A year ago, Microsoft released a major Zune refresh, Zune 4.0, which included the Zune HD player, the Zune 4.0 PC software, and updates to the Zune Markeplace and Zune Social. This fall, Microsoft is overhauling Zune again, but the major improvements are happening outside of the PC software. The software giant has further integrated its backend online stores (Xbox Live Marketplace, Zune Marketplace, and, now, Windows Phone Marketplace), implemented an interesting streaming video capability (see below), and is adding Zune music (including Zune Pass) capabilities to the Xbox 360.
As part of this platform update, Microsoft has shipped a minor new version of the Zune PC software, version 4.7. Like the previous Zune 4.2 update, Zune 4.7 doesn't ship with any major new features or dramatically change the Zune software experience. But it does offer a few interesting changes, the most obvious of which is the software's support of Windows Phone devices in addition to traditional Zune devices.
Here's what's new in Zune 4.7.
Windows Phone support
Zune 4.7 adds support for Windows Phone, in addition to working with all previous Zune devices, including the Zune HD. When you use a Windows Phone with the software, a new Phone entry appears in the top-level menu, giving you a way to sync content to the device and access its music, video, pictures, and podcast content.
This support also includes access to Windows Phone apps in the Zune Marketplace.
There is one major difference between using a Zune device with the Zune PC software and using a Windows Phone: Zune does not manage Windows Phone applications. Instead, Windows Phone apps are downloaded directly to the device.
Streaming video capabilities
With Zune 4.7, the Zune PC software now plugs into recent underlying Zune platform upgrades, including the ability to choose between the downloading and streaming of new purchased or rented content. Additionally, every Zune you've ever purchased will show up in the Zune Videos view, under a new Purchased heading. Once you've purchased content, you can stream it whenever you like, via this software, or, on an Xbox 360, using the Zune Video interface.
Streamed content supports up to 1080p video quality, by the way: It's surprising good.
Fit and finish changes
Microsoft has also subtly changed the Zune PC software presentation, with small font sizing and placement changes on the top navigational elements and a number of "getting started" inline hints aimed at helping new users--like the millions of people who will be buying Windows Phones--get going with the software.
In tandem with Zune's support of Windows Phone, the Zune software has to be updated to support Marketplace functionality in different locales around the world. Sadly, these capabilities vary from market to market.
With a major Zune PC software update not expected until 2011, Zune 4.7 should tide over fans, while providing the necessary support for Windows Phone and new locales. Nothing major--though the video streaming feature is a huge advantage for this platform--but a solid update to an under-appreciated digital media solution. Hopefully, with millions of Windows Phone users coming on board over the next few years, Zune will finally get the respect and attention it deserves.