September 18, 2006 2:06 PM PDT

RealNetworks loads up SanDisk media players

Some new SanDisk media players will come preloaded with music and software from RealNetworks, the companies said Monday.

The Sansa e200 series media devices, available this fall, will come loaded with 32 hours of mainstream popular music from RealNetworks' Rhapsody. Subscribers to the Rhapsody To Go service, which costs $14.99 a month, can then change the library to include artists, albums and songs of their choice. They can also leave part of the library open to selections made by Rhapsody based on users' "historic music preferences," said RealNetworks spokesman Matt Graves. Consumers also have the option to purchase music for download.

Sansa media player

RealNetworks calls the software platform Rhapsody DNA because the company has opened its application programming interfaces, or APIs, and is providing other technology to enable portable and in-home device makers to tie in to the Rhapsody service, Graves said.

"The first partner to use Rhapsody is SanDisk, but our long-term vision is to make this accessible broadly," Graves said.

Most of SanDisk's Sansa media players have a memory card slot that allows users to add up to 2GB of memory to each device to supplement a core library on the device's internal memory.

While SanDisk is the only device manufacturer so far that has partnered with RealNetworks, Rhapsody DNA is compatible with any Microsoft PlaysForSure device, Graves said. Should other manufacturers choose to adopt the platform, listeners will be able to travel with their library from one device to another.

Combining SanDisk's access to cheap smart memory and distributors, and RealNetworks' subscription service model is a good move, said Ted Schadler, vice president and analyst from Forrester Research.

"SanDisk has this wonderful retail reach, because they have retail distribution channels locked up with their memory cards...Not only is it brilliant strategy, because they already have memory--which is one of the costliest things in producing a media device--but it's smart memory. You can charge more for smart memory. SanDisk understands that an iPod Shuffle is nothing more than smart memory with some software," Schadler said.

RealNetworks is hoping that the ability to take a "music library" from one device to the next may be the key to toppling Apple Computer's stronghold on the media player market. Currently, Apple's proprietary DRM software does not allow purchased downloaded music to be transferred to devices other than iPods. Korea's Samsung Electronics is also developing a similar strategy with MusicNet, a New York-based service that offers both subscription and download options.

RealNetworks may also face new competition from Microsoft, which last week unveiled a music store along with its Zune player. Prior to this, Microsoft had been encouraging other manufacturers to create a compatible Windows Media Audio format under Microsoft's PlaysForSure brand. While Rhapsody DNA is technically compatible with PlaysForSure devices, Microsoft has given no indication that Zune is PlaysForSure compatible.

Rhapsody To Go offers music from Sony BMG Music, EMI, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and several independent labels.

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RealNetworks Inc., RealNetworks Rhapsody, SanDisk Corp., DNA, PlaysForSure

7 comments

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More viable than Zune
I see this as much more viable than Zune as a competitor to ipod as Sandisk already has the MP3 players in place and the Rhapsody service is already in operation. Pricewise, the sandisk players are less expensive than ipods for the same amount of memory. Should this become a serious competitor, it may force Apple to open up the itunes DRM to other players. Microsoft is way too late entering this market, doesn't have the hardware or service in the pipeline yet, and doesn't have the expertise in this arena. It seems microsoft coded the DRM first in the WMV format and is trying to build the world around it.... Not exactly a good plan. Where as, sandisk already builds the memory used in the device (most expensive component) so they will be able to build the players cheaper, and combining their player with Rhaphsody generates momentum... a much better plan.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
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Getting closer...
It sounds good, but I'm sorry, I simply do not want to pay someone every month for radio, I don't care if I get to choose the tunes or what.

Here is what I, a silly consumer want, (insofar as music is concerned): I want to have a library of music that I can play anywhere in my house, car, or portable device, without worrying about losing it all, (say if my hard-drive crashes and I hadn't made a backup), or suddenly being told by some snooty company that I'm not allowed to do something with the music I paid for and I don't want to pay a recurring monthly charge for it!

I want a portable device that can hold several thousand tunes, play them for hours on end, and doesn't give me any lip when I want to play something else on it!

The iPod is not the answer. It's close, but it ain't it, (propritary formats are a pain). The Zune thing sounds a little better, but it's still being a pain about things...

And subscription services are a step in the wrong direction as far as I'm concerned. I want to own the music like I own a book, and not be told that I can't read in the kitchen because the publisher wants me to read in the living room!
Posted by craban (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
exactly!
I totally agree. Portablility without all the licensure hassle. They just haven't figured it out that when people make a purchase, they expect ownership (i.e. rights to use without restriction).

Anyone else think the industry is backing themselves into a corner? They think technology will eventually allow them extensive control over who can plan, on what device, and when. But, they aren't considering that, in that scenario, people will just stop buying it.

Who wants to download a song that you can only play on a single device. I want to be able to play it on any device I own for as long as I choose to keep it without recurring fees.
Posted by BengalTigger (36 comments )
Link Flag
sansa kicks nano's axx
this really is a tight device that can play music, video, and radio. something that nano should have been able to do. slick look and solid interface.
Posted by plee9 (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
First, Delete Real, Second...
I bought three Sansa players last Christmas. We love them. I can honestly say if Real would have been loaded on them, I would probably have avoided them like the plague. I think Sansa is making a poor business decision linking up with them.
Step 1 Open your new player
Step 2 Delete Real
Step 3 Enjoy your new player
Posted by BengalTigger (36 comments )
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No software involved, certificate based
I had the Rhapsody offer when I bought my player. There is no software involved on the MP3 player. To play the music from Rhapsody requires you to hold a file on your player called a "certificate" which you get from rhapsody. The certificate is time stamped which means you must renew it when it expires. The ability to play files from Rhapsody has been available for awhile. As I don't download music (I have my collection of CD's) there was nothing further I needed to do.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
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