Microsoft and United hooked up back in June for a hardware-less Zune partnership, which seems to have turned out pretty sweetly for both parties. Dave McLauchlan, chief Zune HD evangelist, has dished the news that the two companies are stepping up their relationship with a set of 500 Zunes being provided for long-haul flights to Hong Kong and Australia. Before you cry foul and say you never get on a flying tin can without your own media, Microsoft's angle here will be to preload those OLED-sporting babies with exclusive content, including flicks that haven't yet made it to a DVD release. Dave himself has been running around movie studios and closing deals, while the Zune HDs in question have now been encased in rubber, had their screens protected, and batteries charged. See them in a group shot after the break.

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Zune HD taking to the skies with United Airlines in-flight entertainment trial