There isn’t a whole lot of information available on Microsoft’s upcoming music player. At least not officially. While Microsoft has acknowledged a basic list of features, including wireless capabilities, most Zune news is rumor mill chatter as various industry watchers and speculators weigh in on what the Redmond behemoth has in store for music fans.

But just having a better player probably won’t be enough to topple Apple’s iPod mountain. That is, unless there’s enough of an enticement to make all those Pod people switch brands.

Which is why reports indicating Microsoft has struck some kind of content deal with EMI seems so promising. If Microsoft can bundle enough content with its new player, it just might lure people away from their current players.

Here’s the skinny: EMI recently announced that it had signed a deal with Microsoft to provide music videos for Zune. The videos will be pre-loaded on Zune and will include bands like 30 Seconds To Mars and Hot Chip, according to Reuters.

By itself, the EMI announcement probably doesn’t seem all that exciting. However, understatement has never been Microsoft’s forte. If the company has a content deal with one major label, you can bet that it’s pursuing similar arrangements with others. If Microsoft includes enough content with Zune, consumers might be willing to consider a player that doesn’t come in a box adorned with pictures of a certain kind of fruit.

But Zune isn’t on store shelves yet. And you just gotta wonder how long Apple can dominate the market before it’s too late for another company to enter the playing field. Microsoft is expected to ship Zune in time for Christmas. However, the company has also stated it doesn’t expect the new player to be an overnight sensation, and that it may take a year or two before Zune can boast iPod-competitive sales figures.

But the dynamics are changing in the personal player game. One manufacturer has already stopped selling its own personal player, while another has brought a new gizmo to market.

Designed to compete with Apple’s iPod Shuffle, Dell introduced the DJ Ditty one year ago. Both the Shuffle and Ditty sold for $99 and held 512 megabytes of flash memory, but Dell’s player was often considered to be the better bargain, mainly because it used an audio format that compressed songs more efficiently, resulting in users being able to store more tunes on the Ditty than the iPod. Plus, the Ditty also had an FM tuner – something Apple has yet to include on any of its players.

But better storage and more features weren’t enough to grab consumers. In fact, the company discontinued its disc-based players last February, leaving the Ditty as the only Dell-branded player. While some Dell customers might pity the Ditty, the company is now selling other manufacturers’ players through its Web site. You can buy players by Creative, iRiver, Samsung and SanDisk at, but you won’t find a single Ditty. And that’s the nitty gritty.

But if you’re hankering for a small flash player, and you have no desire to make Apple any richer, you might want to check out SanDisk’s latest device – the 8GB Sansa e280.

Admittedly, a name like that doesn’t carry as much sizzle as Apple’s Nano, but the specs might win you over. SanDisk is selling the Sansa e280 for $249. That’s four more gigs of storage for the same price as Apple’s four-gig Nano. Sometimes size does matter.

Other features include a microSD slot for additional memory, support for SanDisk TrustedFlash content cards and an FM tuner.

With a lower price plus more memory and features than the Nano, there’s a lot to like in SanDisk’s latest player. Even if the player’s name does sound a tad nerdy. But then, SanDisk does have an edge over Apple when it comes to pricing its music players – the company makes its own flash memory.

“The most costly ingredient in a flash-based MP3 player is the flash memory,” said Eric Bone, director of audio/video product marketing for SanDisk. “Since we make the flash memory, we essentially remove the middleman and pass that savings directly to the consumer.”