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Liquid Audio, Texas Instruments ready digital music spec

Liquid Audio's drive to dominate downloadable music business continues

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Texas Instruments and Liquid Audio yesterday announced they plan to leap on the digital music player bandwagon set rolling by Diamond Multimedia's Rio PMP300. However, rather than develop and market their own player, the pair are proposing to define a specification and hardware reference design which will then presumably be licensed to vendors keen to take a share of the downloadable music market. Liquid Audio claimed to be in discussion with a number of consumer electronics companies interested in licensing the specification, though it would not name names. Companies that do take up the Liquid Audio/Texas Instruments system will be able to begin development and distribution of their own products by the third quarter of the year. The system's key selling point is that it has copy protection software built in. The partners' sales pitch will undoubtedly stress the fact that other digital music players, including the Rio, lack such safeguards, and that's why they have incurred the wrath of the music industry. That said, the next release of the Rio will feature copyright protection, because it adds support for Liquid Audio's LiquidTracks format to its existing support for the MP3 format. It may also support the modified version of MP3 proposed by the Genuine Music Coalition (see MP3 companies to launch anti-piracy coalition), which digitally watermarks downloaded tracks. The next Rio is due later this year. The more licensees the joint venture gains the better will go Liquid Audio's attempt to persuade the music industry-led Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) to choose to LiquidTracks as the basis for its universal open yet copyright-protecting digital music format. However, potential licensees may choose to wait until the SDMI publishes its preferred specification. Until then, the big labels are unlikely to begin offering tracks from major artists to make digital music players a consumer, rather than a Net-nerd, purchase. The SDMI is expected to publish its draft proposals this summer, with the finalised specification due early autumn. ®

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