Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on June 24, 2009
In the early days of media on the Internet, RealPlayer was the indispensable tool for playing postage stamp-sized videos on your PC. Today, the Real Networks software is one media player among many, but the old dog keeps learning new tricks.
The last version of RealPlayer acquired the ability to record streaming video, such as that from YouTube, for offline playback. The newest offering, RealPlayer SP, released today as a public beta, adds the ability to share video through social networking sites such as Facebook, and, more interestingly, to reformat the saved video so that it can be viewed on a wide variety of mobile devices.
The social networking part is a bit lame, since all it really does is post a link to the video on its original site, something that can be done in a dozen other ways. But the transcoding capability could be genuinely useful. One of the frustrations encountered by folks who want to watch Web video on handhelds is trying to figure out which videos will play on which devices. And in particular, the widely used Flash video format doesn't work on most mobile devices at all.
Converting a video in RealPlayer is simple. You click on a title in your video library--it can be streaming video you saved with RealPlayer downloaded content form other sources. You press the "Convert to" button and you are offered a list of devices , which includes iPod/iPhone, various Windows Mobile handsets, BlackBerrys, the T-Mobile Sidekick, the Sony PSP, and the Nokia E71x. But support for some formats, notably iPod and iPhone, requires an upgrade from the free version to the $40 RealPlayer Plus.
Critics will note that there is nothing new here because there are many opther software solutions that do the same thing. HandBrake, a free open-source program for Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux, is especially popular among the techie set. But the beauty of the Real approach is that it is easily used by people who don't know anything, and don't want to know anything, about codecs, bitrates, and display resolutions.