Preview of Liquid System 5.0 supports MP3

Liquid Audio, a provider of secure music downloads from the Net, has announced that the latest version of its Liquid System software, version 5.0, includes support for the popular MP3 audio compression format.

Liquid System 5.0 supports the company's original standard for music encoding, AAC (Advanced Audio Compression), as well as other major standards such as MP3, RealNetworks' RealAudio and Dolby Digital AC-3.

Microsoft's Windows Media will be supported in a later version, said Rick Fleischman, senior director of product management at Liquid Audio. The company furthermore will comply with a forthcoming standard from the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), a consortium of more than 100 computer technology vendors, recording companies and consumer electronics groups.

Liquid System 5.0 consists of three pieces of software:

- Liquifier Pro to be used by musicians and labels for encoding music for the Internet;- Liquid Server, which makes encoded music available on the Net and distributes it; and- Liquid Player, which is used by consumers for the selection and downloading of music that can then be listened to and burned onto CDs.

However, Liquid Audio only released what is called a preview of the software, which Fleischman compared to a beta release and which may still contain some bugs. The final release will be available later this year, he said.

Consumers can download the Liquid Player 5.0 from Liquid Audio's Web site at http://www.liquidaudio.com/. The player can be used for selecting tunes from more than 200 online retailers using Liquid Audio's software to connect to the Liquid Music Network. The network contains free tunes as well as 20,000 protected tunes that can be purchased online. The player can also be used at other music sites.

Liquid Audio was one of the pioneers for downloading music from the 'Net using its own AAC standard. However, when downloading music from the Internet caught on with consumers, MP3 emerged as the preferred standard since consumers could get the music for free as the most popular variations of the technology do not offer copy protection. The availability of portable devices for playing MP3-coded music has helped the standard gain popularity.

Now, Liquid Audio has added a so-called "Genuine Music" mark to the MP3 files in order to fight piracy, the company said in a written statement. The mark allows consumers to see whether the music file is a pirated file or an "original" file from a label or a musician. More than 500 music labels have signed contracts with Liquid Audio.

So far, consumer interest in paying for music downloads is limited. Consumers still prefer to buy their CDs in retail stores, and that may not change until prominent artists put extra content on the Internet, such as alternative versions of a song, Liquid Audio's Fleischman said.

He hopes consumers will switch to the Liquid player because of its support for multiple formats, he said. Today, MP3 players such as Rio from Diamond Multimedia Inc. and the RealAudio player from RealNetworks are widely used.

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