RealNetworks RealOne Player Plus review: RealNetworks RealOne Player Plus

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Combines digital entertainment features--CD encoding and burning, radio, support for portable devices--with quality video content; easy to use; RealVideo 9.0 slightly improves streaming quality; Plus and premium packages offer universal playback.

The Bad Poor radio-search function; Mac fans are stuck with an earlier version.

The Bottom Line A universal media player that offers all-in-one streaming, burning, and surfing is worth $20. But avoid SuperPass unless you have a high-speed Net connection and don't mind paying for programming that your cable company may already provide.

7.0 Overall

Updated 8/22/02

Editors' note:
On August 20, 2002, RealNetworks launched Real Player Plus, which lets you stream every type of audio and video file you can think of. The company also upgraded its free Player, which now allows you to play DVDs. If you already subscribe to Real's $9.95 per month SuperPass, you can access Player Plus at no additional charge.

RealNetworks is willing to sleep with its enemies in the name of multimedia. The latest version of RealOne, known as Player Plus, combines RealPlayer and RealJukebox in a slick package, and now supports more than 50 file formats, including those of rival players Windows Media and QuickTime. Not only do you get to play whatever format you want, you can satiate all your multimedia desires in one place. Stream video, listen to more than 1,000 free radio stations, burn CDs, play DVDs, and mix playlists--all for a one-time fee of $19.95. We give RealOne full marks for style and ease of use, though it could use some improvements in searching. The RealOne SuperPass--sold separately for $9.95 per month--isn't essential. But if you can afford it and have a high-speed connection, this ad-free Internet broadcasting blowout is worth checking out; at the least, try the free 14-day trial. Updated 8/22/02

Editors' note:
On August 20, 2002, RealNetworks launched Real Player Plus, which lets you stream every type of audio and video file you can think of. The company also upgraded its free Player, which now allows you to play DVDs. If you already subscribe to Real's $9.95 per month SuperPass, you can access Player Plus at no additional charge.

RealNetworks is willing to sleep with its enemies in the name of multimedia. The latest version of RealOne, known as Player Plus, combines RealPlayer and RealJukebox in a slick package, and now supports more than 50 file formats, including those of rival players Windows Media and QuickTime. Not only do you get to play whatever format you want, you can satiate all your multimedia desires in one place. Stream video, listen to more than 1,000 free radio stations, burn CDs, play DVDs, and mix playlists--all for a one-time fee of $19.95. We give RealOne full marks for style and ease of use, though it could use some improvements in searching. The RealOne SuperPass--sold separately for $9.95 per month--isn't essential. But if you can afford it and have a high-speed connection, this ad-free Internet broadcasting blowout is worth checking out; at the least, try the free 14-day trial.

Multimedia playground
With RealOne, RealNetworks went all out to create a groundbreaking media player. The old RealPlayer was a video toy; RealJukebox was simply a nice way to catalog and play music; Windows Media Player is a solid combination of all those features--but RealOne goes beyond all three. It's a fresh, original way to surf. As with previous versions of Real products, we suggest that you install this app with care, as RealOne will take over all your audio and video settings unless you change file-format preferences during installation.

Once you're up and running, you'll see that the RealOne interface consists of a main screen divided into three parts: a presentation area in the top left, where streaming video or music plays; related information on the streaming content in the top right; and a Web browser in the bottom pane. When you start up the program or press the Home button in the center of the screen, the Web browser displays RealOne's home page, which highlights streaming content from a variety of sources. The left side of the Web-browser window features a menu that takes you to various channels, including Music, Sports, Entertainment, News, and RealOne Central (where you'll find tutorials and other Real-related info). Mouse over the Click The Music tab, for example, and you'll see subpages for Alternative, Classical, and Country. You'll also find links to pages for CNN, ABC News, and--how about that--CNET. (Editors' note: CNET is one of many companies that have partnered with RealNetworks to provide premium content. For more information, read our announcement.)

Since RealOne's release, Real has developed RealVideo 9.0, so users who upgrade their players will see improved performance with a new video codec. We didn't notice a night-and-day difference, but the new codec does improve streaming image quality slightly. Videos in RealOne's music area looked especially sharp and impressive. Peter Jennings didn't look too shabby, either. In general, we found that video quality performs well over a cable connection. It was occasionally jerky or blocky but never enough to ruin the experience. You'll be in trouble, though, if you use a dial-up account.

Music to our ears
Because RealOne is an all-in-one application, it lets you play and create CDs with ease and streams media files in the bargain. To play, rip, or burn a CD, insert it into your computer and press the CD button on the bottom of the screen. From the resulting screen, you can either listen to your music or encode it. To encode, press the Preferences button in the lower left corner to set the format. And now, you can create files in any format you wish. Creating a CD is slightly more complex, but overall, both processes are intuitive enough for beginners.

Mobile music fans, dig this: As of this writing, RealOne transfers music to 23 different portable devices, including the Creative Labs Nomad, the Sonicblue Rio, the Sony CLIE, and the Iomega HipZip, and it includes a radio tuner that serves up 17 genres. Some functions of the radio tuner's search feature, such as specifying the country of origin for the stations you want, worked better here than in the previous version, though you certainly won't be overwhelmed by the wealth of content.

Pay to play? Well, maybe
All and all, the only reason for should pay for RealOne is if you're dying to free yourself of file-format nightmares. If you can wrestle with pitting MP3s against WMAs, stick with the free Player, which now includes DVD playback, CD burning, and TurboPlay. Try the SuperPass for $9.95 per month if you have a broadband connection and are willing to pay. Mac fans now have a compatible version of RealOne, but it looks and acts more like last year's free, PC-friendly version.

RealOne's premium members (that is, the ones who pay) can access 48 commercial-free streaming radio stations. Nonpaying members, however, must listen to all the ads.

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