By Harry McCracken | Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm
Last June, I wrote about RealPlayer SP, a cool new version of the venerable, not-universally-beloved media player that shifted its emphasis. Instead of primarily being about playback, it served as a hub for easy conversion of Web video for playback on a bevy of devices–MP3 players like the iPod, smartphones, gaming consoles, and more. At the time, RealPlayer SP was a Windows-only product, but Real said it would bring it to Mac users by the end of 2009.
It took a little longer than the company thought, but a beta version of RealPlayer SP for OS X is available for download now–Real gave me a sneak peek last week–and is largely similar to the Windows version. A utility runs in the background and watches as you view videos at YouTube, DailyMotion, MetaCafe, and others that offer DRM-free content. As in RealPlayer 11, SP’s predecessor, you can download video files to your Mac for later playback in Real itself. But now you can also transfer them to forty-plus gadgets with a couple of clicks. RealPlayer chooses a format and settings, does the conversion, and even places the resulting video in the proper location for syncing when possible. For instance, it dumps video destined for an iPod or iPhone into iTunes, so it’s transferred the next time you sync.
If you don’t like RealPlayer’s defaults or own a gizmo that’s not in its list, you can tweak the conversion settings yourself (including using an option to create audio-only files from videos you’ve downloaded). You can also convert videos in batches, and even created more than one file–say, a high-res one to watch on your Mac, and a low-res one for your phone. In short, it offers as much stuff aimed at conversion nerds as it does for folks who just want to watch Web video on a variety of devices. And it does a nice job of concealing the complexity unless you want it.
Beyond the new video conversion features, RealPlayer SP’s other major addition is a social sharing option: When you come across a video online that you want to tell your pals about, you can post a link to it via Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace. The standard text includes a plug for RealPlayer, but you can delete it if you choose.
RealPlayer SP for Windows comes in both a free version and a $40 one with more H.264 video support and built-in DVD burning. Mac users just get the freebie edition, which includes unlimited H.264 but doesn’t burn DVDs. (You can, however, prep video for OS X’s own DVD-burning feature.) The Windows version also bundles Google Chrome into the installer, making you opt out if you don’t want it or already have it. But the Mac installer didn’t try to install anything else or otherwise pitch me on anything related or unrelated to the software, and didn’t install any adware on my system.
I did encounter a couple of (minor) glitches with the beta–most notably that it failed to convert one video until I tried a second time. Overall, though RealPlayer SP is an extremely simple way to accomplish a task that formerly took multiple pieces of software and, sometimes, a bit of technical knowledge. It’s what I’ll use from now on when I’m snagging video from the Web via my Mac to watch on my iPhone.
A few screenshots of the software in action: