SAN JOSE, CALIF. (05/30/2000) - RealNetworks Inc. last week previewed Version 8 of its RealSystem IP-based streaming products, a collection of technologies that could enable companies to support higher-bandwidth audio and video over their networks while keeping bandwidth consumption low.
Five years after announcing the first RealAudio product for streaming voice and music, RealNetworks demonstrated full-screen, near-DVD quality at 1M bit/sec - a major improvement in picture quality over past versions. The company also showed half-screen, near VHS-quality video streamed at 200K bit/sec, the "sweet spot" of the broadband marketplace RealNetworks is targeting, said Ben Rotholtz, a general manager at the Seattle company.
RealNetworks also trotted out acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola for the keynote address and showed clips of his film, "Apocalypse Now."
"I like it, it's a major step up in streaming media," says Dennis Oppenheimer, senior vice president of entertainment at Medium4.com Inc., which produces television for the Internet. Medium4.com is using a preview version of RealServer 8 to stream a handful of video offerings available for full-screen viewing, including music and original content.
The RealSystem 8 announcements covered software servers, desktop players and services, many targeted at the consumer market. But the improvements in video quality at lower bit rates will also benefit corporate networks, which are trying to offer high-quality video and audio for training while keeping bandwidth consumption in check. Of the many pieces of RealSystem 8, the most notable are the increased number of formats supported in RealPlayer, including MP3. Also, RealServer 8 will be operating system-independent, allowing it to be adapted to platforms such as Macintosh and Linux. RealNetworks has also added support for interactive streaming media using technology from Princeton Video Image.
Unveiled during CEO Rob Glaser's keynote address, the demonstrations elicited applause from users. Glaser showed a favorable comparison of the firm's video quality to that of Microsoft Corp.'s offering. But analysts and Microsoft said RealNetworks was using an older version of the Windows Media Player technology.
RealNetworks' new player software and development tools are in beta testing and will ship in the second half of this year. RealServer 8 is still in "preview" stage, with a beta due out this summer.
RealNetworks: www.realnetworks. com