MTV and Microsoft last night opened up a public beta of their new 'iTunes killer' Urge and the Windows Media Player 11 beta.

The new Windows-only service launches with a catalogue of two million tracks. The service integrates with Microsoft's Windows-only media player software. To the chagrin of many music services that use Windows Media, Urge is also the recommended music service within the application.

The Windows Media Player 11 beta offers better search and media-management capabilities than previous versions of the software, accessed through a visual user interface.

A pillar of MTV's plans

Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music/Logo/Films Group, called Urge: "An important pillar of MTV Networks' overall digital strategy, and as our audience continues to embrace digital music delivery, it will serve as a vital vehicle to connect fans with all the music they love."

Mike Sievert, corporate vice president of Windows Client Marketing at Microsoft said: "In designing Windows Media Player 11, we incorporated a significant amount of feedback from music fans and worked hand in hand with MTV Networks."

Sievert added that the new media software, "provides a test drive of the breakthrough entertainment capabilities people will experience in the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system."

Feature round-up

The new MTV music service offers both a la carte and subscription music services, supplementing its offering with a slew of music-focused features.

These features include articles written by music experts in every genre; dynamic playlists (including must-haves, moods, decades and genres); and celebrity playlists. Another feature, Auto Mixes, provides automatically generated playlists built around specific artists or styles of music selected by the user.

Another service feature is 'Feeds', subscription-based playlists that are pushed out to music fans so they can explore new music. Feeds can even be transported to a compatible music player.

The service also offers 130 radio stations, including VH1 Classic, mtvU and CMT radio stations. Each MTV channel will also offer music shows through the service.

In a shot at iTunes, Microsoft claims that Windows Media Player 11 lets users scroll through and search for music in a collection "faster than any other media player".

WMP 11

Microsoft's software also supports album art, simplified navigation using Instant Search technology, shortcuts and dedicated category views of media types, such as movies or music.

Industry-first audio fingerprinting capabilities for advanced metadata tagging and new formats for ripping and music playback, (including Windows Media Audio, Professional and WAV Lossless) also debut in the release.

Portable device support has also been improved. Microsoft has announced an update to its PlaysForSure scheme, which makes for better device performance and full support for subscription services. New devices that support these standards are expected to ship in the coming months, the partners said.

A 14-day free trial of Urge is available. Three levels of service have been announced: All Access ($9.95/month) lets users use all the features of the service, bar portable device support; All Access to Go ($14.95/month) adds support for portable devices; or users can choose to pay by the track for the service.