RealNetworks yesterday chose the US Consumer Electronics Show to officially confirm its plans to release a version of its media player with a built-in digital music store.

As previously-reported, RealNetworks will employ the Apple-favoured open standard AAC (advanced audio coding) format for its music store. The company has also won an exclusive license for, the online presence of Rolling Stone magazine.

RealPlayer 10 is the first major new version of RealNetworks' media player in two years. It will play RealNetworks' own audio formats as well as Microsoft's WMA (Windows Media Audio), Apple's QuickTime and the secure versions of those, said Dan Sheeran, senior vice president of marketing at RealNetworks.

"We're introducing a new player that consumers can use to play all content from any online music store as well as content from their own CDs," Sheeran said.


The music store inside RealPlayer 10 is based on Rhapsody, RealNetworks' music subscription service. Songs in the new store will cost 99c and can be burned to a CD, played on a PC or transferred to portable devices that support AAC and RealNetworks' Helix DRM (digital rights management) technology, Sheeran said.

AAC is the same format used by Apple for its iTunes service. AAC competes with Microsoft's WMA format. Both AAC and WMA are formats for storing compressed audio data.

To promote the music store for the first ten days starting January 7 the first track will cost only 10c to download, Sheeran said. In the second quarter, RealNetworks will launch a joint promotion with Heineken in the US offering two free downloads with every 12-pack of Heineken beer, he said.

The new player is important for consumers, content providers and RealNetworks itself, said Mike McGuire, research director at Gartner G2, a division of Gartner.

For consumers it offers ease of use by supporting all major formats in one player, while for content providers it shows that RealNetworks' technology is evolving, McGuire said. For RealNetworks it is an effort to stay competitive in the digital media market, he said.

RealPlayer 10 is available in free and paid versions for Windows 98 and later; versions for other operating systems are "planned", Sheerhan said.