Real's Last Hoorah?
September 29, 2001 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Real's Last Hoorah? A beta version of their next-generation player, "RealOne", is now available to download: it's pretty, and does all the media library/ripper/encoder things we're now accustomed to seeing. But the with Microsoft aggressively marketing Windows Media Player as part of XP, with much the same features, is Real set to go the way of Netscape, or will its streaming format keep it in business?
posted by holgate (36 comments total)
(what's surprising here: this beta launch has had virtually no publicity, which suggests that Real's already on the back foot against WMP.)
posted by holgate at 12:54 PM on September 29, 2001

My station at work only has WMP; I'm constantly frustrated by the number of RP streams I can't view. I wouldn't count them out quite yet.
posted by RavinDave at 1:00 PM on September 29, 2001

Real is this year's Netscape. Someone will buy them (the technology) cheap, soon I bet. It would be Microsoft if DOJ wouldn't be all over them.
posted by owillis at 1:05 PM on September 29, 2001

Real's only advantage is just as RavinDave mentions, that people use it to stream. My experience with them as a user has been consistently bad, I do not use their product because I do not listen to or watch streaming Real Audio or Video, there is no content I am interested in that isn't in another format. I can easily see the company folding, and I wouldn't miss it if it did.
posted by chaz at 1:07 PM on September 29, 2001

A decent Salon article covering exactly this from February can be found here.

It's not terribly old. But it points to the battle being waged not so much on desktops, but MS battling for larger server share.
posted by crasspastor at 1:09 PM on September 29, 2001

Does Real have a patent or something on their file format forbidding people to make programs that support it? Could someone explain that to me?
posted by starduck at 1:23 PM on September 29, 2001

Beware though! I downloaded the RealONE so-called ####### preview two weeks ago and it disabled all my audio. So no more BBC World Service, NPR or anything, like, with sounds.
I deleted all my other Reals, my WindowsMedia, my useless Yahoo player and even my precious Quicktime. I re-downloaded the basic Real, oh, at least nine times.
All to no avail.
There's no "uninstall" and all you get is an unworkable instruction to run "C:\ProgramFiles\Real\Real ONE Player\Setup\g2cln.exe".

Which I am unable to do as some ####### unfathomable "pathway" message appears.

For years I have not lived in such silence. Can anybody help?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:24 PM on September 29, 2001

> Someone will buy them (the technology) cheap ...

The only someone I can think of would be ... OMG .... please *NOT* Time-Warner-AOL. Geeeez ... with M$ humping XP they might almost be forced in that direction. What a wretched thought. That's exactly how it's shaping up.

owillis -- I was having a good day until I read your message. ;)
posted by RavinDave at 1:27 PM on September 29, 2001

I think owillis is on the right track here. As much as I hate Real (and I do), their audio format is pretty widely used and has to have some value. I don't know enough about the current corporate situations to know if this will ever happen, but it'd be interesting to see Real bought out by AOL/TW.

Real is about the only company with software that I hate as much as AOL's software. If only WMP were any better! Thank God for winamp.
posted by gd779 at 1:32 PM on September 29, 2001

Good riddance. Half of MS's dominance comes from the sheer incompetence of their competition.

My pet peeve is the Real "seek bar". It's about an inch long, or a couple hundred pixels. It never gets any bigger, unlike the MS one. It is easy enough to calculate how accurately you can seek and with streams of any length it's on the order of minutes. It can be nearly unusable.

It's clear that the server is their true business because their client software is shit. Of course, MS made mediaplayer worse going from 6.4 to 7.0, so maybe if Real can hang on a bit longer they won't have to get their act together.
posted by Wood at 1:33 PM on September 29, 2001

Miguel, g2cln.exe is the uninstaller utility. To run it (detailed instructions from the realnetworks FAQ) you need to run that program from your run window. It appears that this may have been in beta only a short time as the "final version Of Real Player 8" is now available, and the FAQ gives instructions on how to install that too.

Yours is the type of problem I've experienced from Real that keeps me from using their product.
posted by bragadocchio at 2:06 PM on September 29, 2001

Another important factor no one seems to have brought up yet: a large fraction of pirated video files on the 'Net are in the RealVideo format. They're not streaming -- I've never had that much luck with streaming RealVideo -- but apparently a lot of the video-rippers hanging out on IRC like their form of video compression. Looking through my downloaded videos file, all of my Family Guy episodes are in RV, 90% of Space Ghost, about half of the Simpsons... RV files tend to be of lower quality, but also make for smaller files. As a popular video format, judging by Gnutella, RV seems to be about neck and neck with Windows Media Player. (Not counting entire movies, which need .avi's high-quality abilities.)

