Entertainment Windows

RealPlayer Still Exists, But Does It Still Suck?

Matthew Hughes 15-06-2016

Jurassic Park. Duke Nukem. Virtual reality. Three things from the 1990s that have made a comeback in more recent times.


But what if something from the 90s never left in the first place? Take RealPlayer, for example. It used to be the case that if you wanted to stream a song, or a (grainy) video clip, you had to use it. The problem being it wasn’t all that good. Instead, it was awkward and clunky, and the streams themselves took forever to load. When it was eventually replaced by Adobe Flash and the new HTML5 standard Get Started With HTML5 You’ve heard of HTML5. Everybody is using it. It's being heralded as the savior of the Internet, allowing people to create rich, engaging web pages without resorting to using Flash and Shockwave. Read More , everyone breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Despite this, RealNetworks (which still exists, is listed on the NASDAQ, and employs over 1,000 people) continued to maintain RealPlayer. The company improved and expanded it. And while nobody was paying attention, Real Networks quietly turned it into a serious competitor to VLC, Kodi, and a whole host of streaming and converting services.

So, RealPlayer still exists, but the RealPlayer of 1998 couldn’t be more different than the RealPlayer of 2016. It still sucks, but it’s worth looking at how things have changed over the years.

RealPlayer: The Early Days

If you were to ask anyone in their twenties or older what their enduring memory of RealPlayer is, you’re unlikely to get a positive response. RealPlayer was a toxic wasteland of a program which flooded the user’s screen with adverts and pop-ups, and was prone to corrupting the Windows registry How to Fix Windows Registry Errors & When Not to Bother In most cases, fixing our registry will do nothing. Sometimes registry errors cause havoc after all. Here we'll explore how to identify, isolate and fix registry problems – and when to not bother at all. Read More . Streams would often fail to load entirely, and RealPlayer’s cryptic error messages became a running joke.



There were also serious privacy concerns. In 1999, a security researcher by the name of Richard M. Smith discovered that RealPlayer assigned a unique ID to each user and phoned home to RealNetworks with a list of all stored media files. Although this sounds quaint in our post-Snowden world, at the time it was nothing short of horrifying. It was for these reasons why in 2006, PC World ranked it number two in its list of the 25 worst tech products ever, just below AOL.

And yet despite all of it, RealPlayer endured. Why?

Well, for all its flaws – and make no mistake, it was a fundamentally flawed piece of software – it was also undeniably revolutionary. Although services like Spotify, Netflix, and Hulu have since popularized streaming media, RealPlayer was first, and RealNetworks was the Guglielmo Marconi of the 1990s.



You could say that RealPlayer was a product of firsts. In 1995, the first live sporting event (a pitched battle between the New York Yankees and the Seattle Mariners) was streamed across the Internet using RealPlayer and the RealAudio codec. The Mariners won, and so did RealPlayer.

Two years later, RealNetworks would introduce RealVideo – its video streaming and storage format. This wasn’t the roaring success it had hoped for, and the Internet just wasn’t ready for it.

Streaming services – even at their grainiest – needed a fast Internet connection, and most home users were making do with steam-powered 56k dial up. Worse, RealVideo used a proprietary codec which wasn’t as good as the open H.263 standard.

By the turn of the millennium, RealNetworks had positioned RealPlayer as less of a media player, and more of a portal to access a range of premium content. For $10-a-month, users could access a range of on-demand content from the likes of CBS, the Ministry of Sound, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Sadly, this was hamstrung by the dot-com collapse and tepid consumer interest, and after a few years was quietly withdrawn.



Gradually, people forgot about RealPlayer. New streaming services – like Netflix, Pandora, and YouTube – eschewed it entirely in favor of Adobe Flash. Sites that at one point depended on it began to abandon it in droves. In 2009, the BBC ditched RealPlayer. By 2011, the independent BBC World Service did the same.

What It’s Like to Use RealPlayer in 2016

I recently discovered that RealPlayer didn’t just go quietly into the night, as I once suspected. RealNetworks continued to work on RealPlayer, and now there are versions of the app available for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.

Had it improved with age, like a fine vintage wine? Or had it continued to fester, like a long-forgotten cherry tomato that had rolled underneath a refrigerator? I wanted to find out by downloading the Windows 10 version.



When you install RealPlayer, you’re prompted to also install a 30-day free trial of the (frankly terrible) Norton Internet Security.


