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Players keep improving

Dec 31, 2001  •  Post A Comment

With the Streaming Media East show as a backdrop earlier this month, RealNetworks and Microsoft Corp. produced a stream of announcements about their Internet media players and plans to extend their technologies into wireless, home-theater and other platforms.
Real said it will embrace the MPEG-4 video-encoding standard, offering users and content owners plug-in technology from Envivio .com. Eventually, Real will make MPEG-4 native to its software, which already plays about 50 other media formats.
Dan Sheeran, Real’s VP of media systems marketing, said the company has been slow to support MPEG-4 because, “We didn’t think it was ready yet. There were still some licensing issues, some standard specification issues. We’ve just been waiting for that to all sort out.”
Envivio also is offering plug-ins to create MPEG-4 content for the Real platform, encode content live or offline and stream it over RealSystem Servers.
“What’s great about Real is they provide this platform that deals with more formats, so adding MPEG-4 seems like a natural fit with their chosen delivery platform,” said Jonathan Fram, Envivio’s acting CEO. “It’s a strength Real has.”
MPEG-4 supporters called the decision an important sign of the standard’s growing acceptance, given Real’s position online, where it claims 235 million registered users.
“It clearly marks an abrupt shift in strategy from what they had been doing,” said Frank Casanova, director of marketing for QuickTime, Apple Computer’s media player. QuickTime provides part of the MPEG-4 encoding technology.
“Real’s a big company in the streaming space,” Mr. Casanova said. “It will make MPEG-4 a stronger standard.”
Separately, Real said it is pushing further into the wireless space by joining the 3GPP wireless standards group and beginning system trials with AT&T Wireless, Sonera, Telefonica and Starhub Mobile.
The company separately debuted its RealOne Music service, which allows users to get music from three major labels for $9.95 per month. RealOne Music piggybacks on Real’s online subscription entertainment service, formerly called Gold Pass.
Microsoft announced a planned suite of video and audio tools that together will form the Corona digital media platform, its latest effort to entice companies to its .NET server technologies. The Corona platform will make possible streaming of 5.1-channel audio and home-theater-quality video for broadband Internet users, the company said.
Beta testing has begun on Windows Media Services for Microsoft .NET Server, the engine driving the media platform. Microsoft says the media engine will make real-time ad insertion easier, is more scalable, has better compression and is optimized for wireless. Two codecs, a new Windows Media Player and an improved developer kit will be available for beta testing in early 2002, said Jonathan Usher, the Windows Digital Media Division group manager.
“This is a platform the industry can use to build some pretty interesting solutions on top of,” Mr. Usher said.
Microsoft also announced that chipmakers Cirrus Logic, ESS Technology, LSI Logic Corp., STMicroelectronics and Zoran Corp. will incorporate media player support into their DVD processors during the next year.