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RealNetworks Moves to MPEG-4

On Monday, RealNetworks announced that it was supporting MPEG-4 in its RealSystem iQ technology, through server and client-side plug-ins from Envivio. The MPEG-4 solution will be available to RealPlayer and RealOne Player users through RealNetworks' auto-update program.

Ben Rotholtz, general manager of product and systems at RealNetworks said that it has been working with Envivio to help create the MPEG-4 plug-ins. Envivio did a lot of work with RealNetworks’ software development kit (SDK) on the plug-ins. Still, pricing for the plug-ins isn’t set by RealNetworks, rather by Envivio.

Rotholtz said that future versions of RealSystem will include native support for MPEG-4, in addition to its other file formats. RealNetworks said it has been working on a native MPEG-4 implementation for two years.

This is not only a coup for Envivio, a maker of MPEG-4 authoring, encoding and streaming server tools, but it’s a boon to the entire streaming industry. With Apple’s QuickTime and RealNetworks’ RealSystem supporting MPEG-4, the only holdout is Microsoft. Previously, Microsoft supported MPEG-4 video, but since then it has backed off from any MPEG-4 compatibility claims. Microsoft was unavailable for comment regarding this story.

Rotholtz said that support for MPEG-4 allows content providers "additional capabilities" for broadcasters, who will likely turn to MPEG-4 in the broadcast realm. He said that anyone looking to deploy standards can utilize RealSystem in that manner.

"This opens MPEG-4 content to the RealPlayer installed based," said Rotholtz. "Two hundred and thirty-five million users is an incredible value if you’re looking for business models [in MPEG-4]."

Frank Casanova, Apple's director of QuickTime product marketing, said that Apple was "really happy" to see RealNetworks support MPEG-4. "It’s an abrupt change of strategy," he admitted. "MPEG-4 as a standard is really important to the industry and RealNetworks in important. The combination of the two is really good news."

Still, Casanova said that the move by RealNetworks adds them to the list of growing proponents of MPEG-4 and doesn’t "change anything in the next coming months." He pointed out that QuickTime has been leading the way with support for MPEG-4 and that the file format standard is based on the QuickTime file format.

Rotholtz said that RealNetworks is "well represented through third parties" in the International Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA) and would not join it itself. ISMA, which lists companies like Apple, Sun, IBM, Cisco and others as members, has been key in creating a streaming specification for MPEG-4. Casanova said that RealNetworks should join the group. "Membership by association is not an effective way to do things," he said.

"RealNetworks' announcement today will enable MPEG-4 to achieve widespread adoption immediately," said Jonathan Fram, CEO of Envivio, in a statement. "We are excited to offer the RealNetworks user base an MPEG-4, ISMA compliant plug-in to the RealOne Player for viewing video, audio, and interactive content."

Although RealNetworks is touting its new MPEG-4 compatibility, there is still a lack of MPEG-4 content available today. Most of the latest content is available in one of the three proprietary formats, QuickTime, RealSystem and Windows Media.

In other news today, RealNetworks announced support from mobile operators AT&T Wireless, Sonera, StarHub Mobile and Telefonica Móviles España, which are conducting wireless trials using RealNetworks' technology over their 2.5G data networks.

RealNetworks also announced that it has joined the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), as well as joining the packet-switched multimedia specification group, SA4. The 3GPP was formed by recognized standards organizations to generate technical specifications for 3G mobile systems.

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