Real Networks Inc. released the source code for its new Helix server and player last week, aiming to spread the technology across applications and consumer entertainment devices — from cell phones to digital video recorders to personal digital assistants.
Although Helix primarily targets the enterprise and consumer electronics space, Real said the new technology and software could benefit cable in two key areas: future set-top box deployments and broadband content creation by cable programmers.
Helix can play files formatted for Apple Corp.'s Quicktime and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Player. By opening up the Helix code and software license to more than 2,000 developers — plus chipmakers and consumer electronics companies such as NEC Corp., Nokia Corp., Philips Semiconductors, STMicroelectronics N.V. and Texas Instruments Inc. — Real hopes to unite the content community.
That would allow content providers to create one file for all formats, Real director of strategic marketing Mark Donovan explained.
Currently, ESPN and Cable News Network code Web content for Real, Microsoft and Apple in up to three different speeds, such as 100, 300 and 500 kilobits per second.
That same content could appear in as many as nine different formats — an expensive, time-consuming operation for programmers who aren't making money on the Web.
"That slows down the speed of innovation," Donovan said. With Helix, "we have the ability to have a common platform for all digital media. We can support every format off a single media server."
Donovan said, "Some content providers with lots of assets, like Sony, may build infrastructure around this Helix foundation."
Donovan also envisions possible Helix applications in gaming consoles, digital video recorders and set-tops. "The TiVo device is where you'd want a digital media client," Donovan said. The same could be said for advanced set-top boxes.
"The cable guys don't want to lose eyeballs with their set-top box client," Donovan said. Real has discussed offering its SuperPass Internet subscription package to MSOs through cable-modem services, or even walled-garden TV and PC applications. "That's a pretty powerful template for MSOs. It could be a rebranded version of our offering or their own model."