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RealNetworks Inc. used the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to play up its biggest product rollout in two years, debuting several new products including new audio and video codecs aimed at high-definition video applications and a new version of its digital rights management technology.

Among the Seattle-based streaming media technology provider's new products is the latest update to its streaming media player. RealPlayer 10 sports several new services and components, including a music download store.

Real also is rolling out new versions of its proprietary audio and video codecs that will offer greater compression efficiency. RealAudio 10 will add surround sound capability and support for Coding Technologies' MPEG-4 AAC / aacPlus codec and software, while the RealVideo 10 codec improves bandwidth efficiency 30 percent compared to RealVideo 9.

With that compression improvement, RealVideo can deliver an HD MPEG-2 stream at 5 Megabits per second, versus the standard 19.8 Mbps for over-the-air MPEG-2 HD signals.

"With the MSOs interested in moving to HDTV not just for their network broadcast but also for a lot of their on-demand streaming, that's really a tremendous efficiency gain that they can take advantage of," said Dan Sheeran, Real's senior vice president of marketing. By combining the new audio and video codecs, "you've really got the ability to deliver a complete HDTV home theater experience at 5 megabits per second."

But bringing that capability to cable operators might not be so easy.

Cablers could use the codec within the MPEG-2 transport stream or deliver it via IP to a RealPlayer client. But either way, it would require a new generation of digital set-tops able to render the codec for display.

"You've got a serious legacy question - there is no question about it," Sheeran acknowledges. "With either approach, none of the set-tops that are deployed in the market today would work because they do not have the decoder."

The company is in preliminary talks with cable operators and set-top makers, he adds.

Real's new Helix DRM 10 digital rights management scheme, meanwhile, will assist in shuttling content between devices in a home multimedia network - but prevent the material from being copied. That has been a major sticking point for Hollywood and the music industry, which are fearful of illegal content file sharing stemming from such systems.

The Helix DRM 10 system would allow content to flow from a server to devices, but only if the devices do not have any built-in file storage capability. That could provide MSOs the opening they need to further develop multimedia networking services, Sheeran says.

"It opens up a whole lot of opportunities for folks like them to do in addition to delivering to the PC to really allow that music to be played really anywhere throughout the home," he says.

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