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RealNetworks streams anew

The company debuts RealSystem G2, the next generation of its audio and video streaming software.

RealNetworks, already synonymous with streaming media over the Net, is making a bid to become the provider of streaming technology for integrating disparate multimedia file formats.

The company today announced RealSystem G2, the next generation of its audio and video streaming software. RealNetworks, which claims to supply streaming technology to more than 85 percent of all Web pages, makes RealAudio and RealVideo streaming software.

RealSystem G2, which includes new player and server software, is intended to improve on the company's three-year-old technology by delivering better-quality audio and video for Internet and intranet applications.

One important highlight of G2's features is its ability to support other multimedia file formats such as AVI, JPEG, MPEG, and WAV in addition to RealNetworks' proprietary formats.

"We've supported other file formats in the past, but this is the first time that we have had an open system that lets you stream many types of media in their native formats," said Len Jordan, senior vice president of media systems at Real.

G2 also ushers in a new transport technology, called SmartStream, which the company said delivers more reliable media playback over dial-up and relatively slow Internet connections.

RealNetworks has added two new file formats to its repertoire: RealText and RealPix. G2 also includes support for the Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), a language for the layout and synchronization of multimedia elements embedded into Web pages.

The SMIL specification, recently approved by the World Wide Web Consortium, is important because it will help to establish a universal language for delivering high-quality video, audio, images, and text over the Web.

G2 also supports the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), a budding standard for streaming media delivery.

The company has not announced pricing. The preview version of the software will be posted to the company's Web site in May. Shipment is expected by year's end.

RealNetworks continues to find itself in a precarious relationship with Microsoft.

Though RealNetworks may enjoy ongoing Internet popularity, Microsoft has put itself in the catbird seat of the streaming media business. Redmond not only bundles free clients with its browser, but also has bought or invested in several streaming companies in the past year--including Real--spurring a Justice Department investigation. (See related report)

Real has had to both partner with Microsoft--each company supports each other's streaming technologies--and compete with it. Microsoft has made minority investments in RealNetworks and VDOnet and bought VXtreme outright. The software giant also has entered into licensing and marketing agreements with both Real and Starlight Networks, which supplies software to companies that want to stream media within their networks.