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Tech Report – Xbox Music

This week, Microsoft’s new digital music service, Xbox Music, began rolling out on Xbox 360 consoles in the U.S. and over 20 other markets worldwide; it will be expanded to PCs and other devices running Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system later this month.

Xbox Music represents Microsoft’s challenge to Apple’s market-leading iTunes music service and could eventually develop into a similar all-encompassing entertainment distribution service, delivering movies, TV shows, books, apps and more. Xbox Music effectively replaces Zune, Microsoft’s earlier digital media brand which struggled to build a fan-base in the face of Apple’s iPod/iTunes juggernaut.

The initial version of Xbox Music will not just offer a music download service; there will also be a free ad-supported music streaming service, with the option to switch to a subscription-based unlimited streaming service without advertising. This would put Xbox Music in direct competition with other music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, which have found an appreciative audience but which have struggled with their business models.

The introduction of Xbox Music coincides with the launch of Windows 8, scheduled for October 26, and the arrival of Microsoft’s Surface tablet, which was available for pre-ordering this week. Xbox Music will be available for Windows Phone 8 devices in the near future. There are also plans to launch apps for iOS and Android devices at some point but establishing Xbox Music for the Microsoft eco-system will take priority.

Xbox Music will launch with an inventory of over 30 million songs (18 million available in the U.S.) from all the major record labels. The free streaming option will be unlimited for the first six months of use, after which users can upgrade to the subscription option or be restricted to 10 hours of listening a month. The unlimited ad-free option costs $9.99 per month but allows streaming across any enabled PC, tablet, phone or Xbox console. The Xbox Music Pass as it is being called also unlocks unlimited access to tens of thousands of music videos on the Xbox 360.

You will be able to buy songs or albums through the Xbox Music Store. Individual songs will generally be priced at $0.99 each. Xbox Music allows you to create playlists and sync those lists across all your devices. In the coming year, Microsoft will add an Xbox Music cloud service, which will allow you to automatically add and sync other songs to your cloud catalog, even music you purchased through other sources.

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