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MPEG-4 progress prompts Apple, Real collaboration

But streaming media still needs its Apache

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With a blizzard of recent activity around the open MPEG-4 standard, Apple and Real took the stage at the Streaming Media East show in New York to announce closer co-operation.

Right now Real Networks, Apple and Microsoft are slugging it out with their own proprietary formats, with Real claiming the lion's share of the Internet's streaming content. But although it's been a long time coming, MPEG-4 version 1, which ratified by the ISO earlier this year, will soon begin to commoditise the streaming video business.

With version 1 in the can, and MPEG-4 version 2 - which adds IP protection and specifies a disk file format, amongst other things - in the works, the format is finally reaching silicon level. Toshiba, amongst others, is pushing hard to supplant H.323 with MPEG-4, and it's almost mandatory to include it in wireless multimedia specs.

In New York, Glaser announced that Real would include support for QuickTime in its server product. There was no suggestion that Real would support QuickTime at the client, or vice-versa, whether Apple's player would support Real format. So the partnership is largely symbolic.

From what we gather, Redmond is remarkably relaxed about this, and with good reason. Like Apple, Microsoft commercially has as much to gain as it has to lose. Obviously, Apple can start to begin selling powerful Mac OS X SMP boxes for MPEG-4, so it's got a potential hardware revenue er - stream to look forward to. But Microsoft can start to sell more kit.

No doubt, claiming better value for money on commodity Wintel kit, it can begin to nibble away at the creation markets which have been the preserve of SGI or Apple. Even more ominously for Real, the MPEG-4 format has hooks for all kinds of things that might make punters pay a premium for smart proprietary extensions, like indexing and content management.

Given the advent of an Apache for MPEG-4 - a ubiquitous, open source streaming media server - it's hard to think of a niche in which Real Networks could hide. Perhaps they'd like to tell us? ®

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