RealNetworks has radically redesigned its venerable media player software in a bid to make it relevant and appealing in today’s era of connected mobile devices.
The company released RealPlayer Cloud Tuesday night, combining the media player with an online storage and streaming service. It’s being distributed as an app for iOS, Android and Roku TV devices, as well as the PC, where Real pioneered streaming media in the 1990s. Real is working to get the app onto additional devices, including game consoles and ”smart” TVs.
The apps are designed to play and share videos created by users or downloaded from the Web, similar to what can be done with Microsoft’s SkyDrive and numerous online storage services, such as Box and Dropbox.
They also leap beyond the traditional jukebox design of RealPlayer. The player itself has been subsumed, and the apps look like media-sharing programs and not playback systems. They surface playback controls only when a video is selected with a tap or click.
RealPlayer Cloud does a few tricks. The apps include a file menu providing access to videos that users have stored across all their devices — PCs, the cloud and the device in hand.
If videos are uploaded to the Real service, they are automatically converted into multiple formats so they’re ready to be played on different devices. This overcomes some of the petty format games that hardware companies play, so you can upload or share a video created on an Android device and it will play fine on an iPhone, or vice versa.
During demos, Real showed how a video could be taken with a camera, uploaded and played back on a Roku TV device almost instantly.
The app doesn’t work with purchased movies or content bound with digital rights management.
Nor does the player work with other types of media besides video, but Real is likely to add music and photo storage and sharing next.
Real will continue to provide its RealPlayer software for the PC, but it’s being updated with a new tab linking to Real’s cloud services.
Although it’s been overshadowed by iTunes and other media players, RealPlayer continues to be used by millions of people. Real claims that the player has 23 million monthly active users, 80 percent of whom are outside the U.S, according to Rishi Mathew, company vice president.
The apps give RealPlayer a fresh new interface with intuitive controls for sharing and uploading videos. Nice touches include the ability to pinch and zoom into a video during playback on a tablet or phone, or swipe upward across the screen to increase the volume.
There are a few catches. For one thing, you’ve got to give Real access to your personal photos and videos to take advantage of the cloud services.
Real’s player doesn’t bind itself to the video apps on a phone, the way RealPlayer does on PC. That’s good and bad. The good thing is that you don’t get a Real pop-up when you are watching a video outside the app. But you also can’t capture a video and directly upload and share it with Real’s cloud service; you have to launch Real’s app and handle videos within its wrapper.
It could also get expensive if you use it to store more than a few videos. Real offers 2 gigabytes of cloud storage for free, after which you’ll be charged $5 per month or $50 per year for 25 gigabytes of storage.
Real actually is providing more storage to users, since it keeps copies of their videos in different formats, ready to download onto different platforms, noted Scott Uomoto, senior vice president and head of the RealPlayer business. If you load a 2 gig video, for instance, it may take up three times that much space on Real’s network.
The video conversion technology is the special sauce Real is adding, Uomoto said. Cloud handling of the videos is handled in part by outside vendors.