RealNetworks racing to get beyond desktop

Apr 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The future of home entertainment is rapidly unfolding as today’s technology brings music, film and television to consumers in ways they had never dreamed possible.
Hewlett-Packard is one of the latest companies to make its way into home entertainment. HP recently announced it was teaming up with streaming media titan RealNetworks to develop a family of digital entertainment products that will enable consumers to download, personalize and enjoy music, streaming video and other digital content from the comfort of their living rooms.
Presumably, Hewlett-Packard is gearing up to deliver the first of many products to come. The first component under development is an appliance designed to sit in the stereo cabinet, with connections to the TV and stereo system. “What we’re talking about here really is an overt move on HP’s part into the digital entertainment space,” said John Spofford, vice president and general manager, Colorado Personal Storage Solutions, Hewlett-Packard.
As the top worldwide provider of CD writers, the company is well positioned to capture that market. “The CD media has really been that conduit,” Mr. Spofford said. “We have been enabling and at the center of this emerging Internet entertainment space for the better part of five years now. Our customers have been able to provide us with lots of perspective about what they’re looking for in this space. As a consequence, we’ve been able to take that knowledge and apply it into a broader entertainment play.”
While the company wouldn’t give specifics, Mr. Spofford hinted that we can expect to see a multitude of entertainment products from HP. “We’re building a family of components for the living room, initially centered on music and then the evolving digital entertainment space. Entertainment ranges from electronic books to music to video to movies; it runs the whole gamut,” he said. “HP is serious about getting into this space. We’ll be looking at all those opportunities.”
Its first foray, however, will be focused on music. RealNetworks is already working to provide Hewlett-Packard with a Linux-based software platform that incorporates its RealPlayer and RealJukebox products as the foundation for a new set of digital entertainment products and services.
Both companies are quick to point out that this is not an exclusive deal. “We have a number of partnerships,” said John Musaus, product manager for the consumer appliance division at RealNetworks. “HP is incorporating some of our services in their product, but that’s not exclusive. They have the ability to work with other suppliers as well.”
Even so, the arrangement does provide RealNetworks with an opportunity to expand beyond the PC environment into the living room and beyond with its digital products.
“Our goal is to provide the same experiences that people can enjoy with RealNetworks products on the PC,” said Mr. Musaus. “We really think that digital media and content become a lot more relevant to consumers when they can move it into an environment where they’re used to enjoying content in a shared environment like a living room. And I think it’s going to open up the world to broader acceptance.”
While Mr. Spofford said Hewlett-Packard is excited about working with RealNetworks, he said the alliance is just one “ingredient to a much larger set of capabilities that we envision and intend to bring to market.”
Other partnerships are in the works, and Mr. Spofford said announcements will be forthcoming. “This is such a dynamic environment, and there are so many things going on. We’ll be working with a whole variety of providers in a variety of spaces,” he said.
Hewlett-Packard opted not to attend NAB this year because the company wishes instead to focus on delivering product to stores by the holiday season.
“There’s a trade-off between creating demonstration units and showing and actually getting product to market,” Mr. Spofford said. “We just made that call.”
RealNetworks, on the other hand, will be there in full force. Having launched RealAudio on the NAB show floor in 1995, the company is returning to NAB for the sixth consecutive year. In addition to its booth, it will host a partner pavilion (Booth I7226) that will include companies such as Pictron, Eonstreams, ViewCast, Avid, Adobe, SoftTV, e-Studio Live, Context Media, nCube, @Once, Total Solution, Pulse 3d and Transoft/HP.