RealNetworks opens more Helix DNA

Streaming Media Europe: In a bid to capture more platforms and boost uptake of the RealVideo format, RealNetworks is releasing its Helix Producer source code

RealNetworks is expected to release more source code on Monday, providing wider access to its Helix Producer software in the latest move to fend off Microsoft.

Producer is a key element of the RealNetworks system based on what RealNetworks calls the Helix platform: streaming media server software, encoding software and then client software to decode the media stream. The source code for the client software was released in October, and source code for the server software is expected to follow within a couple of months, said company representatives speaking at Streaming Media Europe in London's Earls Court Exhibition Centre on Wednesday.

Rob Glaser, RealNetworks chairman and chief executive is due to launch the source code during a Web conference on Monday hosted on the company's Helix community Web site.

"Producer (source code) is coming very very soon," confirmed George Fraser, director of European Media Systems for RealNetworks. "Server (source code) will follow soon." Releasing the source code is not an easy process, he added. "It's not just about saying 'here, have the source code'," said Fraser. "We also have to support over 1000 APIs. It's not a simple task to produce the documentation to support all those."

The release of the Helix Producer source code will enable other software companies, as well as individual programmers and groups of programmers, to write their own software for encoding video and audio streams into the RealVideo 9 and RealAudio 8 format -- particularly on new platforms. RealNetworks' Producer software is currently available only for the Windows and Linux operating systems.

Within ten weeks of the company releasing the source code for the Helix client, Palm had ported the client to its own operating system for the Tungsten device, noted Fraser.

"Opening the source code is the secret of getting to all devices is that there are hundreds of devices out there," said Fraser. "If you even just take one device, it will be available in many different versions. We could not support all the requests we get to write players for the different devices."

RealNetworks is also keen to see its RealVideo and RealAudio formats gain even wider adoption. The Helix strategy is in part designed to gain the company more presence on non-PC and embedded devices; an area where Microsoft has made significant inroads and Apple hopes to maintain a presence through MPEG-4.

At the Streaming Media Conference, the company demonstrated a Nokia 3650 mobile phone with a built-in RealOne Player capable of playing back RealVideo, H263 and MPEG-4 content over GPRS. Nokia's Series 60 operating system, which runs on the Symbian 6.1 operating system, will come with the RealOne Player built in when it launches early in 2003, noted Fraser.

"Next year we will see a huge growth in streaming media onto handsets, and all Series 60 phones will have RealOne Player in them" Fraser said. "Also, RealNetworks will increasingly support different formats."

The company currently supports over 50 media formats in its PC software, including Windows Media and MPEG-4, but it believes that the relatively high quality of RealVideo and RealAudio, combined with relatively small file sizes will make its own format more popular on phones. RealNetworks also provides solutions for mobile network operators that make it easy, for instance, for video streams to be maintained when a phone moves between cells.

"If you are paying for content, then content owners will be very protective of their brands and I have a feeling they not be comfortable (with the quality offered by MPEG-4 over mobile networks)" said Fraser.

The demonstration on the Nokia 3650, of a clip from The Matrix streamed to the RealOne Player in H263, MPEG-4 format and RealVideo format, appeared to back up his argument.

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