Apple announced the first public preview release of its QuickTime 6 multimedia player and QuickTime Broadcaster software yesterday.

The software products, now available for free download, were first unveiled earlier this year, and advertised as the first mainstream multimedia products to support the MPEG-4 digital compression standard.

The standard was developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG). Debate over the group’s proposed licensing fees kept Apple from releasing its software earlier – there was a delay of nearly four months between the initial announcement of QuickTime 6 and yesterday’s release

Instant-On Streaming QuickTime 6 allows users to create, stream, and view MPEG-4 content, and includes an ‘Instant-On Streaming’ feature that eliminates buffer delays, Apple claims. The multimedia software also includes the standard MPEG-4 audio format, Advanced Audio Coding (AAC). According to Apple, this delivers high-quality sound in smaller file-sizes.

Additionally, QuickTime 6 for Mac OS X supports the JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) 2000 standard, which allows users to capture still images and save them in reduced file sizes, the company said.

Broadcast Users who want to capture and encode QuickTime content to stream over the Web can download QuickTime Broadcaster. Broadcaster lets content be encoded and recorded onto a computer’s hard-drive, and played-back for rapid video-on-demand posting, Apple said. Broadcaster supports MPEG-4 content and AAC audio.

Both QuickTime 6 and QuickTime Broadcaster are now available for download from Apple’s Web site. QuickTime 6 is available for both Mac and Windows. The Broadcaster preview is being offered only to Mac users.

The final version of QuickTime 6 will be released as part of Jaguar, the next major release of OS X.