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If RealNetworks has a fatal flaw, it's that it tries too hard to be all things to all people. For example, if you subscribe to RealOne SuperPass Gold, the company's $9.95 video-subscription service, you also sign on for the all-in-one RealOne Player Plus. Not only that, RealOne takes over all your audio and video settings unless you change file-format preferences during installation--annoying if you want to use different players for different functions. And as for those blasted taskbar pop-up notifications that RealOne won't let you get rid of, don't get us started. But if you can put up with its controlling ways, RealOne currently offers access to the largest video library around, all for a fair price. To get your streaming on, install RealOne Player Plus. It combines RealPlayer and RealJukebox in a slick package and now supports more than 50 file formats, including those of rival players Windows Media 9.0 and QuickTime. Proceed with care, though; RealOne will take over all your audio and video settings unless you change file-format preferences during installation.
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. Eight buttons that launch various tasks, such as burning a CD or searching, line the bottom of the main pane. Overall, the various components of the interface work well together, but for some, the setup may initially seem overwhelming. If you want to reclaim some screen real estate, you can opt to close the browser window as you watch.
RealOne offers more customizable content packages than Yahoo, but the variety can end up confusing potential buyers. RealOne partners with 11 providers, some of which also broadcast on Yahoo Platinum, including NASCAR.com, PGATour.com, the NBA, FoxSports, SI.com, CNN, ABC News, the Weather Channel, CNN Money, the Wall Street Journal, E Online, and iFilm. In addition to SuperPass, RealOne offers several different types of subscriptions that cater to specific interests. If you want to watch only the PGA Tour, for example, you can sign up for the $9.95 PGA Pass, which offers special coverage of golfing events. You can also get the PGA Tour with all the features available via SuperPass for $14.95--less than it costs through Yahoo, which offers sports content in only the $16.95 SportsPak. If, on the other hand, you're a news junkie, opt for the ABC News standalone package for $4.95 per month or $39.95 annually, or try the CNN package, which offers daily feeds for $4.95 per month or $39.95 annually. When you click a video link, the clip plays at the top left. Basic player controls sit below the window. You can access controls for tweaking contrast, brightness, color level, hue, and sharpness under the Tools menu. We experienced mixed results when adjusting brightness and contrast, but the other tools worked pretty well.
Your clips play up top, so you can surf the Web as you watch.
Unlike Yahoo Platinum, RealOne offers built-in search functionality and an easy-to-browse media guide, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding what you're after, whether it's an up-to-the-minute newsreel or last night's Major League Baseball game. In addition to taking advantage of the search feature, you should make use of RealOne's built-in Favorites menu to keep track of your preferred videos. Does Peter Jennings look like an alien? Are you losing sound every time your favorite baseball player goes up to bat? If you need technical support, click the RealOne Central link from the SuperPass media guide or access it via the built-in Help menu at the top right of the player to browse FAQs and tutorials. E-mail and telephone support are available, but RealOne makes you first plug in a question and try possible solutions before it gives up its digits. Phone support is a toll call available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday to Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.