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Real Adds iPod, WMA Compatible Downloads

Seattle – Real Networks unveiled music download software that eliminates a competitive disadvantage afflicting its download service and promises to stir up additional competition in the portable music player and download markets.

With upgraded RealPlayer 10 software, music downloaded from the RealNetworks music store will now be playable on Apple iPods and Windows Media Audio (WMA)-compatible music portables. Consumers use the free software, available in beta form, to convert RealAudio-format downloads into Apple’s protected format or into protected-WMA format.

Previously, the only source of authorized downloads for Apple’s iPods was Apple’s iTunes music store. Multiple authorized sites, in contrast, deliver protected WMA downloads.

Erasing one of the disadvantages of Real’s download site, the software upgrade makes Real’s authorized download library of more than 500,000 songs playable on many more portables, not just the handful that natively play Real’s RealAudio format. More than 70 music portables play either protected WMA or protected Apple-AAC files. A handful of Palm PDAs and a Creative Labs HDD portable play the Real format natively.

On top of that, said music services VP Sean Ryan, the software gives consumers the newfound ability to switch from a WMA portable to an iPod, or from an iPod to a WMA portable, without losing the portability of their paid-for downloads. “It’s a multiformat world,” he said. But “what if a future device comes along and you want to change?” Real’s music-store “goal is to be universal,” he said.

Real’s new software complies with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act because it doesn’t convert Apple-format files or WMA-format files to other formats, only protected Real-format files to protected Apple and WMA files, a spokesman said.

Like Apple’s download format, Real’s download format uses the AAC codec but at a 192kbps datarate instead of Apple’s 128kbps, Ryan said. The two companies also use different and proprietary digital-rights management [DRM] technologies. WMA and Real share neither codec nor DRM. The new Real Player 10 software, using Real’s Harmony technology, “transcodes” the Real codec into the WMA codec and “transcripts” the Real DRM into the Apple or WMA DRMs. Transcoded and transcripted Real files will sound as good as native iTunes and WMA files, Ryan contended, because Real files deliver higher fidelity to begin with.

Real Networks promises to bring Harmony’s transcoding/transcripting capability to its Rhapsody subscription service. For now, that service streams music and lets users burn a song direct to disc from the Rhapsody site, but Rhapsody subscribers currently can’t download sings to their computer’s HDD or transfer them to digital music portables.