This wasn’t a surprise. Many freeware Windows products are monetized by foisting truly crap toolbars 4 Annoying Browser Toolbars and How to Get Rid of Them Browser toolbars just don't seem to go away. Let's look at some common nuisances and detail how to remove them. Read More and trialware on unsuspecting users. Plus, the original RealPlayer was notorious for this sort of thing.

The hard-sell didn’t stop there. On the first run, you’re prompted to sign up to RealTimes, which is a cloud service that’s a curious mix of Dropbox and Picasa. There’s a free tier, which comes with 1GB of free storage. This is pretty stingy compared to Dropbox’s 2GB, and Google Drive’s 15GB. Anyway, I wasn’t interested, so I closed the window.


You’re then prompted to point RealPlayer to the folders where your media is kept.


RealPlayer will then begin to build your library. This takes a while. With my blazing-fast Skylake-powered Intel Skylake CPUs: 3 Things to Know Before Upgrading Thinking of upgrading to an Intel Skylake CPU but not sure if you should? Here's what you should know to help make that decision easier. Read More laptop and relatively small movie collection, it took the best part of 10 minutes.


This sluggishness is a constant throughout RealPlayer. It just doesn’t feel responsive or sharp. There’s a lag between clicking something and an action happening.

While on paper, RealPlayer’s codec support isn’t as broad as VLC’s codec support, I couldn’t complain. I was able to watch virtually anything in my movie collection.


Probably the biggest benefit of the 2016 version of RealPlayer is that it offers one of the sleekest, most beautiful ways to download content straight from YouTube, Vimeo, and more. When it detects that a video is playing, a tab will show up at the top of the screen. Click it, and it’ll spring into action.


Downloads are done through a manager called RealDownloader. This worked fine, but I was a little disappointed with the advert for Western Union that constantly occupied the lower half of the window.


Within a couple of minutes, the video finished downloading. I was then given the option to upload the video to RealTimes, to trim it, or to convert it to an MP3. I could also share it with my friends through – yes, you guessed it – RealTimes.


RealPlayer also comes with a built-in file converter. Just select the video, click “Convert”, and you’re given a dizzying list of options. In addition to the usual suspects – the iPad, Galaxy Tab, and iPhone – there are also devices from yesteryear, including the Blackberry Storm, the Zune, and the iRiver Clix.


It also lets users stream their content to Chromecast and Roku devices. I didn’t try this, as I don’t own either. I also didn’t try the Roxio-powered burning facility, due to my laptop not having a DVD drive.

There’s also a RealPlayer Premium version, available for $5-a-month. This comes with support for DVD playback, a broader array of codecs, access to audio equalizers, 25GB of space on RealTimes, and more. If you don’t want to pay for a monthly subscription and have no need for the cloud services, you can purchase a license outright for $39.

Good on Paper, Bad Everywhere Else

In the 1990s, RealPlayer was a fundamentally ambitious piece of software. It set the groundwork for how we would come to consume media, and in many respects, we owe it a massive debt of gratitude. But it was also a fundamentally flawed piece of software, whose execution didn’t quite do its lofty goals justice.

20 years later, little has changed. The ambition behind RealPlayer is still there, but this time round, it feels much less focused. Rather than do one thing badly, RealPlayer does many things badly.

As a media player, it’s slow and clunky. It bombards you with adverts and a constant pitch to upgrade. Although its YouTube downloader 4K Video Downloader Makes It Easy To Get Videos From YouTube 4K video is all the rage and YouTube is a great place to watch them. Streaming 4K video can be too bandwidth-intensive, so save and play them with 4K Video Downloader. Read More is slick, it’s got more bugs than a Manhattan hotel room. More than once it crashed, taking my entire system with it.

I wanted to like the new RealPlayer. As a child of the 1990s, I’m prone to bouts of nostalgia. But my experience reminded me that some things are best viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of history, and not revisited.

Do you have memories of RealPlayer? Are they good, bad, or indifferent? Do you still use RealPlayer today? If so, why? Please let us know in the comments below!

Related topics: Media Player, Media Streaming.

