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RealNetworks eases rights management

In a move to court consumer electronics manufacturers, the company is introducing content security technology that supports disparate digital media delivery standards.

In the latest move to court consumer electronics manufacturers, RealNetworks on Thursday is introducing content security technology that supports disparate digital media delivery standards, including MPEG-4 and MP3.

The Seattle-based software company is unveiling Helix DRM, digital-rights management technology designed to be format-agnostic protection for the delivery of content to PCs, home appliances and mobile devices. The technology supports the emerging video standard MPEG-4 and H.263; audio formats MP3, AAC and Narrowband AMR audio; and its RealAudio and RealVideo streaming formats.

"It used to be that content owners would have separate DRM for each format that they wanted to support, and consumer electronics makers would have to implement a separate DRM engine to decrypt those files on their devices," said Dan Sheeran, vice president of media systems for RealNetworks.

"This, for the first time, enables content owners to deliver secure content to any PC or non-PC device using a single DRM and gives device makers a single engine to support all formats," Sheeran said.

The announcement comes a day after Microsoft made a major play for business from consumer electronics manufacturers by introducing first-ever licensing fees for use of its streaming media technology, Windows Media 9, for non-Windows operating systems. With the move, Microsoft is hoping device makers will be more willing to license Microsoft's proprietary media technology over other standards, as well as use its DRM technology, which it is also newly offered for licensing. But it is as yet unclear what formats Microsoft's DRM supports apart from its own.

Analysts say that the development is particularly positive for content owners who want to publish to devices that support industry standards but have long been afraid of digital theft.

"That this can support MP3 and MPEG-4 is significant because up until now you haven't seen adoption of these formats by major content providers because they lacked digital rights management," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research.

Still, the company faces stiff competition from the likes of Microsoft and others.

RealNetworks also announced new customers of the technology, including Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, Triggerstreet.com and music label EMI Recorded Music. Other companies already signed onto use the technology include Starz On Demand and Movielink. Available for download in test form, the software is available for the PC and in development for a variety of consumer electronics devices.