Part of a growing category of streaming audio products, RealAudio lets users listen to sound clips as they are downloaded from the Net, instead of waiting for the clips to be downloaded to their hard disks and then played. RealAudio has gained acceptance as the basis for radio broadcasts on a number of Web sites, including CNET's. Nevertheless, the company is facing increased competition from vendors such as Macromedia, which recently introduced a new version of its Shockwave plug-in with streaming audio capabilities.
As previously reported by CNET, the company's new audio software, RealAudio Player Plus, doesn't significantly improve the quality of audio broadcasts, which range from FM-caliber sound at best to AM-like static at worst. It does, however, include some features that make tuning into Net audio more convenient, including preset buttons that provide fast access to Web sites with RealAudio content. Player Plus also comes with scanning, a feature that allows users to automatically surf from sound clip to sound clip.
Player Plus will also allow users to save RealAudio clips to their computers for offline listening, while users of the current RealAudio 2.0 Player are limited to listening online. For users with slower 14.4-kbps modems, Player Plus will provide improved sound quality by increasing the amount of a clip that is downloaded before it plays.
Progressive Networks is charging users $29.99 for Player Plus, which works on Windows and Macintosh platforms. Beginning in late September, the product will be available in retail channels.
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