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  1. John Bevan
    September 7, 2019 at 10:22 am

    I installed RealPlayer in 1997 when I joined AOL. Yes, a double whammy! I was using the current version of WMP happened to be good enough, but I noticed that people I called my online "friends" were sharing files that had these weird ".ram" or ".ra" extensions that I just couldn't figure out how to play. Someone told me about RealPlayer and I downloaded it and played them. I didn't see any problems with it until I read the article! BOOM! I uninstalled it in a flash - probably too late - and never had anything more to do with it. Actually, a few years later, I reinstalled it and it looked pretty darn good, but I (and the whole world) had moved on and it looked old and sluggish. I really don't have anything bad or negative to say about it. There are still a whole bunch of .ram files that I would like to play (yes, I know what they are!) so I just might re-install it just for that purpose, and I have the ratomp3 software so I would promptly uninstall it once again. If only they had made the 2016 version in 1997 ... they could have, you know.

  2. William Gilead
    June 26, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Your review really SUCKS!!
    RealPlayer is hands down the best media player software. It has been consistently the best of the best since the 90s. You just want to get attention by criticizing the success of others. Instead, you should work hard and try to be successful because what you're doing is right down pathetic.

    • Not a bot or RealNetworks employee
      August 27, 2019 at 5:51 pm

      "RealPlayer is hands down the best media player software."

      Are you high?

      "It has been consistently the best of the best since the 90s."

      Do all of the remaining 1000 employees spend their lunchtime writing spectacularly false nonsense?

  3. James Duncan
    June 22, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Everyone including the author always misses the RealPlayer's most endearing feature - PerfectPlay. This extremely useful function constantly comes in handy. In that light, I use the older RealPlayer 16 as my go-to player. I'm listening to the KUAT FM radio stream right this moment in fact. The latest version still has this feature but adds a lot of complications that don't apply to me or that I don't need. Plus it doesn't automatically display a stream's properties such as data rate (e.g., "192kbps", etc.).

    I have VLC and other players but none anywhere now or in the past has this handy caching feature. It's apparently 100% unique to RealPlayer and has selectable time spans up to 6 hours. This earlier RP version has drawbacks including that it only streams AAC in mono and won't play various contemporary video formats, but I just dial up VLC or a couple of others when I need them. For a long time I was using the Helix player in Linux, and it likewise had/has the PerfectPlay feature. Now mainly use Windows 10 but glad the Linux community made the effort to include PerfectPlay on that OS version. RealPlayer rocks!

  4. Tim A Herman
    March 15, 2019 at 1:26 am

    Yesterday I used RealPlayer to convert all my .rmj files to mp3, and then I uninstalled it, along with it's stupid Library. I only had about 8 albums worth of material in the Real format, so it didn't take long to convert. I only installed the program in case I wanted to play one of those songs, how stupid was that. I sent them a message about how lame it is.

  5. Stephen Wolper
    June 16, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    Real Player did get better, then scammed everyone. About 7 years ago, after unsuccessfully trying to setup Plex, I discovered I could use Real Player to stream to my TV with Fire TV or Roku. It was a breeze to setup and unlimited space was inexpensive. Tech support was free and easy. It took a very long time to upload videos but by last year I had about 1.5 TB of video on Real Player cloud. Prices had gone up to about $10/month which was similar to other cloud services. Suddenly, I discovered that, without any notice, they deleted all but 100 GB of my videos. They replied that they were changing cloud fees and now the maximum would be 100 GB at the same price of $10/month. This is the most expensive cloud space I've ever seen. And what about my 1.5 TB of missing videos? They lied to me and said they could still be downloaded. Those videos were expensive and I spent hundreds of hours uploading them to Real Player Cloud. They just continued to lie. Just recently, I see all over Real Player a warning they are changing and the same as above will happen. Why the same notice now dated 2018? This is criminal behavior, as they stole thousands of dollars of videos from me and countless hours of my time. The software is now like a virus and locks up my computer long after I use it. I would like to join any lawsuits to collect damages for what they have stolen. I will find another player real soon. I also discovered that Windows 10 can cast to many devices including Roku so that is an easy temporary fix.

  6. Adam Bowers
    October 10, 2017 at 4:45 am

    A thousand people are employed to maintain and update an obsolete media player. How are they paying their bills?

    • Stephen Wolper
      June 16, 2018 at 1:53 pm

      They do it by stealing from the customers they have left. They owe me a fortune.

  7. Edison Maxwell
    September 19, 2017 at 1:13 am

    As of RealDownloader 18.9 or so, video downloads have been throttled to less than 5 Mbps and you can only download one video at a time... unless you pay for the Premium version. DO NOT UPDATE!
    Real continues to find new ways to suck.

