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Remembering RealPlayer

25 April 2018

I have been re-creating some of my earliest computers in PCEm. With the help of screenshots, original installation media and other archives, I have been able to make reasonably accurate clones. One of those programs was RealPlayer 8, installed on my first computer that ran Windows 95.

RealPlayer 8 Basic's main window.

As I still have the CD that contained the installer I originally used, I knew that it was the correct version. However, I was curious as to whether I had the original release, or perhaps the final release of 8.x. So I searched the Internet for all the versions I could find. Here they are:

Program Date  Installer Date  Version
2000-08-10    2000-08-10      6.0.9.357
2000-09-08    2000-09-08      6.0.9.374
2000-09-13    2000-10-18      6.0.9.380
2000-11-12    2000-12-09      6.0.9.450
2001-02-09    2001-02-09      6.0.9.454
2001-02-22    2001-03-21      6.0.9.584

So it appears the last version is 6.0.9.584. The installer was refreshed several times after that, but none of the player's program files were changed. RealOne (9.0 / 6.0.10) was released in early 2002.

I wondered how it came to be that I had RealPlayer installed in the first place. I realised it was because the BBC used to use it.

Before iPlayer was launched, you could listen again to most radio programmes and some TV programmes through the website. These were encoded in RealAudio and RealVideo, with two bandwidth choices - one for dial-up, the other for broadband (256Kbps or faster). Amusingly I still have a clip for the dial-up stream; here is a screenshot from it (actual size):

Screenshot of a BBC3 ident from 2005.

192px x 108px. ©BBC 2005.

Anyone who started watching streaming services in recent years would balk at the idea of watching a programme at the resolution of a postage stamp in 15fps. But it was an impressive technological feat, and also laid the foundations for future streaming TV services. Credit to the BBC for their forward thinking whilst trying to include as many as possible.

RealPlayer still exists to this day, clocking in at version 18.1. If it stays on for a couple more years, it will outlive Flash, the product that superceeded it!

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