Can anyone tell I'm a college student?
posted by tweebiscuit at 2:23 PM on September 29, 2001

(and yes, by the way, I hate the RealPlayer software itself. Channels? No fucking way. Of course, the new version of WMP isn't much better, what with its "skins," etc. These companies need to take a cue from WinAmp and make extendable, usable software that respects the user's needs and keep it all in a small memory footprint. Nullsoft! Build us a videoplayer! Please!)
posted by tweebiscuit at 2:25 PM on September 29, 2001

That's weird, because almost every bit of pirated video I've seen (not that I would download such things :) has been in avi/wmv format (usually w/ Dixv encoding).
posted by owillis at 2:27 PM on September 29, 2001

I stopped using any Real products after the second "phone home" scandal. I no longer trust them.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:29 PM on September 29, 2001

episodes for progs come in real player format usually, movies in DivX - DivX is newer so less people use it I suppose.. I dunno, I never liked realplayer, suppose its the way it eats up my systems resources and insists on that realplayer startup thing.. Quicktime also sucks.. DivX/ASF for all..
posted by Mossy at 2:34 PM on September 29, 2001

DIE Realplayer DIE... ever since they started putting spyware and "download accelerators" and all that crap into their software I stopped using it. The quality was never great to begin with, and the fact of the matter is, they're still riding a crappy technology that's almost (or more?) 5 years old.

If Microsoft was still pushing Windows 98 right now, they'd be dead right now. Serves Real right for not trying harder.

posted by PWA_BadBoy at 2:39 PM on September 29, 2001

(Well, RealPlayer just allowed me to listen to Barry Bonds' 69th homer of the season, which proves that Real's ability to make a good business deal may outstrip their ability to innovate...)
posted by holgate at 3:06 PM on September 29, 2001

Clicking on holgate's link causes a redirection to a special "Mac users" page that has no mention whatsoever of RealOne. Why am I not surprised?

Anyway, RealPlayer is one of the worst pieces of software ever written for either the Mac or Windows. The amount of code bloat in it alone is jaw-dropping; it crashes constantly in ways no other program has ever been able to accomplish; it tries to hijack your Internet settings away from all other programs; the amount of spying it does on its users is second to none. The only reason it (and RealNetworks itself) have survived this long is because it has had no competition. If you wanted streaming audio or video, you had no alternative. Now you do. I'm no fan of Microsoft, but I'd tattoo Bill Gates's face on my arm before I'd give a penny to Real for anything. They absolutely deserve to go out of business; if only Microsoft is capable of crushing them, so be it.
posted by aaron at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2001

posted by ParisParamus at 4:56 PM on September 29, 2001

If you want to stream I believe they are the cheapest by a longshot for the server-side software.

If it's cheaper than free, i'd like to see that...
posted by machaus at 5:09 PM on September 29, 2001

If it's cheaper than free, i'd like to see that...

Of course the "quality" (snicker) of Quicktime streaming is about as high as the cost...
posted by owillis at 5:14 PM on September 29, 2001

I hate Real.

But I think it's likely they'll stick around, if only due to their partnership/affiliation/largest-share-ownership of MusicNet, one of the two behemoths in the upcoming online music wars. (The other major player is pressplay, who will use the Windows Media format.)
posted by Marquis at 5:23 PM on September 29, 2001

Of course the "quality" (snicker) of Quicktime streaming is about as high as the cost...

Every time there's a MacWorld, or a Seybold, or some such event with a keynote from Messrs. Jobs and/or Schiller, I watch the streamed Quicktime webcast, and it's orders of magnitude clearer and more pleasant to watch/listen to than any RealVideo I've ever seen.
posted by toddshot at 5:37 PM on September 29, 2001

I can't stand pushy software like RealPlayer... gah, assuming that users want it to totally take over their system. "Would you like RealPlayer to become your default video player for every file type and change your homepage to Well too bad."

tweebiscuit's completely right about Winamp. I installed the newest version of WMV, but it just strikes me as way too pointlessly big. The old version is perfect for videos (mplayer2.exe) and Winamp is just the best application ever made for Windows. I just don't get why someone would want a music player to take up more than half of their screen...
posted by Laugh_track at 5:45 PM on September 29, 2001

If you're concerned about the spyware aspects of Real ware that Stephen and aaron talk about, and you're surfing naked, so to speak, grab a copy of the freeware version of ZoneAlarm from Zonelabs. It's a 'personal firewall' - catches attempts to 'phone home' from any app, amongst other things, is easy to use and settles in very nicely after some initial verbosity.

