Microsoft today announced that its upcoming Zune HD portable media player is now available for pre-order and will ship September 15. The device is available in 16 GB and 32 GB variants that significantly undercut the price of the iPod touch with which it most closely competes.

The Zune HD includes a number of features that are unique compared to previous Zune devices. It boasts a 16:9 OLED display with 480 x 272 native resolution, multi-touch capabilities, and HD 720p output via HDMI. It includes support for HD Radio in addition to the FM radio support provided by previous devices. Zune Pass subscribers can stream millions of songs from the Zune Marketplace to the device over a standard Wi-Fi connection. And the Zune HD includes a full-featured web browser with a touchscreen QWERTY keyboard.

Notably, the Zune HD is significantly less expensive than comparable iPod touch models. The 16 GB Zune HD, available in black, costs just $220, compared to $300 for a 16 GB iPod touch. And the 32 GB Zune HD, available in platinum, costs just $290, a whopping $110 less than the $400 selling price of the 32 GB iPod touch.

To date, the Zune lineup has sold poorly against the iPod and has actually lost market share in the past year. But the Zune HD has generated uncharacteristic buzz with gadget enthusiasts online, and early looks at the device have been overwhelmingly positive. Microsoft says it is committed to plowing ahead with the Zune platform and has been integrating its Zune software with its Xbox 360 video game console as well.

To preorder the Zune HD—available now from Amazon, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and the Microsoft Store in the United States—please visit the Microsoft website. I'll be reviewing the Zune HD next month on the SuperSite for Windows.

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