RealTime IT News

RealNetworks Unveils DRM for MPEG-4, MP3

RealNetworks plans to hit the CES trade show floor Thursday with a new Helix DRM digital rights management technology touting support for the popular (and competing) MP3 and MPEG-4 formats, among others.

Helix DRM replaces the company's Media Commerce Suite (MCS), which provided DRM only for RealAudio and RealVideo formats, and is part of RealNetworks' ambitious open-source push for adoption among content producers and consumer electronics manufacturers.

RealNetworks VP of media systems Dan Sheeran told internetnews.com the decision to support competing formats with a DRM product would let content owners, for the first time, deliver secure content to any PC or non-PC device using a single DRM and a single engine to support all formats.

As with many undertakings by Real, the latest strategy shift puts the company nose-to-nose with Microsoft , which has its own DRM product for its proprietary Windows Media format. Sheeran described Microsoft's DRM suite as "a distasteful offering" because it forced media and consumer electronic companies into using only the Windows Media format.

"Helix DRM is compelling because once you get beyond the PC, neither the Real or Windows media formats are dominant. On music players, the dominant ones are MP3 and on DVD players, it's MPEG. With Helix DRM, content producers can still protect the products, even in standards-based, non-proprietary formats," Sheeran said.

Available Thursday as a beta release Helix DRM will still support RealAudio, RealVideo in addition to MPEG-4, MP3, H.263 video, and AAC and Narrowband AMR audio, Sheeran explained. It won't support Windows Media "because that technology is already available" but Sheeran hinted Windows support could be added down the road.

"We could add support for Windows Media it in the future but, right now, the greatest source of demand in the market is not in providing DRM for Windows because that's already available."

The folks at Apple are sure to be watching Real's announcement with interest. Apple has bet the future of its Quicktime software on the MPEG-4 standard but the absense of a DRM tool for MPEG-4 has badly hurt Quicktime adoption for content delivery.

RealNetworks said Helix DRM would also enable a range of consumer electronic devices to support multiple secure formats by offering two models for integration: native support or transfer to secure memory.

"CE manufacturers can add native support by integrating the Helix DRM Client and Helix DNA Client on the device. A device with native support can access secure media directly from a Helix DRM license server, such as one operated by an Internet movie or music service," the company said.

Consumer electronics manufacturers can use the Real-sponsored open-source Helix Community to get specifications for developing their own versions of the Helix DRM Client. Real will license binary versions of the Helix DRM Client to the consumer electronics manufacturers.

Sheeran said the plan is to further expand interoperability with mobile devices by supporting relevant standards that emerge from the Open Mobile Alliance within the Helix DRM platform.

So far, Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, Starz on Demand, Movielink, Kevin Spacey's Triggerstreet.com and EMI Recorded Music are among a slew of big-name firms that have declared their support for the Helix DRM product.

Sheeran said pricing for Helix DRM is consistent with those for the old Media Commerce Suite and varies depending on field of use and scale.

Earlier this week, rival Microsoft announced new licensing terms for its flagship Windows Media 9 Series platform, which also offers DRM technology.