  8. Gambit
    July 30, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Ah yes, RealPlayer... I wanted so badly to like it. I used it even when there were better options. The reason? Probably because it played everything, even if not very well. I really wanted to ditch as much Microsoft software (including Media) as fast as I could. The one truly helpful thing it did was the video downloader you mentioned. At first it worked great, but over time it became more and more cumbersome to use.

    I'm all in with Google products, so it didn't take much for me to jump ship once Google Play Music was available. The comparisons aren't even fair, but to say RealPlayer (and their streaming service Rhapsody) is a disappointment is an understatement. Being first to market isn't enough, obviously.

    Not sure why I even bothered looking up RealPlayer today. Nostalgia perhaps?

  9. PTB
    June 29, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Is there a good player for ripping CD's to mp3 and user friendly data base for building and playing the library

    • Jay Vadgama
      October 29, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      Try MusicBee
      It is free software.

  10. Peter
    June 21, 2017 at 12:57 am

    I've used Real Player most recently to listen to archived NPR broadcasts- for example, recordings of the broadcasts from 9/11 are only available online in the Real Audio. I guess it just means that I need tools of the past to experience the internet of the past.

  11. Kai
    March 8, 2017 at 1:00 am

    I guess it is good for downloading porn. Did you run it on pornhub or xvideos? And for the guy that repairs PCs, did you install RealPlayer on your customer's PCs on purpose, just so they will crush at some point in the future?

  12. muttbob
    January 24, 2017 at 9:32 am

    I've repaired pc's for years, and had always installed RealPlayer on every machine. I loved RealPlayer, but only for the downloader. I used it to download everything I wanted online, and it worked flawlessly for years. I could download just about anything, almost as fast as I could click the links. Then they changed it to the Realtimes Cloud and decided that they would choose what I can and can't download. It's total useless trash now.

  13. Anne
    December 21, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    RealPlayer is a real pain in the a** if you ask me. When it works, it works beautifully...until suddenly, it doesn't...and then you are left adrift at sea wondering how to fix it...and spending hours on the Internet looking for answers. The biggest most horrible thing about RealPlayer is how it literally INVADES EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR COMPUTER! Its hiding everyplace...in every nook and cranny of your computer...and behaves like a Trojan that you cant get rid of. It will continually try to hijack your computer into updating, installing and using its software. It runs like a virus inside the computer and for this reason alone I hate this program. Its taken me months to get rid of this Trojan horse. One of the best programs to literally hunt it down inside your registry is Registry First Aid...it will find literally hundreds of entries of RealPlayer files stored in your registry that never went away and never will go away, and that monopolize space in your computer and make it drag. Anyway, that is my take on RealPlayer...don't install it...and if you ever want to get rid of it, good luck. Its like the unwelcome guest that never leaves.

  14. Anopheles7777
    December 10, 2016 at 5:33 am

    This post makes me SOOO nostalgic!! I started my IT career about 1999, when between Real Player, Nutscrape Communicator, AOL, and ICQ, I actually made real money removing poopware from people's computers.

    Real Player was not the worst, but once I installed it on my OWN computer...ummmm...no. I moved on to other things that whip the llama's ass....

    • kenan1099
      August 17, 2017 at 2:17 am

      winamp :)

  15. Anonymous
    June 17, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Mr Matthew, next time you install a crapware like this on your system, please use a virtual box or something similar :D

    I can't really believe Real Networks still exists. Absolutely pathetic!
    I stopped using it in the early days and totally forgot about it

    • Matthew Hughes
      June 20, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Haha. Good idea.

  16. Anonymous
    June 16, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    But does RealPlayer still have the "Annabelle the Sheep" (the dancing sheep) visualization?

    • Matthew Hughes
      June 20, 2016 at 11:55 am

      You know, I didn't actually check!

      • terry
        June 22, 2016 at 1:12 am

        It never did whip the llama's ass ether.

    • Wendell
      July 7, 2016 at 4:52 pm

      killer app!

      • Len
        July 18, 2019 at 7:52 pm

        Agreed. It killed my PC more than once back in the day.

  17. Anonymous
    June 15, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    WTF.....RealPlayer is still around? I thought that thing died when Itunes, quickplayer and VLC player came online.

