Tag Archives | Real

iPhone App is Not Rhapsody’s Panacea

reallogoIf you measure Rhaspody for iPhone’s success by the downloads it has accumulated — over a half million — it would be a hit. But looking at Real’s quarterly results, which reported subscriber numbers for the service, a different story is told. Rhapsody is still steadily losing subscribers, definitely not good news for the company.

Around 700,000 or so are paying accounts, down from about 750,000 in the previous quarter, and 800,000 the quarter before that. Obviously, from the steady decline, Rhapsody for iPhone has had little effect if any on Real’s bottom line.

In fact, in the results conference call, CEO Rob Glaser admitted that it was not seeing “a significant number” of new signups as a result of its iPhone venture.

The results show that a large majority of those who downloaded the application (myself included) did so just to check it out, obviously with no intention to sign up. What does this mean overall for Rhapsody? Hard to tell exactly, but I’d venture to guess consumers are finding other means to get their music fix, whether it be legal or illegal.

Let’s not call it an abject failure just yet and give Real the benefit of the doubt and another quarter. Either way, these early results are not promising.


A Real Review of RealDVD

[NOTE: A court has ordered Real to stop distributing RealDVD for the time being–details here.]

In one sense, there’s nothing the least bit new about software that can copy DVDs to a PC’s hard drive. Folks have been using applications such as DVDShrink and Handbrake to do the job for years–and  the same people have moved movies to phones, media players, and other devices…as well as onto BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer networks, where they’re there for the taking by anyone who can figure out how to download them.

But because such applications decrypt DVDs, their legal status is the U.S., to put it politely, murky. Make that very, very murky, , considering that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits the circumvention of copy protection. That’s true even if you’re engaging only in the victimless crime of enjoying movies you’ve paid for on a device that doesn’t happen to have a slot for a DVD.

Enter Real Networks’ RealDVD, a Windows program that’s a breakthrough in one significant respect: It’s a DVD-copying program–a ripper, if you like–that doesn’t violate the DMCA. That’s because it doesn’t strip off the copy protection the DVDs came with. Matter of fact, it adds additional copy protection that prevents users from sharing the DVD copies they’ve made, or watching them on anything other than up to five Windows PCs per license; other types of computers and devices aren’t supported. Only a DVD copier that locks down its copies in this fashion could go on the market without risking Hollywood’s wrath.

But RealDVD, which Real says it’ll start selling by the end of this month, is more than a DVD copier that’s hobbled by the fact that it doesn’t flout U.S. law. It copies not just the raw video files from a DVD but the entire DVD experience–bonus materials and all–and recreates them on the PC. And as you copy movies, it identifies them (using GraceNote, the same service that powers the CD-identification powers of iTunes and other music apps), catalogs them using cover art images, and lets you browse them by title, genre, or star. It’s a little like a $30 software version of the $30,000 media server from Kaledescape, a company whose victory in a court case brought by the DVD Copy Control Association last year confirmed that DVD copying can be legal.

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More on RealDVD

I blogged about Real’s RealDVD ripping software last night, and now the company has done its demo here at DEMO. The basics are as I mentioned last night: It’s legal, runs on Windows, costs $30, retains copy protection and lets you watch DVDs on up to five PCs but not iPods or other devices.

The most important new news in the DEMO was a look at the interface, which looks nice: Like a program such as iTunes does for CDs, RealDVD identifies your movies when you insert a disc and downloads a box image and movie details. You can browse your movie collection via those box images.

Real says you can store movies on an external drive or thumb drive, and the software will notice that you’ve attached the drive and show the movies on it. I’m not sure if you can store movies on a networked drive, but I’m not sure why you couldn’t.

Oh, RealDVD copies preserve menus and bonus materials, and you can record a movie to your hard drive at the same time you’re watching it.

RealDVD looks like it does a nice job of what it sets out to do, which is let folks copy and watch DVDs in a way that’s simple and designed to avoid being sued into oblivion. That doesn’t mean that Hollywood won’t sue Real over RealDVD–I can’t imagine that content owners are thrilled by the idea, since they’d much rather sell you all the movies you already paid for as digital downloads.

I also suspect that folks who use existing DVD rippers will sneer at the idea of paying for an application that retains copy protection and therefore lets you do less with your ripped DVDs. But Real is presumably hoping to sell RealDVD to large numbers of consumers who don’t know about existing tools, find them intimidating, or–hey, here’s a novel thought–stay legal.

I think the software might do quite well with that audience, and I’ll give you more impressions once I’ve had a chance to try it…

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Real DVDs Ripped to Your PC. Legally. Really?

Have you ever ripped a commercial DVD to your PC? If so, you’ve probably used a product like Handbrake whose legality is at best sketchy, since it breaks copy protection and therefore violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Chances of the copyright police breaking down your door and hauling you away are slim. But starting later this month, you might be able to copy all the DVDs you want without fear of legal consequences.

The New York Times is reporting that Real Networks will announce RealDVD tomorrow at the DEMO conference in San Francisco. (Which is where I am–I’ll be in the audience when it does.) Real is presumably betting that it’s figured out a way to make a DVD copying program that won’t be sued into oblivion in a nanosecond. And even if they bet wrong, it’s going to be fascinating to watch it come to market.

RealDVD doesn’t sound like total DVD-copying nirvana: It won’t produce DRM-free copies of DVDs that you can copy at will, download to your iPod, or upload to BitTorrent, according to the Times. Rather, its copies will retain copy protection; you can play them on only up to five PCs, and only if you’ve paid for the $30 software on each of those machines. That’s a significant set of limitations, but it would still allow you to store a library of movies on your hard drive for playback. (I’m not sure offhand whether you’d be able to keep them on a networked hard drive for playback via multiple computers around the house, but I sure hope so–it would be nifty.)

The Times quotes a technology exec at a studio who sounds skeptical about RealDVD, which isn’t surprising; it’s hard to imagine anyone in Hollywood speaking positively about it, at least for the record. But the real question isn’t whether Hollywood is thrilled with the idea of RealDVD–it’s whether it’s legal. If it is, this is great news, and other companies will presumably jump into the market with similar products once Real has tested the legal waters.

I’m looking forward to learning more at DEMO tomorrow, and even more so to trying RealDVD once I can get my hands on it. Keep your fingers crossed: If it is indeed a real way to put DVDs on your PC easily and legally, it’ll be very good news for consumers with DVD collections that they don’t want to be forced to repuchase as digital downloads…