RealNetworks, Microsoft announce media player plans

Media players allow Internet users to view streaming or downloaded audio and video files. Microsoft's Windows Media Player, which comes packaged with its operating system, and RealNetworks' RealPlayer are striving for the top position.

Real Networks announced Monday that its flagship RealPlayer media application will soon be available in two places you might not expect it: on Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation 2 gaming console and on Nokia's Media Terminal, an upcoming "infotainment" device.

The Media Terminal is a Linux-based device designed to bring interactive television, Internet access and video-on-demand into the living room. The device will have a hard drive, modem and wireless LAN access built in. Nokia expects it to be available in Sweden during the middle of this year, and North America and the rest of Europe by the end of the year.

Over the last year, RealNetworks has optimised its player for use on systems with a variety of processors and operating systems, including set-top boxes, Internet-enabled appliances and wireless handsets, the company said in a statement. Last month, RealNetworks announced that RealPlayer would be available in Intel's Dot.Station Web appliance, which offers users Internet access, e-mail and built-in telephone service. RealNetworks has also announced deals with Hewlett-Packard, Motorola and Texas Instruments this year to put the application into other non-PC devices.

Microsoft announced Wednesday that updates for its Windows Media Player, Media Encoder and media software development kit (SDK) are available. The Media Player upgrade, version 7.1 allows users to rip CDs into Microsoft's .WMA (Windows Media Audio) audio format, which offers CD-quality audio at half the size of an MP3, the company said in a statement.

Windows Media Encoder is an application that enables media developers to offer live and on-demand streaming audio and video over the Internet. The update announced Wednesday supports audio and video streaming in Windows Audio and Video 8, the newest version of the format, the company said in a statement.

The upgrades to the software development kit are designed to make it easier for developers to create applications for Windows Media, Microsoft said. Microsoft introduced a component enabling applications to read, write and transfer files for streaming or downloaded .WMA files, as well as changes enabling remote encoding with .WMA and Video 8, the company said.

Another Internet media delivery company, Liquid Audio also announced Wednesday that an update to its free player, Liquid Player, is now available for Apple's Macintosh. The software allows Mac users to download and purchase music over the Web, as well as to play and burn audio CDs from one audio player, Liquid Audio said in a statement.

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