Yamaha, Liquid Audio Endorse New RealPlayer G2

The next generation of streaming media technology was unveiled last week at RealNetworks' Conference '98 in Burlingame, California. The star of the show? "Bandwidth-friendly" RealPlayer G2, which promises to make noisy audio and glitchy video a part of the Web's past.

Built upon synchronized multimedia streaming language, and demonstrated by RealNetworks CEO Mark Glaser, the new technology is claimed to offer "crystal clear" audio and video that is quality-scalable depending on users' modem speeds. It will also allow the simultaneous transmission of text, graphics, movies, or images as a soundtrack plays. Users may zoom in for closeups without a loss of resolution. The software will automatically download all the necessary components to users' computers.

Synchronized multimedia streaming language is a standard proposed by the World Wide Web Consortium. In response to criticism that G2 was developed on an as-yet-unapproved foundation, the Consortium's specifications editor, Philipp Hoschka, said RealNetworks was "on safe ground." RealNetworks is doing "the right thing," Hoschka said, "We are pretty confident that . . . it makes technical sense. They have a 90% working technology."

G2 has won the approval of more than 100 technology companies, including Yamaha and Liquid Audio, who announced their support on April 28, at G2's coming-out party. Yamaha has introduced RealPlayer G2 software it calls "MidLive RS" to enhance the realism of music delivered over the Internet. "Now even acoustic instruments can perform music via the Net," was how Yamaha hyped its contribution in a company press release. MidLive RS permits MIDI information to be synchronized with RealVideo, RealAudio, and other media. "I believe that our MidLive RS software will bring enormous benefits to musicians, software publishers, ISPs, and users worldwide," said Yamaha Corporation president Kazukiyo Ishimura.

Last year, in a precursor to MidLive RS, Yamaha conducted an experiment in which a MIDI-audio broadcast of composer/performer Ryuichi Sakamoto was transmitted to pianos and electronic instruments in thousands of stores and homes.

Redwood City, California-based Liquid Audio, the leading developer of secure online music delivery systems, introduced its own G2 enhancement with a software media player it calls "Datatype," which is said to enhance the functionality of RealNetworks' latest development. The Liquid Audio plug-in will extend the capabilities of the RealPlayer G2 by providing "a seamless pathway into the world of online music commerce," said a Liquid Audio press release. Properly equipped consumers can preview lyric sheets, liner notes, and cover art, all while listening to selections from the disc. Purchases, initiated by clicking on an onscreen "Buy" button, can then be downloaded to hard disk, CR-R, or CD-RW drives. CD-R copies should be playable on most CD players.

Microsoft, which is developing its own streaming media technology, NetShow, was predictably critical of the RealNetwork announcement. Gary Schare, NetShow's lead product manager, said RealNetworks was running a risk by basing G2 on an incomplete standard. He was countered by Rob Enderle of GIGA Information Group, who said RealNetworks can "stay ahead of Microsoft" by establishing themselves as a standard.

Streaming media won't replace television, Enderle added. It will probably be "primarily another way for companies to comunicate with their employees." The public release of G2 is expected later this year.