Real Networks has unveiled the twelfth iteration of its RealPlayer media playback software.
Dubbed "RealPlayer SP," the new RealPlayer includes version 11's capability to grab Flash-based videos from any Web browser (albeit with the usual caveat: the streams can't be copy-protected, which rules out most Hollywood movies and TV shows on sites such as Hulu). The "SP" designation in the name stands for "social and portable." The big upgrade is the capability to easily transcode and transfer those videos to a wide array of portable devices, including many BlackBerry phones, the Zune, and--via iTunes--the iPod and iPhone. It also offers the capability to easily share online video links via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as via e-mail.
We were able to get a brief early look at the SP beta. The software made it easy to download several Flash videos from YouTube. It was also simple to choose the preset for converting and transferring the videos to a format compatible with a Palm Pre that we borrowed from a co-worker. However, once we transferred the files to the Pre, we weren't able to play them back. However, an earlier demo from a Real Networks representative successfully transferred videos to a Pre, a BlackBerry Bold, and--via a transfer to iTunes--the iPod Touch, so we're assuming we encountered an isolated glitch.
Aside from the Pre playback bug, there were other frustrations. Many of the videos we wanted to save--a "Star Trek" episode on YouTube, anything on Hulu, and even a CNET TV video--were all copy-protected, and thus not able to be saved. And the process is time-consuming: downloading was pretty fast, as was USB transfer to portable devices--but the transcoding process was rather poky for videos longer than a minute or two in length. (To be fair, though, slow transcoding time is pretty much endemic to file conversion software.)
The RealPlayer SP beta is available now at Download.com. The Basic version of the software will be free, while the premium Plus version--which offers H.264 video conversion, DVD playback, and DVD burning--will cost $40. It will compete with rival offerings such as , , and (some of which also offer social media hooks). Since the basic version is free, it's at least worth a download to try it out if you have a desire to take your Web videos on the road (so long as they're not copy-protected).
(December 13, 2007)