Apple's competition continues to ramp up its offering in the digital music industry, with news that Virgin plans its own 5GB music player, and initial reports on Microsoft's software offering.

The Associated Press this morning reports that the consumer electronics arm of the Virgin Group plans to introduce its own hard drive-based 5GB music player.

Dubbed the 'Virgin Player', the device, which arrives today and is smaller than a pack of cards is the company's hope to compete with Apple's iPod. Virgin reckons a device with 1,000 songs is "about right" for the market.

The Virgin Player weighs 3.1 ounces, offers eight hours playback on one battery charge, costs $249 and ships in the US at the end of October. It also includes an FM tuner and is compatible with Windows Media Audio and MP3 formats. It supports Microsoft's new Janus technology that lets music service subscribers carry tracks they are subscribed to, but do not own.

Virgin Electronics CEO, Greg Woock, said: "No one else has the same brand energy that Apple or Virgin has. Plus, our heritage is music. Apple is dominating, yes, but the marketshare that it has today is not going to last."

HP crosses the line

Other news: HP today will launch its own Windows XP Media Center PC. Uniquely, this computer will offer a version of Windows Media that lets users access their iTunes playlists from within Windows Media.

This option is called HPTunes, but will not allow users to play songs they acquired form the iTunes Music Store using Windows Media. Microsoft's software will ship with Apple's iTunes, pre-installed on HP's new machines.