Zune 2.5: video store and facelift in effect

Starting right about now, the Zune client and Marketplace are being revamped with major changes as well as some streamlining. You’ve got a social music discovery network, a video store, and believe it or not, achievements for listening to music. Get freaky with more update info and pictures inside.

So first of all is the Social. You’ve heard them say “Welcome to the Social” — well, this is what they’re talking about. They want it to be an easy and powerful music discovery agent; by checking out your friends’ Zune cards or going through people’s profiles via artists you like, you can check out the top tracks they and their friends are listening to, and all that good stuff. I like, but am skeptical of, the ability to continually sync someone’s card to your actual Zune, in which case their favorites, recent plays, and so on will actually be copied onto your device and will be in the “Friends” menu there.

Your new Friends page online will have a ticker of events like tracks favorited, albums bought, and changes to their profile. You can also find people by their real name, location, and other parameters now. If you don’t have any friends, you can add some “superfriends,” like band members, DJs, pro athletes and the like, which could be awesome depending on who’s available.

They were very clear that they’re not trying to make it something like Facebook; the point is getting new music via social interaction, not vice versa. The best stuff is in the Zune client right now, but they’re working on pushing it to the web too — like, there’s a cool visual ticker with albums and songs with sizes weighted by how much your friends and others listen to them.

There’s a slightly bizarre achievement system whereby your listens on tracks contribute to you becoming, say, a “Bronze Artist Power Listener” of an artist, which then shows up with your card in various places. I don’t think there are any unlockables attached, but apparently a lot of people are deeply into playcounts.

There are also some changes to the Zune client in terms of making things work. Drag-and-drop tagging and categorizing is super easy so you can combine artists, albums, or playlists together easily whether they’re duplicates or not. They’ve tweaked some of the visual effects and corrected some UI issues, so it should run better in general.

Then there’s the video store, which was pretty much what you expect. You buy with Zune points, it’s 640×480, and they’re still working out the content and sharing issues. I could tell you all about it, but it’s probably best to go and touch it yourself. They’re pushing the update now and it should be good to go in a few hours.