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New RealAudio ships

Hoping to solidify its lead in the Internet audio market, Progressive Networks ships the final version of RealAudio 3.0.

Hoping to solidify its lead in the Internet audio market, Progressive Networks shipped the final version of RealAudio 3.0, which can boost the sound of audio broadcasts to CD quality.

But to some companies, Progressive Networks' position in the increasingly crowded Net audio market needs no solidifying; it's already rock solid. One company, NetRadio, announced yesterday that it would again use RealAudio, effectively abandoning a competing audio technology from Xing Technologies because consumers just stopped visiting--and listening to--its Web site.

Xing is just one of the companies that have entered the audio streaming fray. Microsoft, Netscape Communications, and Macromedia have all introduced streaming audio products, which allow users to listen to audio feeds as they are being downloaded from the Net instead of having to wait for the entire clip to load.

Introduced in April of 1995, Progressive has managed to capture an early, commanding lead in the audio market that, so far, has not eroded in spite of aggressive competition. Today, a spokesman for NetRadio said the company was returning to RealAudio after publicly dumping it in September for a simple reason: Customers didn't want anything else.

"[NetRadio] was finding out that most of their customers preferred RealAudio and were not visiting their site because of it," said Eric Litchfield, a spokesman for NetRadio, which transmits radio, music, and sports broadcasts. "If there's a standard in audio streaming, RealAudio seems to be it."

NetRadio will use RealAudio 3.0, the version of the product that shipped this week. RealAudio 3.0 allows sites to "scale" the quality of their broadcasts so that users receive stereo-quality sound at 28.8 kbps and near-CD quality sound at ISDN speeds or higher.

The RealAudio 3.0 Player is available for free for Windows 95 and 3.1, Macintosh, and Unix.

Another Web site that is using RealAudio 3.0 servers, AudioNet, said sound improvements in the new version of the product will motivate more people to tune in to Net broadcasts.

"The quality of the sound is a huge, huge value," said Mark Cuban, president of AudioNet, which runs 240 RealAudio servers in 33 cities. "It's a much more efficient server. Administration and utilization has also been simplified."