Microsoft's Zune HD Available To Pre-Order; Ships September 15th

Well, well--turns out those pricing leaks from Amazon the other day were legitimate, and now Microsoft has stepped in to confirm what most of the tech-savvy world already knew. The company's next-generation Zune, and arguably the iPod's most serious competition to date, will begin to ship to US customers on September 15th, or just over a month from today.

For those who can't wait to get in on the action, a slew of retailers and e-tailers are offering consumers the ability to pre-order the device, which will be made available in 16GB and 32GB capacities. The world's first touch-screen Zune will boast HD Radio support (a first for a portable music player outside of Insignia's NS-HD01) and it will, of course, fully support the Zune Marketplace and the Zune Pass music subscription service., Best Buy, Walmart and Microsoft are first on the pre-order bandwagon, offering the 16GB device in Black and the 32GB unit in Platinum. If those colors bore you, Microsoft will offer both in five different colors with the option to customize your player with one of 10 new engravings designed by guest artists, but you'll have to wait until September 15th and order directly from

Just to re-cap, the Zune HD features a 3.3" OLED widescreen display, full-screen web browsing, built-in WiFi, support for HD out via an optional docking station and NVIDIA's powerful Tegra processing chip. The 16GB Zune HD will list for $219.99, while the 32GB model will sell for $289.99; there's no word yet on how much those customized Zune HD units will cost, but you can safely bet that it'll be more than the "standard" models.

So, who's eager to get one? Has Microsoft finally created a portable media player that rivals or surpasses the iPod touch in your eyes? We get the feeling the competition will be quite heated this holiday season, and who knows if Apple plans to retaliate a little further down the road. For the sake of progress, let's hope so.