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Compatibility With Authorized Downloads Varies

Pressplay, one of two music-company-owned download ventures, will remain ahead of MusicNet in compatibility with portable music devices, at least in the short term.

Here’s what’s happening with both ventures.

Pressplay: Windows Media Audio is one two technologies used by the Sony- and Universal-owned Pressplay download/streaming service, which already allows for burning and transfers to portables. Although a growing number of flash-memory, HD-based, and CD-based portables feature WMA decoders, many won’t play back the downloaded files in their native format. For compatibility with the service, the portables must incorporate WMA’s DRM [digital rights management] technology, and to date, many — if not most — WMA-equipped portables don’t support the WMA DRM.

In December, Pressplay’s web site said 23 WMA portables are Pressplay-compatible, including a Samsung model, seven SONICblue models, seven Creative Labs models, two Nike psa models, five Sanyo models, and a Compaq model. Panasonic also said its WMA-equipped models are Pressplay-compatible.

WMA portables lacking WMA’s DRM technology, however, can still play back songs ripped and encoded in WMA by consumers on their PCs, suppliers said. In addition, codec-upgradable models, including all HD portables and select flash-memory models, can be upgraded with a software download to support the WMA DRM, if the device’s manufacturer makes the download available.

Pressplay also supports ATRAC3 wrapped in WMA’s DRM. Those files can be stored and played back on Sony’s MD-based NetMD portables and its single flash-memory portable.

MusicNet: When the b-to-b company’s distribution partners AOL and RealNetworks begin to offer transfers of downloaded files to portables, they’ll likely be transferable only to Sony portables, the company told TWICE. “But we may provide support for other codecs if our distribution partners want it,” said MusicNet CTO Ganapathy Krishnan.

America Online was scheduled to launch MusicNet downloading by the end of 2002, with RealNetwork’s site offering it early this year. Those were MusicNet’s sole partners as of mid December.

MusicNet has provided its partners with technology to transcode MusicNet’s RealAudio 8 music files into files that Sony’s portables can play natively. The technology transcodes Real 8’s ATRAC3-based codec, along with Real 8’s file format and DRM, into a form compatible with the Sony devices’ ATRAC3 codec, file format, and OpenMG DRM, Krishnan explained.

At press time, MusicNet said it would not announce at CES any plans to support additional codecs, and no other portable suppliers contacted by TWICE would confirm plans to support RealAudio 8. One supplier doubted any portable devices in 2003 would support the technology because suppliers will concentrate on more popular codecs, particularly MP3.

Music companies Warner, BMG and EMI own MusicNet.