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RealPlayer SP Media Player: 
    Download and Share Internet Videos (8/2009)

    by Douglas Dixon, with Tim Geoghan

Downloading Clips
Converting Formats
Media Player
RealPlayer SP -- New and Improved
RealPlayer SP -- Summary

Media player software continues to expand its scope -- from playback of local files to streaming media and CD and DVD, to acquisition with audio CD ripping, to sharing with CD burning. And now RealNetworks has taken the next step with the release of a the eleventh edition of its media player, now called RealPlayer SP (www.realplayer.com). 

   

RealPlayer SP is for our YouTube and Twitter world. The "SP" stands for "Social" and "Portable," and the new RealPlayer now grabs and downloads video clips from Internet sites like YouTube, converts to a variety of file formats for portable and home devices, transfers clips to your iTunes library, copies directly to attached portable devices including media players and cell phones, and shares online to Facebook and Twitter. It's one-stop browsing to access, preserve, and share on-line media.

The basic player is a free download, and there's also a RealPlayer SP Plus version for $39.99, with support for DVD playback and burning, plus higher quality H.264 video conversion for other devices like the Sony PlayStation 3 and PSP.

RealPlayer SP starts as a universal media player and organizer that supports the major media formats (including Flash, QuickTime MPEG-4, Windows Media, DVDs and CDs). It has tools to enhance the listening experience, including, in the Plus version, crossfade and a 10-band equalizer. It also can acquire new media by ripping CDs and, in the Plus version, by recording vinyl and tapes and voice from your sound card. However, the organizer does not have the range of options for visually exploring your media and cover art as found in other players, such as Album / Artist in Windows Media Player and Cover Flow in QuickTime Player.

Plus RealPlayer SP is a streaming Internet player, designed as an integrated player and browser, so you can access and play online clips through RealGuide, Internet radio, and the RealNetworks subscription services. The LivePause and Perfect Play features allow you to pause, rewind, and fast-forward through live audio or video clips while they play, providing instant replays.

And now RealPlayer SP adds the ability to download video from the Web, convert to other formats, and transfer to portable devices. Downloading very easy: Just browse video sites as usual in your regular browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome), and you'll see a new Download This Video button above the video window. Click to start downloading (including multiple files at once), and then choose to convert formats, copy to devices, or share online. The separate RealPlayer SP Converter application can convert multiple files to multiple formats, using a built-in list of devices and formats, or you can customize your own.

However, RealPlayer is burdened by a second purpose: promoting the RealNetworks stable of subscription services and download stores. To support all this, the RealPlayer interface is browser-based, so you never know what will happen when you click. Four of the seven main tabs at the top of the main window are for these services -- three tabs display player information (My Library, Now Playing), while the four others jump to websites. 

And unlike the on-line guides in other player applications, which are focused on immediately playable content, the options in Real Guide again link to even more Real sites. To add to the confusion, while some of these sites at least are obviously identified as Real properties (e.g., Rhapsody, RealArcade, Real Mobile), others hide the affiliation even if you are looking for it (e.g., GameHouse, Film.com, Rolling Stone). The main Real Guide site also is festooned with ads, with more than one animated.

Clicking within these sites is additional exercise in the unexpected -- you may go to another website, or start a clip playing in another tab, or have your entire context disappear into a full-screen video advertisement, or cause a new pop-up RealPlayer browser window, or even pop up a external window in Internet Explorer.

So once you understand this dual purpose, RealPlayer SP makes sense as a media player, plus as a gateway to other Real services. But it's the download / convert / copy / share features that make it stand out. This is about as easy as it can get for not only cleanly grabbing online videos, but for solving the entire problem -- getting them where you want them, in the right format, and even directly to a portable device.

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Downloading Clips

RealPlayer SP can download videos from YouTube and other sites (with formats including Flash, QuickTime, Windows Media, RealMedia, and MP3). 

As you browse the Web and play videos, RealPlayer adds a pop-up Download This Video button in the browser, above the video window. (You can control when and how this appears.)

        
            RealPlayer SP adds a Download This Video button in the browser

Click the button to launch the RealPlayer Downloader, which saves the clip as a file on your computer (i.e., as a Flash FLV file from YouTube). You then can continue browsing, and download multiple videos simultaneously. And you have full control of the download, and can cleanly pause and cancel at any time.

   
        RealPlayer Downloader handles multiple videos simultaneously

Once the file is downloaded, use the options under the filename to Convert to other formats, Copy to an attached device, or Share online: as a Facebook page or Twitter feed, or through Email.

These options also are available when you select a clip in the RealPlayer Library: Convert, Copy, Share, plus Burn (CD or DVD).

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Converting Formats

Click Convert to launch the RealPlayer SP Converter (which also is available as a separate application under the Start menu). Again, you can convert multiple files by adding them to the list, or just drag and drop.

Then select the format -- or multiple formats -- to convert to. This pops up a Select a Device dialog, with icons for a variety of supported device formats: 

  • Players: Apple iPod / iPhone, Sony PSP, Zune
  • Set-top: Apple TV, Sony PS3, Microsoft Xbox 360
  • Computer: PC or Mac
  • Cell Phones: BlackBerry, Nokia, Palm Pre, Samsung, T-Mobile G1 ...

       
        RealPlayer SP Converter with the Select a Device dialog to select the output format

More devices are available from Real, or you can define your own custom formats. You also can customize the built-in formats, for example by overriding the default iPod video resolution.

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Media Player

The trade-off for all this functionality, of course, is that RealPlayer SP has a very busy and sometimes confusing interface. The tabs across the top are not only for organizing and viewing media (Now Playing, My Library, Burn) and for accessing online content (Real Guide), but also link to the RealNetworks subscription and download services (SuperPass entertainment, Music through Rhapsody, and Games through GameHouse).

