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Media standard backers attempt Apple-less solo run

'We don't need no stinkin' iTunes'

Computer and entertainment companies have announced a plan to standardise video and music files so that they play on any device. The ambitious plan has not been backed by the dominant force in digital downloads, Apple.

Through its iTunes software and online shop, Apple is the largest distributor of legal music online, and is responsible for more than 70 per cent of downloads. It has not agreed to be part of the consortium, called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE).

"To open up the market for digital distribution, we are developing a specification that connects a wide variety of services and devices," said Mitch Singer, the consortium's president. "DECE is taking the lessons learned from the successful 'buy once, play anywhere' experience that we enjoy with CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray today, and using a similar approach in developing the next generation digital media experience."

The group's members include Microsoft, Sony, Toshiba, Warner Brothers and NBC Universal as well as computer equipment makers Cisco, HP and Intel.

It said that it will publish a specification in the future which the makers or distributors of music or video can use to ensure their material will be playable on machines built to that specification. It will create a logo which devices and services that are built according to that specification will display.

While file formats such as MP3 and MP4 themselves have become industry standards that are usable by almost all services and devices, digital rights management (DRM) systems have not been standardised.

It is Apple's DRM system which ties some material acquired through iTunes to devices that it manufactures. If it stays outside of DECE then iTunes material is likely to remain incompatible with players subscribing to the DECE specification.

Singer told the Financial Times newspaper that he did not believe that Apple's absence will damage the proposed standard.

“I’m not sure that the absence of Apple is a negative to what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Apple is a very good ecosystem that will continue to sell content. What we’re focusing on is a different type of consumer that really wants more choice.”

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