RealPlayer, the venerable (but oft-maligned) multimedia playback software, is back. With the latest version of the software - it's number 14, but simply goes by the name RealPlayer - Real Networks has enhanced the player's mobile capabilities, smartly taking aim at Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia phones, which lack the native media-synching function that Apple's iPhone and iPod enjoy with iTunes. We tested the RealPlayer Plus version of the app.
However, while RealPlayer Plus works as advertised, we're not convinced it's worth the £29 premium that it commands over the free version of RealPlayer.
RealPlayer Plus adds several features missing from the free version, such as faster video downloads and transfers, as well as DVD burning and advanced CD burning, which are nice touches. But although it ditches the video adverts displayed every time you launch the free version of the software, RealPlayer Plus still displays static ads on its Featured tab - which is what you see every time you open the program. When you're paying £29 for a piece of software, adverts are an unwelcome addition.
RealPlayer Plus: Interface and use
RealPlayer's other tabs - Now Playing, Library, and Burn - are where the real action takes place. When you navigate to the Library tab, you can have RealPlayer Plus search your computer for media files (including music, videos, pictures, downloads and recordings, and playlists) that you'd like to manage. The interface is straightforward, and a pleasant change from the visual clutter of the Featured tab.
All of the tasks you'd expect from a multimedia manager are available in RealPlayer Plus. Once your media files have joined your library, you can play them back, edit their info, create playlists, and so forth. The Now Playing tab works just as you'd expect, letting you view the content that's currently playing. You can go to the Burn tab to create CDs or DVDs, as well as to print jewel-case inserts for your discs. Audiophiles will appreciate how RealPlayer Plus helps to convert old music recordings to high-quality digital versions.
RealPlayer Plus: Features
The new RealPlayer retains the handy features found in previous versions, including the ability to upload files directly to sites such as Facebook and YouTube. In addition, you can now choose to download video files from websites straight to your RealPlayer library.
The Plus version of the app includes a feature that will help you burn these downloaded videos to DVD so that you can watch them away from your computer. This feature is well implemented and easy to use, but is worth the £29 premium only if you're the sort who likes to save online videos locally for your own collection, or if you want to watch online videos on your TV and you don't have a media streamer that already provides that functionality.
RealPlayer Plus: Mobile functions
More impressive is RealPlayer's ability to help you manage your mobile devices. This feature, available in both the free and Plus editions of the software, has been improved over the previous version. Before, the app allowed you to transfer files to your mobile device; now, RealPlayer works in the opposite direction too, adding the ability to transfer media files off of your mobile device and into your RealPlayer library. In our tests, the feature worked as promised. The Plus version will transfer videos to your phone 50 percent faster than the free version, Real says; but even when we used the free version, video transfers didn't take a terribly long time.
When you connect your mobile device to your computer, RealPlayer recognises it as an additional source of content, and asks you to identify the make and model. We tested RealPlayer by connecting a Motorola Droid 2 smartphone to my PC, and were was happy to see that this relatively new phone was available as an option on Real's list. The app identifies your mobile device in case you wish to convert any of your PC files for viewing on the handset, and we were able to convert files without a problem.
When your mobile device is connected, RealPlayer adds it to your library, where you can view its information in a panel that runs down the left side of the player's window. Working with the interface is similar to using iTunes with an iPhone; you'll see your phone's name, and you can click on it to view the device's info.
RealPlayer will identify any new music, video, or image files on your connected phone or audio player, and will allow you to transfer them right to your PC. This process worked seamlessly in tests, and it provided one of the easiest ways of managing an Android phone that we've experienced yet. In addition, you can sync playlists and transfer files to your mobile device by just dragging and dropping the files to your phone. And if a file isn't compatible with your device, the new RealPlayer (like previous versions) will give you the option of converting it and then synching it.
You can use the new RealPlayer with an iPhone or an iPod (and you will see both of these devices listed by name in the player's menu of available mobile devices), but the experience isn't quite the same. Your iPhone or iPod won't show up in your library as a connected device, but you will be able to convert files and copy them to the iPhone or iPod. The app also lets you add files right to your iTunes library, which is a nice touch. Still, the new RealPlayer is not a true media-management option for Apple's devices; iTunes is a much better choice for that.
RealPlayer Plus offers an easy way to manage your media library, but its best features are also available in the free version of the software. If you own an Android, BlackBerry or Nokia phone, and if you've been looking for a free and easy way to wrangle multimedia files, the new RealPlayer will make your life a whole lot easier. But the £29 you'd pay for the Plus version would be better spent elsewhere.
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