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RealNetworks unveils revamped Rhapsody music services

Company hopes three tiers of digital music service can challenge ITunes and Napster

In its fight against competitors like Apple's ITunes Music Store and Napster, RealNetworks today took the wraps off its revamped Rhapsody music download service. Users may download 25 songs per month for free, as well as subscribe to new services called Rhapsody Unlimited and Rhapsody To Go.

The new services are confined to the US for the moment, but RealNetworks plan to launch them in other countries and are “in active discussions with record labels and potential distribution partners throughout Europe

Rhapsody 25 is the basic service. It allows customers (for now confined to the US) who download Rhapsody's Windows-based jukebox software to listen to 25 full songs for free each month from Rhapsody's library.

Users can purchase and download songs a la carte, and can participate in other community and sharing functions like a Send Playlist feature. Music downloaded from the service is encoded in RealAudio 10 format with Advanced Audio Codec (AAC), at 192Kbps.

Rhapsody Unlimited is the "enhanced" version of RealNetworks' music download service. Subscribers who pay $9.99 a month can listen to 100 preprogrammed internet radio stations, access more than 50,000 "artist-based" radio stations, and view more than 1500 music videos online.

Users can download an unlimited number of songs to their computer's hard drive; songs remain accessible for as long as users remain subscribers. If you end their subscription, however, your access to the music ends as well. Users who want to purchase music for download get a 10 percent break on singles and albums.

Rhapsody To Go is RealNetworks' answer to the Napster To Go service – a $14.99 monthly subscription lets users download an unlimited amount of music to compatible portable music players. As with Rhapsody Unlimited, if your subscription ends, so ends your access to the music you've downloaded.

Rhapsody To Go is compatible only with specific portable music players that support the digital rights management technology employed by the service--RealNetworks currently recommends the IRiver H10 and Creative Zen Micro, and is also offering a $100 mail-in rebate on the H10 for consumers who sign up for one year of the Rhapsody To Go service. Apple's IPod is not on the list of supported devices.

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