    • Matthew Hughes
      June 15, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      I thought that too, but no. It still exists. It's still terrible, believe me. I tried it so you didn't have to.

      • Anonymous
        June 15, 2016 at 6:34 pm

        Thank GOD.

        I use to use RealPlayer in the 90's but I would never go back to that. Realplayer died when Itunes, Quickplayer and VLC player came along. RealPlayer could never survive in todays market.

        • Matthew Hughes
          June 15, 2016 at 6:41 pm

          You say that, but it does survive in today's market. I'm not sure how, but it does.

          RealNetworks employ a lot of people, and they are listed on the Nasdaq, so they must have SOME customers. I just don't know who they are.

        • Anonymous
          June 15, 2016 at 7:39 pm

          Who in this day in age still uses RealPlayer?

        • Matthew Hughes
          June 15, 2016 at 8:02 pm

          I'm going to assume older people. I'm also going to assume people who got it pre-installed on their laptops. People who started using it in the 1990s and never looked back.

          But honestly, I don't know.

        • klu9
          June 19, 2016 at 9:27 pm

          "People who started using it in the 1990s and never looked back."
          I think you mean "never looked forward"... ;)

        • Matthew Hughes
          June 20, 2016 at 11:56 am


      • m-p{3}
        June 15, 2016 at 6:41 pm

        Thank you for your sacrifice :P

      • Anonymous
        June 16, 2016 at 1:25 pm

        If it's the Marconi of video players, what's the Tesla? Marconi only held the patent on radio in the U.S. when it was more convenient for the Navy. When Tesla died, the patent suddenly got retroactively assigned to him.

        • Matthew Hughes
          June 20, 2016 at 11:56 am

          I think you're looking into my simile too much, Perry.

        • Anonymous
          June 20, 2016 at 12:45 pm

          Maybe. I do think people give Marconi too much credit, though. Kinda like RealPlayer got in the 1990s. ;)

  18. Jean-Francois Messier
    June 15, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    I was listening to a France Radio station live in the week mornings, while I'm on Eastern Timezone. Was interesting to hear that. It was also funny to hear the folks on the radio talking about lunch time things, while I was still getting ready for my own morning at work. I also remember back then that RealAudio was very popular and such streaming was causing problems on our corporate connection that was not good enough to sustain all this streaming. That was back in late 90's, when I was still using Windows as my main OS. I now use Linux......... so no RealPlayer or RealAudio for me. Other solutions quickly arrived on Linux. I also have less time at home for such entertainment...........

    • Matthew Hughes
      June 15, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      Interessant! A mon avis, RealPlayer est une relique. De temps en temps, je vais revisiter, mais il ne sera jamais remplacer VLC.

      Merci pour votre commentaire.

  19. Anonymous
    June 15, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    The bigger question is: Is it still relevant?

    • Matthew Hughes
      June 15, 2016 at 6:39 pm

      I'm inclined to say no, but I also think that given that I'm 24 and work in tech writing, I probably live in a bit of a filter bubble. I bet there are millions of people who use it every day, either out of habit, or of not knowing other options exist.

      • RealOnceOrTwice
        January 22, 2017 at 9:12 am

        Matthew, I was wondering the same when I hit your words!

        You're 24 (maybe 25 today). I'm 41. When I was 24, I was making serious money from - guess what? - RealPlayer, RealProducer and folks.

        A NY based company from the dotcom era have hired me. As I was coming from the broadcast industry (as many did in that ancient times), my job description was to 'empower traditional media companies to embrace digital market through Internet.'

        I had experience in radio and TV broadcast in that time. But I must confess I was amazed by that RealAudio thing. That was such a monkey in front of a monolith moment!

        As late as 2008 I was still holding a Helix 'something biga**' certification. Today I'm retired from anything streaming. I just don't care anymore.

        I've met Rob Glaser (RealNetworks's CEO, still!) in person once or twice. Just as RealPlayer sucks, well...

        Congratulations for your article. It was a great reading!

    • Len
      July 18, 2019 at 8:00 pm

      That's a great question. It may no longer be relevant but I think a lot of older folks still use it out of a sense of nostalgia if nothing else. I still use Winamp to this day for that very reason. Yes, it has outlived it usefulness, but I have some very fond memories of it and it still gets the job done.

      Of course I may be comparing apples and oranges. Winamp didn't crash every 20 minutes nor did it install crapware everywhere or bombard you with ads. :)