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RealTime IT News

Music Store Embedded in New RealPlayer 10

Digital media company RealNetworks will use the spotlight of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Wednesday to roll out a brand new RealPlayer with a built-in paid download music store, the first major media player update in two years.

Less than a month after filing a whopping $1 billion antitrust suit accusing rival Microsoft of monopoly abuse in the battle for a slice of the media player market, RealNetworks plans to unveil RealPlayer 10 to replace the RealOne Player in what amounts to a dramatic branding shift for the Seattle-based firm.

As expected, the new (and redesigned) RealPlayer 10 will feature an integrated music store offering more than 300,000 digital tracks at 99 cents each. The music store will use the Advanced Audio Coding audio compression format which boasts higher quality audio reproduction than MP3 and is being used by Apple's successful iTunes digital music venture.

To entice new users in the U.S., RealNetworks is rolling out a 10-cents- per-song promotion during the next ten days.

The revamped RealPlayer 10 also adds support for competing media formats, new video and audio codecs and support for more than 50 portable music devices.

RealNetworks director of marketing Sherman Griffin told internetnews.com the new RealPlayer 10 would also give users the ability to play music from all major online music stores and would include support for Apple's iPod device, Palm-powered handhelds and smartphones from Handspring.

"We've added major improvements to every aspect of the player," Griffin said, pointing to an interface makeover that adds tabbed browsing, universal navigation arrows and a new sidebar that resembles the usability of the Windows operating system.

RealPlayer 10, which has been slimmed down from the previous RealOne version, promises 20 percent faster start-up times and new TiVo-like features that allow for the pausing and playback of live video and audio streams.

"[The new player adds] LivePause and PerfectPlayer to make it possible to pause live streams and instantly fast forward and rewind within both live and on-demand streams. New user controls and installation process make it easy to turn many features and services on or off," Griffin said.

To address the issue of portability, RealNetworks said the new player will allow users to transfer digital tracks to the seven models of PalmOne devices and the Handspring Treo 600 smartphone.

The RealPlayer 10, like its predecessor, will allow the playback of all major formats, including Microsoft's Windows Media, Apple's QuickTime MPEG-4, MP3, as well as the secure versions of these formats used by online music stores.

The company has also added two new codecs -- RealVideo 10 and RealAudio 10 -- to improve playback efficiency in live or recorded streams. Griffin said RealVideo 10 would enable DVD quality video playback at approximately 1 Megabit per second and high-definition quality video at approximately 5 Megabits per second. The new RealAudio 10 has been upgraded to add support for the AAC codec for use in CD ripping and music downloads, RealAudio Multichannel for home theatre experiences, and RealAudio Lossless for audiophiles and professional archiving.

Research director at New York Based Envisioneering Richard Doherty told internetnews.com he was most impressed by the new media player's browsing capabilities. "A lot of the music stores only make pennies per song. The more user-friendly you make the online browsing experience, the better it is for business," Doherty said.

At the CES show on Wednesday, RealNetworks also plans to release the Real 10 Digital Media Platform targeting content providers with upgraded audio/video compression and digital rights management (DRM) technologies.

Griffin said the new rollout would marry the RealAudio 10, RealVideo 10, RealProducer 10, Helix DRM 10 and RealPlayer 10 into a digital music platform which is being marketed to rights holders, technology partners, and authoring tools companies.