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RealNetworks' Time to Shine: Real Conference 2000
Unveils RealSystem 8 Beta

RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser must have been on cloud nine last week. His company's Real Conference 2000 took place in San Jose showcasing new products, partners, and people. Not only was it a prime opportunity to toot your own horn, but it was a great way to stick it to Microsoft.

The highlights of the conference was the introduction of RealSystem 8 and the unveiling of the Real Entertainment Center, a combined software package that does both streaming and downloading (See separate story). RealNetworks got a boost from Media Metrix as well. In a report release last week, Media Metrix said RealPlayer was the fourth most used home application. That's good. So good, it beats AOL and Netscape.

"The data indicate that streaming media, including both audio and video, has arrived as the second most used Internet and online interface application despite the fact that less than five percent of all PC households in the U.S. have broadband modem speeds," said Bruce Ryon, Senior Vice President of the New Media Group, Media Metrix.

For its part, Microsoft released some news early last week trying to crash RealNetworks' party. Consider this another round of RealNetworks vs. Microsoft.

In a news release, RealNetworks said that RealSystem 8, delivers VHS quality video at modem speeds and "near DVD-quality" video for broadband users. To quote the release: "Independent testing found that, at mainstream broadband rates, more than 70% of viewers surveyed found RealVideo 8 to be as good as or superior to VHS-quality and 92% of viewers preferred RealVideo 8 to the competing offering from a leading operating system provider." The report is available at RealNetwork's site (http://www.realnetworks.com).

RealNetworks even got Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola on his team. Coppola said in a statement: "RealNetworks has broken through the Internet's video barrier and provided unprecedented opportunities for film makers and broadcasters. It's an exciting time for everyone in the creative community to explore the wonders of this new mass medium that, thankfully now is on the way to deliver first-rate video."

Among the new features in RealSystem 8: streaming MP3, Flash 4 support, and 3-D computer generated video by RichFX (formerly WebGlide).

Another big upgrade was support for Virage's video search engine that was added to RealPlayer, Real.com Guide, RealJukebox, and Real Entertainment Center. This lets users search for content from a number of Virage's content partners.

In other partner news, SecureMedia announced V2.0 of its Media Commerce security solution streaming and Princeton Video Image unveiled (finally) iPoint, its interactive virtual advertising product. This allows for clickable and interactive streaming video that can be used to supplement information on streams or include advertising information. PVI already supplies this insertion technology to TV, including for the NFL and others.

Another plug-in announced was by Enounce which showed off a product that lets users experience audio and video at double the speed but without the annoying audio distortion (chipmunk voice).

Perhaps the biggest announcement from the conference was the release of the Real Entertainment Center, which takes a page from Microsoft when it released its combined streaming/downloading media player. This clearly means that both companies are targeting the consumer media player market and believe integration to be a key model.

Even Yahoo! got into the act last week. It quietly released its Yahoo! Player software that plays Windows Media content, MP3s, CDs, radio stations from Yahoo! Broadcast and more.

It seems we'll have to make room for yet another media player.