Real's DRM secures media in multiple formats

Promising to open the floodgates for media content delivery, RealNetworks is releasing a digital rights management (DRM) platform that supports both standards-based and Internet media formats, such as RealAudio, RealVideo, MP3 and MPEG-4.

The company's Helix DRM platform, announced Thursday, is meant to solve the conundrum faced by content providers and device manufacturers over having to support a hodgepodge of DRM platforms.

"We feel like we've broken through a log jam, offering a single format for a pipeline of content," said Dan Sheeran, RealNetworks' vice president of Media Systems.

The release of the DRM comes as part of the company's new Helix strategy, announced last year. Helix is both a platform and a community for the standardization and expansion of digital media. Through Helix, Real offers source code for media creation, delivery and playback, which it calls Helix DNA, so that community members can build media-capable products, intellectual property and user interfaces.

With the strategy, Real is aiming to offer any media content on any device, Sheeran said.

In that vein, the new DRM offers content providers and device manufactures the ability to secure and set rules for media playback without having to support a different DRM and media player for each format.

The DRM has already gained commercial support from Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment Inc., EMI Recorded Music, Starz Encore, online movie rental service MovieLink LLC and music subscription service MusicNet, among others.

According to Sheeran, the Helix DRM will be especially valuable for the digital music business, which has struggled to find a way to securely deliver content to both PCs and portable devices.

"We think this is a critical breakthrough (for digital music) because it offers the ability to transfer content to a portable device," Sheeran said.

Real is offering consumer device manufacturers two models through which they can employ the DRM, either with native support or with what it calls "transfer to secure memory."

Native support can be attained by integrating the Helix DRM Client and Helix DNA Client on a device, allowing the device to secure media directly from a Helix DRM license server, such as one operated by a movie or music service. Through the secure memory approach, the manufacturer can add support for the secure memory format on the device, enabling the transfer of secure content to the device from a PC or device that has native support.

Additionally, manufacturers can develop their own versions of the Helix DRM Client through the Helix community, Real said.

"Device manufacturers always ask what content is available to them and content providers always ask what devices can support them. We've solved a chicken-and-egg problem," Sheeran said.

The Seattle company is expected to drum up further support among consumer electronics manufacturers at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, where RealNetworks' founder and Chief Executive Officer Rob Glaser is giving a keynote address Friday.

Real is expecting the first wave of consumer electronic device products with the Helix DRM to hit the stores this Christmas, Sheeran said.

"This is really going to blow out the doors," Sheeran said, adding that support from content providers has also been strong.

The DRM is currently available as a beta release for the PC and is in development for a variety of consumer electronic devices. In addition to supporting RealAudio, RealVideo, MP3 and MPEG-4 formats, it also supports H.263 video, AAC and Narrowband AMR audio.

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