This fall, Microsoft will roll out a number of updates to its Zune desktop client and related music and video services, allowing more content on more devices, in more countries than ever before.
First announced during June's E3 conference, Xbox Live Gold members will soon be able to stream on-demand music from the Zune catalog of 11 million tracks directly to their consoles. This service will complement the Zune Video Marketplace service, which has been on Xbox Live for more than a year, allowing HD video rental and purchases.
The Zune music service itself will also see an international expansion, as well as a transition to a 100 percent MP3-formatted download catalog. New regions capable of making song purchases include the U.K., France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. Purchases can be made using Microsoft's free, PC-only Zune software, or any Windows Phone 7 device.
The same countries (with the exception of Germany) will also have access to Microsoft's Zune Pass music subscription service, priced at 9.99 euros or 8.99 pounds per month. Unlike the U.S. version of the Zune Pass, which runs $14.99 per month, non-U.S. users will not be given 10 free MP3 downloads each month.
In a similar expansion, international Zune customers will soon be able to make video purchases in the U.K., France, Germany, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. People in these countries will also be granted the ability to rent video content, along with residents of Italy, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Mexico. Videos can be played using a PC, Xbox 360, or Windows Phone 7, and purchased videos include three sync licenses to cover you across multiple computers or devices.
What does it all mean in the big picture? Well, it's an important foundation for the international release of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 smartphones, which rely on the Zune desktop software for syncing to customers' PCs, and use the Zune Marketplace for over-the-air purchasing and streaming of music and video content.
It's also a telling sign of the three primary screens Microsoft is focused on: your phone, your TV (via Xbox 360), and your PC. Having all your purchased and rented media synchronized across all three of these screens could provide a lot of convenience and a competitive advantage over Apple, which has yet to seize the living room in numbers that can rival the Xbox 360.