Real's new RealPlayer SP software, currently in beta, adds functionality to rip YouTube and other streaming videos from the Internet and get them onto whatever handheld you choose. It works well enough, but it's also crammed full of unnecessary features.
RealPlayer SP is the evolution of the long-running RealPlayer software, which has become a multi-limbed beast of a program: It's a media manager and player, along with a packaged web browser, a subscription and a la carte music store (Rhapsody), a gaming store (Real Arcade), an audio recorder, and now a streaming video ripper/converter with ties-in to social networking sites. It is at the moment Windows only, though we're assured a Mac version is forthcoming. The beta comes in two versions: One is free, and the other costs $40 and includes H.264 conversion, DVD playback and DVD burning.
The SP stands for Social/Portable, so you can get a hint of where they're going with all this. In addition to RealPlayer itself, the software integrates a button to rip video into your browser (Firefox, Chrome, and IE are supported, Opera is not, no word yet on Safari). This new addition includes a converter to pretty much every portable video format you could imagine, from BlackBerry to Symbian to iPod to Zune.
Where RealPlayer SP is convenient is in this video conversion, especially if you've got a more niche phone or PMP (and I certainly do). Normally, conversion to Zune-supported video is kind of a pain in the ass, but RealPlayer SP handles it easily and well. For newer devices like the Palm Pre and BlackBerry Bold, RealPlayer SP can pass the converted video right through to the player, while it's able to go through iTunes to get video onto an iPhone or iPod touch. Older or less common devices, like my BlackBerry Curve 83xx and my Zune, are still supported, but you'll have to copy the new video files over manually.
The problem with this new iteration of RealPlayer isn't the new features, it's the underlying RealPlayer media software. iTunes, Zune, MediaMonkey and WinAmp are all better and more full-featured media jukeboxes, and unfortunately, Real's new focus on streaming video is new to that category of software but certainly not new to any of us. Hell, Firefox has had extensions that can do the exact same thing for years, with admittedly weaker codec support.
I also wasn't thrilled with the conversion speed or efficiency. Real claims a 1x conversion time, meaning 1 minute of video will take 1 minute to convert, which is actually quite pokey. A 3.2MB music video took 3.5 minutes to convert, and I ended up with a 6.6MB file. Sure, it's not a big deal for such a tiny video, but it feels like it should have been far snappier.
RealPlayer SP is also tied in to various social networking sites, but it's pretty half-assed: For Twitter, it just provides a link to the page of the video you downloaded, along with some prime advertisement for Real that kind of makes you sound like a jackass. The default tweet is "just downloaded so-and-so video with RealPlayer!" followed by a link to the RealPlayer download site. So get ready to follow every single one of those Twitter posts with "Clarification: I do not work for Real."
Really, the new features in RealPlayer SP aren't bad at all. It's a good idea to integrate streaming video ripping into a media jukebox, and RealPlayer SP does about as good job at it as we could ask. But the overall package needs some work: RealPlayer SP is way too bloated to work as just a video ripper/converter, and as a media jukebox it's outdated and cumbersome. Real has a good idea here, but RealPlayer needs more than some flashy add-ons. We'd love it if Real would put out the SP features in a simple applet, and leave off the browsers and media managers that we don't give a damn about.
So who should actually use RealPlayer SP? If you're a BlackBerry or Zune owner who uses Windows, loves YouTube and is confused by the multitude of third-party video converters, RealPlayer SP would be an excellent choice for getting video clips on your phone. [Real]