The beta of Real Player 11 came out the other day, for Windows only, and I have installed it and fooled around a bit. I do have to report that it does what it advertises: it very easily rips online video and saves it to your hard drive. From YouTube to streams coming off our Real Server at work, no glitches. If you ask it to, Real Player 11 installs a browser plug it making a “Download” button appear with embedded videos, making recording video a one-click operation.
The free version of Real Player downloads the video in whatever format it originated in. And if your machine has the proper player or codec installed to play the video in the first place, Real Player should play whatever you download, too (including Flash Video .flv files). The as yet unavailable Real Player Plus 11 promises to transcode videos into the format of your choice. I wonder if it’ll transcode Real Video, since Real has kept its audio and video codecs pretty locked up all these years. Even though you can find plenty of apps on the ‘net that will save them to other formats, no major commercial video app like Premiere or Cleaner will do it.
I also have to report that the installation process of Real Player 11 is significantly less evil than prior versions. Gone is having to register a username and password. And then, rather than just taking over playback of every media type on your system by default, Real Player instead asks if you would like it to take over the playback of any format not already claimed by another player. Indeed, the “media-type wars” may be closer to over.
I must admit that the simple video stream ripping will make my life easier in a lot of ways for simple fair use purposes, like research and teaching. Certainly there have been all sorts of stream ripping apps floating around the ‘net for years that will accomplish pretty much the same thing. But none are as easy or as well executed as Real Player. I only wonder if this feature will survive a possible legal attack.
Finally, Real Networks CEO Rob Glaser chose to answer some tough questions leveled by blogger Rafat Ali about Real’s new player. Regarding the legality of the record function, Glaser says:
The new RealPlayer is just like a VCR, a DVR, or a photocopier: It knows nothing about whether or not a piece of content is copyrighted. Like these earlier video players, the new RealPlayer facilitates many legal and appropriate uses, for instance downloading public domain content and content for which the owner has given permission.
I’m still not sure what the profit model is with the new Player, because it plays multiple media formats it doesn’t necessarily push people to use the Real Server. But maybe Real can figure out a a way to capitalize on the good karma of offering up something genuinely useful. Stranger things have happened.