Microsoft and RealNetworks have both announced new versions of their streaming-media players and servers.
RealNetworks was first out with its RealSystem G2 product, which will replace the current RealPlayer 5.0 client and server. RealNetworks is touting the software as "the first open, extensible standards-based streaming media system", claiming it can natively support Active Streaming Format (ASF), AVI, JPEG, MPEG, VIV (the Vivo Player format) and WAV, and also includes support for the Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL) and Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP).
The company claims it has increased performance, including a new music codec that improves audio quality; new video post-filtering technology for smoother images; Smart-Stream technology, that scales the media stream according to the user's bandwidth; and two new media types, RealPix and RealText, that work with SMIL to provide rich multi-stream programming.
Microsoft reacted with the announcement of Netshow 3.0 Server, a new Media Player, and the Netshow Theater Server. It has released a beta version of the client software already, and plans to ship product this summer.
The Netshow Server has been tweaked to provide better handling of bandwidth constraints, and now works with ad servers to target advertisements in conjunction with multimedia content. The software also integrates with BackOffice applications.
Microsoft has concentrated on the simplicity of its authoring system.
It says that the new Media Player is also compatible withmore file types than before, now supporting ASF, MPEG and AVI, as well as content created for all but the latest versions of Real-Player and Apple's QuickTime.
Microsoft and RealNetworks both offer their client software for free, but analysts have compared the battle between the two to the Betamax versus VHS battle, in which ubiquity, not superior technology, won the day. Although RealNetworks content accounts for about 85% of streaming media on the Internet, Microsoft is to build Media Player into Windows 98, and also has its sights set on the PC/TV convergence market.
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