HMV is to offer a digital music download service similar to iTunes, Napster and other music download services in the second half of next year.

The company which has enlisted the help of Microsoft will offer songs from its website as well as its 200 stores nationwide.

Based on the WMA format, the songs will be able to be played on the majority of MP3 players on the market, except of course the iPod.

HMV will also start selling a range of compatible players in store.

The group said it expects to invest around £10m to launch the new service, including capital investment, launch marketing and related costs.

To conincide with the launch, HMV will offer a branded music software application specifically branded by the music store with software developed by Microsoft.

Alistair Baker, managing director, UK for Microsoft, said "I'm delighted that the partnership extends to the development of the player, which will be constructed by a joint team from Microsoft and HMV, combining the industry knowledge of the HMV team with the software development, product expertise and consulting skills of Microsoft."

As yet there is no confirmation on pricing or a specific launch date.