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Real's open-source code lacks MPEG-4

RealNetworks releases the last piece of its three-part open-source code for streaming digital media, but the server segment doesn't include support for the emerging industry standard.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read
RealNetworks on Wednesday released the last piece of its three-part open-source code for streaming digital media, but the server code lacks support for the industry standard MPEG-4.

The Seattle-based digital media company introduced the Helix DNA Server code into the open-source community, finalizing its push to build a universal system for digital media delivery over Linux, Windows and Unix-based operating systems in competition with Microsoft. But while its earlier-released media player provides support for MPEG-4--an emerging standard for sending compressed digital files--its server code does not.

Dan Sheeran, vice president of media systems at RealNetworks, said the company had its hands tied regarding support for MPEG-4 because the patent holders of the MPEG-4 systems license have yet to finalize terms.

"If they ever want to get that train to leave the station, they need to issue the systems license," Sheeran said.

MPEG LA--a consortium of companies holding patents attached to implementations of the MPEG-4 standard--announced terms for its visual and systems license last summer. But although it finalized video royalty rates late last year, it has yet to do so for the systems license--a key component for the standard's adoption.

The systems license is necessary for any entity wishing to use the MPEG-4 systems tools or the MP4 file format, which is a standard for packaging data in files for editing and transport. Developers poised to add interactivity to their digital files also need the license.

On July 15, 2002, MPEG LA announced the terms of the license, which specifies that a licensee pay 15 cents per decoder and 25 cents per encoder that incorporates MPEG-4, with each subject to a $100,000 annual cap. Above and beyond that, entities that wish to support stored data must also pay a separate royalty per disc or electronic download that includes MPEG-4 systems data. That royalty is one-tenth of the royalty for MPEG-4 Visual Stored Video, which can cost between .04 cents and .004 cents per file.

Lawrence Horn, spokesman for MPEG LA, said the group is working hard to release the license soon, but it has been held up for reasons he would not specify. "We have every interest in getting the license out as soon as possible," Horn said.

Still, RealNetworks plans to add support for the MPEG-4 systems license when it's finalized. Support for MPEG-4 makes RealNetworks' Helix platform more nimble in competition with Microsoft's Windows Media, which recently announced licensing terms for use of its digital media delivery technology for use off the Windows OS. Its fees undercut those of the MPEG-4 visual royalties.

"This is part of the long-running debate of using international standards," Sheeran said. "We thought we couldn't wait anymore. It's a bit of a 'build it, and they will come' theory. You can't build it if you don't have lease on the property that you're going to build on."