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MS, RealNetworks Push Streaming Media

Las Vegas – To gain wider acceptance of their respective streaming media technologies among device manufacturers and mainstream CE companies, Microsoft and RealNetworks headed to CES with revised programs for their competing A/V codecs and an agnostic approach to digital rights management (DRM) technologies.

Just prior to the show, Microsoft fired the first salvo by announcing it had revised its licensing program for Windows Media 9 audio and video codecs that offer companies better terms and longer licenses for hardware devices and non-Windows-based computers. By offering its Windows Media codecs independently of its Advanced Systems Format (ASF) file container, software companies that offer encoding or playback in other types of containers, such as MPEG or AVI, can now add support for Windows Media Audio and Video Series 9 easily and inexpensively in their applications, Microsoft said.

Microsoft also announced that for the first time it will offer its DRM technologies independently of its Windows Media format, enabling third parties to use Microsoft’s DRM for use with other media formats. The company did not disclose which formats beyond Windows Media its DRM will initially support.

Licensing fees for devices and non-Windows platforms are now roughly half what it costs to implement MPEG-4 video, with the new rates established at 10 cents per decoder, 20 cents per encoder, and 25 cents for both encoder and decoder. Microsoft has extended the duration of the license from two to 10 years, which Michael Aldridge, lead product manager for Microsoft’s digital media division, said better matches the product cycles of the consumer electronics industry.

Microsoft also announced that more than 200 devices now support Windows Media, including new CE OEMs such as Pioneer, Panasonic, Apex and Alpine.

For its part, RealNetworks unveiled its Helix DRM, a DRM that also supports various media types, including audio formats such as MP3 and AAC, and video formats such as MPEG-4 and H.263. The company says that content suppliers will now be able to use a single interoperable DRM across multiple devices and formats. The Helix DRM is now available for download in test form for PCs, with versions for CE devices in development.

RealNetworks said EMI, Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment and are among its new customers.