, a forum for men.

    with heads below the belt
  • The Lady Slayer
    "PC Power & Cooling (now owned by OCZ) is likely the most respected name in PC power supplies."

    Only if you've never heard of Corsair.
  • xaira
    was she really the best they could do?
  • nlcbryan
    oh my..i think i've been living in a hole or something. When i saw how they described the ZuneHD functionality, im horror struck! All in the small thing? even 10hrs ?? wow im amazed..