No I don't work for them, but if you've got an 'always on' connection or are worried about privacy, I recommend it highly and use it religiously.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:58 PM on September 29, 2001

Real has one very clear advantage for administrators: it supports more platforms. Apart from Win, Linux 2.2 (glib c6), Free BSD 3.0, Sun SPARC Solaris 2.6, 2.7, 2.8, etc.

There are a lot of streaming services out there that use it anyway and I can't think of anyone that streams in more than one format simultaneously. For the most part it seems either/or, so if you want to listen to, say, WBGO you have to use Real. So I would have to download Real anyway.

If there were to be a problem with the company I think it would be that it's running out of cash/revenue. Maybe AOL is waiting just around the corner?
posted by mmarcos at 6:05 PM on September 29, 2001

Note about the 'netscaping' of every company on god's green earth: it ain't going to happen. At least not as easily as it happened to Netscape.

Websites can be viewed with any browser, meaning the slide from a 3rd party company (netscape) into the grasp of Micrsoft's explorer was simple. All MS had to do was make a browser and bundle it.

Not so with everything else. For Real to be "netscaped", all RealMedia content would need to be re-encoded, which simply isn't possible to do without a major loss of quality and money.

MS's other problem? RealServer runs on every OS (except OSX) - Linux, BSD, Solaris, Windows, etc. (as mentioned above) WiMP Server runs on, surprise, Windows.

Considering that Windows runs less than half the WWW servers on the net, MS can hardly boast an overwhelming lead in the server space.
posted by jragon at 6:52 PM on September 29, 2001

The real benefit of Real has nothing to do with the client, according to those I've spoken with who are long time streaming media developers, but their server. I checked in with one of these guys last week - an old colleague of mine - and he says it's still true - the Real server is the only one that does good enough load balancing etc. to handle lots and lots of simultaneous traffic.
posted by mikel at 8:22 PM on September 29, 2001

Of course the "quality" (snicker) of Quicktime streaming is about as high as the cost...

The crappy feeds on QuickTime TV and Radio aren't because of less-able compression algorhythms. They're crappy because the video feeds are only about 25k and the audio is only about 8k, whether you're using a 2400 baud modem or a T3. I have no clue why Apple has them all throttled like that.

But I think it's likely they'll stick around, if only due to ... MusicNet...

Don't count on it, unless the record labels are willing to eat all the huge financial losses themselves that this little scheme is going to end up costing. Both Musicnet and Pressplay are doomed, because neither of them are going to allow you to play your music anywhere except on the computer you use to download them. Combine the complete inability to listen to the music anywhere but right in front of your screen, with the fact that even the music files on your one computer will be disabled at the end of every month, and NOBODY is going to pay money for that. I think those two outfits are either going to go down as two of the biggest business disasters in history, right up there with New Coke, unless they drastically loosen up their "digital rights policies" within a few months of launch.
posted by aaron at 10:50 PM on September 29, 2001

I don't disagree with you aaron; I certainly don't see pp and MusicNet, in their current states, riding the big ships to a pot of gold. That said, both companies have maaajor marketing money behind them, and even if they only snare the soccer mom and rich suburban WASP market, it'll be enough to prolong Real's existence beyond an impending Netscapian event horizon.
posted by Marquis at 11:30 PM on September 29, 2001

Yahoo finance piece on Real One.
posted by johnny novak at 3:21 AM on September 30, 2001

There are a lot of streaming services out there that use it anyway and I can't think of anyone that streams in more than one format simultaneously.
CBC runs Radio One in three formats, but not anything else, and it's only the feed from the province of Toronto, so if you're in Japan and want to listen to the Sydney feed you're SOL.
posted by joeclark at 5:54 AM on September 30, 2001

joeclark : This may help - there are a lot of Canadian radio streams. The sister site has TV as well.

(Note for non-Canucks - good resource from streaming TV and radio from a number of other countries as well, including BBC world, which Canuck though I am, makes me happy!)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:59 AM on September 30, 2001

realaudio has always sounded like an AM radio playing from the bottom of a half-empty garbage can.... i mean, 30-second streams on amazon are nice and practical, but more than 30 seconds will give anyone a headache.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:56 PM on September 30, 2001

realaudio has always sounded like an AM radio playing from the bottom of a half-empty garbage can

Well, yeah, so does MP3 if you give it crappy bandwidth.
posted by kindall at 10:55 PM on September 30, 2001

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