This is because RealPlayer is burdened by a second purpose: promoting the RealNetworks stable of subscription services and download stores. Four of the seven main tabs at the top of the window are for these services (RealGuide, SuperPass, Rhapsody, and GameHouse), with sub-links to even more (i.e., from the Real Guide page to Real Radio, Film.com, Rolling Stone, RealArcade, and Real Mobile). Some of these links are identified before you click, while others have a generic name to help surprise you (the Games tab goes to GameHouse, while the Games button goes to RealArcade). To add to the confusion, while some of these sites at least are identified as Real properties, others (especially GameHouse) hide the affiliation even if you are looking for it. (The main Real Guide site also is festooned with animated ads.)

The result is somewhat confusing, as The RealPlayer interface switches between media player functions (for the first three tabs) and a Web browser (for the last four tabs). As a result, some tabs load immediately (My Library), some are all black (Now Playing, if nothing is playing), and some display in multiple pieces with visible redraws as the web page is assembled. You can explore and browse while playing a clip -- the Back and Next buttons at the top left of the window move though the sequence of both web pages and player tabs that you have recently viewed.

Clicking within these sites then becomes an additional exercise in the unexpected -- you may go to another website, or start a clip playing in another tab, or have your entire context disappear into a full-screen video advertisement, or cause a new pop-up RealPlayer browser window, or even pop up a external window in Internet Explorer.

   
        RealPlayer SP: Real Guide tab

For example, the Real Guide tab shows the Real Guide website, complete with ads along the top, sides, and center (here including a sneaky "PC Advisor" ad claiming that it is in the process of running a system check and tune up). There's a menu of online offerings down the left side, but again the response to clicking them is not consistent -- some stay within the Real Guide, and others link off to other RealNetworks sites.

The Radio option in Real Guide links to Real Radio, with Internet radio stations, including Real RadioPass subscription content. Then when you click a station, again you can jump off to another aggregator site, like Live365, which now appears in a new Web tab (previously hidden) that shows the main Live365 site for the current genre, with only the status bar at the bottom showing information about the currently playing selection. Clicking the Now Playing tab does not help -- it redraws the Live365 site and jumps back to the Web tab.

More irritatingly, some radio selections play a video commercial, which suddenly jumps to the Now Playing tab with no warning and no context, blanks the window, and plays full-size (i.e., blurry in a large window). You can try to skip the commercial by dragging the slider, but you get stuck at the last frame with only the option to replay or to go to the Real Guide -- It seems you have to go back, re-select the station, and allow it to play though the entire commercial in order to get back to what you want to actually do.

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RealPlayer SP -- New and Improved

Advanced Features

  • Advanced Video: Resize and correct screen aspect ratios, adjust brightness and hue
  • H.264 Converter - Digital video standard format for consumer electronics and PCs
  • Burn DVDs: Two hour easy DVD burning, DVD playback

Download Video: Download and videos from YouTube and other sites

  • Download multiple videos simultaneously
  • Download and play back Flash video
  • Adds Download This Video button to browser
        Runs RealPlayer Downloader: Convert, Copy To connected device, Share to site
  • Or Convert, Copy, Share, Burn (CD or DVD) from RealPlayer Library
  • Supports latest versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome

Convert Video: Copy online video to iPod, cell phone, Xbox, PS3, other devices

  • Players: Apple iPod / iPhone, Sony PSP, Zune
  • Set-top: Apple TV, Sony PS3, Microsoft Xbox 360
  • Computer: PC or Mac
  • Cell Phones: BlackBerry, Nokia, Palm Pre, Samsung, T-Mobile G1 ...

Share Video: Copy and share online videos - Facebook page, Twitter feed, Email

Also separate RealPlayer SP Converter application

  • Drag and drop files, Convert to multiple devices, Add to RealPlayer and/or iTunes library
  • Advanced options to specify video/audio formats, define custom devices

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RealPlayer SP -- Summary

[+ = Features only in RealPlayer SP Plus]

  • Organize and play media files
  • Download online clips, convert and transfer to portable devices
  • Access and play online clips through RealGuide
  • Integrated player and web browser

Video Features

  • Universal Player - Play every major media type, including F
        Flash, Quicktime MPEG-4, Windows Media, DVDs and CDs
  • High Quality Video - HD and near DVD-quality video and audio over broadband
  • Works with iTunes - Transfer videos from Web sites to your iTunes library
  • LivePause & Perfect Play - Pause, rewind, fast-forward live audio or video clips while playing
        Instant replays
  • Built-In Media Browser - Surf the Web while playing video clips or listening to music

Audio Features

  • + Advanced CD Burning: Rip, mix and burn CDs and MP3s
        Normalize volume, set up crossfades, remove gaps between tracks
  • + Advanced Audio: Convert vinyl, tape, voice to digital files
  • + 10-Band Graphic EQ: Adjust for room size, input type, more
  • + Crossfade: Between songs, add reverb to mixes
  • Multiple Audio Formats: CD, MP3, WMA, AAC, RealAudio Lossless, more
  • Surround Sound: 5-channel audio and a dedicated sub-woofer channel
  • RealAudio Lossless Format: new format, burn high-quality CDs
        Half the space of standard CD audio format
  • Visualizations: Colorful animations that move to the music.

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References

RealPlayer SP
    www.realplayer.com  (www.real.com/realplayer)

RealPlayer SP Plus
    www.real.com/realplayer/player-plus

RealNetworks Blog - 6/24/09 - Introduced RealPlayer SP Beta
    http://realnetworksblog.com/?p=657

PR - 6/24/09 - Introducing RealPlayer SP
    www.realnetworks.com/company/press/releases/2009/rpsp_beta.html

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