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Bill Klutz does consulting work, primarily in the areas of Management and Computer Applications/Hardware/Software.

From the July, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Just what an audio and video player should do is still evolving. Over the years, three outfits (all relatively “big boys”) have battled to play digital video and audio on your PC: Microsoft (with Windows Media Player), RealNetworks (with RealOne Player, the successor to RealPlayer), and Apple (with QuickTime, also a player). Today you almost need each companies' free program, if you want to take advantage of all the audio and video on the Web.

RealOne, however, has introduced a new option: premium services (like music downloads and exclusive video) for a monthly fee. At least for now, only a few users will find this for-pay content worth the cost, especially since the free version can offer worthy entertainment and information for free.

Current free and subscription services usually use RealOne Player. This nifty all-in-one multimedia application lets you watch video, listen to music, rip (digitally copy) CDs into digital files, and manage your music and video collections. The free version can also provide a handy "best of the Web" menu that collects sports, news, and entertainment clips from around the Net.

RealOne Player improves on the example set by Microsoft's slick, multitalented Windows Media Player. In addition to a visually stunning interface, RealOne's controls, in particular its media library, appear to work the way you want them to.

Microsoft's Windows Media Player 7.1, a recent overhaul of the free player, does many of the same things, but for me, 7.1's interface makes organizing and playing files harder. Apple's free QuickTime, offers only bare bones playback features. Of course, while RealOne is recommended for storing most of your media, you will probably need to obtain a copy of all the players for your hard drive. That's because no single program plays all the formats. You need Apple's player for QuickTime media and RealOne for RealOne formatted files.

Like Media Player and RealOne, QuickTime offers access to a nice selection of streaming video and audio sites. QuickTime TV includes ABC News, the BBC, CNN, Disney, and MTV. Unfortunately, it lacks its competitors' ability to browse through the kazillions (very large number) of independent streaming Internet radio stations. QuickTime also lacks a media library feature for organizing clips on your computer, and it doesn't interface with CD burners or play audio CDs. 

Windows Media Player and RealOne offer similar features, with standard playback controls and media libraries. Both will allow you to rip tracks from audio CDs to digital files and transfer the digital files onto audio CDs or portable digital audio players. Both also play a healthy portion of the audio or video clips you'll find on the Net, though it appears that RealOne has a slight edge (it plays Windows Media Player audio files, but not video files), while Microsoft's program turns up its nose at all Real clips.

Media Player rips CD audio only to its own format (fine as long as you don't intend on playing the files on a portable device that plays only MP3s). 

Note: XP's version of Media Player supports third-party MP3 ripping plug-ins that cost about $10.
RealOne will rip both to its own format and to MP3. RealOne's MP3 ripping is limited to a rate of about 96 kbps, which is noticeably lower than CD quality. (RealOne's premium service, as expected, gets you higher quality ripping, but at a price).

I believe RealOne has a light, clean interface that is easier to learn and navigate than Windows Media Player's interface. In the media library area, for example, a player organizes all your video or audio clips by artist, album, genre, and media type. Browsing a voluminous library of audio clips in Windows Media Player is frustrating. You get either long lists of albums (not identified by artist), or else long lists of artists, then a single folder listing all of an artist's songs. A column in the song display may identify which album a track belongs to, and at least you can sort by album to group tracks together, but usually the tracks will still be listed in the wrong track order. If Media Player is compared to listening to classical music it would probably be like playing the finale before the overture.

Choose the free RealOne player if you want to have a great looking multimedia application that lets you watch video, rip digital audio, manage your multimedia library, and try video and audio programs available on the Web. Or choose one of the others and live with what you get.

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