Real Networks Mends MP3 Compatibility Solution

RealNetworks has developed a technology solution that makes tracks from its RealPlayer Music Store compatible with Apple Computer’s iPod, as well as with a number of portable music players that use Microsoft technology.

Real’s new technology, called “Harmony,” will be demonstrated for the first time tomorrow (July 27) at the Jupiter Plug.In conference in New York. The same day, a beta of the Harmony technology — which will be integrated into the RealPlayer Music Store and RealPlayer 10 — will be available to consumers on a limited basis at

Real sells tracks in an AAC-based version of its RealAudio format; it secures the files with its own proprietary Helix digital rights management (DRM) solution.

Until now, music from the Real download store has not been compatible with either the iPod or Windows Media-compatible devices due to competing DRM standards from Apple and Microsoft.

With the introduction of Harmony, Real claims that its files now work with devices from Apple, Creative, iRiver, RCA, Rio, Samsung and PalmOne, among others.

Real’s solution to the compatibility problem is to give consumers two files of the same song when they purchase a track from the RealPlayer Music Store. The first is the normal file, designed for playback via Real’s RealPlayer music management software. The second is a transparent, “optimized” file that is not seen in the music collection but resides on the user’s hard drive. This second file is used specifically for transfer to a portable device.

The RealPlayer determines whether a device uses Apple or Windows Media DRM, and then converts the optimized file into the proper format to enable portability. “Users don’t have to think about the format,” says Sean Ryan, senior VP of music services at Real. “The proposition is: Buy it here; move it anywhere.”

The Harmony technology still doesn’t allow for tracks secured with Windows Media DRM to be directly transferred to the iPod, or for iTunes tracks to be transferred to Windows-based devices from the likes of Creative and Rio.

Previously, there has been no meaningful compatibility between legitimate digital-music offerings from rival technology companies.

Market leader Apple has yet to license its FairPlay DRM technology to any competitors — a fact that has kept secure tracks from music services other than iTunes off the iPod. In April, Apple rebuffed overtures from Real to make the iPod compatible with the RealPlayer Music Store.

Real still does not have a license for FairPlay. Instead, the company has engineered its own technology solution that allows RealPlayer Music Store tracks to work with FairPlay. Real says it is converting tracks into the Windows Media format under an existing licensing agreement with Microsoft.


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