RealNetworks Inc. and Microsoft Corp. may be arch-enemies in the business of streaming media tools, but they are renewing their relationship where it comes to WebTV, Microsoft's television-based Internet access platform. The companies announced Thursday that RealNetworks will be releasing software to allow existing WebTV users to access newer RealMedia, and will also create new RealPlayer software for future versions of the set-top box.
That means present users of WebTV will be able to upgrade their RealPlayers to access content in the newer RealPlayer G2 format, introduced in November 1998 for the PC, and ensures that future versions of the WebTV box will automatically support G2. RealNetworks expects the software to be available by the end of the year. "We envision the Internet as a mass medium where people will connect through all forms of devices: PCs, set tops, wireless or mobile devices," said Len Jordan, senior vice president of media systems for RealNetworks. "We want to support every one of them."
WebTV currently includes an older version of RealPlayer, but had declined at first to license the G2 player software, which uses higher-quality compression and supports multimedia and streaming standards that the older player does not. Microsoft makes a competing streaming media platform, Windows Media, but RealMedia accounts for about 85 percent of streaming media content on the Internet. "Our ongoing work with RealNetworks continues to allow us to deliver audio technology that makes the Internet experience even more interesting and compelling for our subscribers," said Bruce Leak, president of WebTV Networks Inc., in a statement.
WebTV could be a crucial foothold for RealNetworks, since Microsoft is expected to be a major player in the emerging market of broadband set-top boxes. Companies such as AT&T Corp. have agreed to use Windows CE, the basis for the WebTV operating system, in hardware for accessing planned next-generation Internet services.