Free Streaming Media Players
A comparison of the free versions of the three most popular streaming media players- Real Player
7.0 Basic, Apple QuickTime 4.0, & Microsoft Windows Media Player 6.4
Significance of the Topic
By media, the creators of such products as Real Player, Quick Time and Windows Media
Player mean that their creations have the capability to play both audio and video files
along with text and animation. That is, they allow the user to watch video and listen to
audio much like one would watch a television show or listen to the radio. Each provides
access to pre-set radio and pre-set television style channels such as CNN, MTV, ABC
News and NPR. As such, these media players are obvious manifestations of how
computers have become a significant part of mainstream entertainment.
Particularly with the development of the smaller file size of the MPEG 1 audio layer 3
(MP3), the use of free streaming media players has increased in the last year. But, what
do we mean by streaming? Streaming allows the user to listen or watch the file they are
downloading as they download it. In the past, a person would have to wait (a very long
time) for an entire file to download before it was accessible, but with the advent of
streaming technology, the immediacy of the Internet-user entertainment consumer is
The next question becomes, which is best to use? There are countless media players on
the market; however the majority of everyday users tend to use one of three shareware
versions (e.g. Real Audio, Quick Time and Windows Media Player). The following
discussion will attempt to explore the pros and cons of each of these players.
Real Player 7.0 Basic
Real Player is probably the most popular of Beta version media players. CNET calls it
the industry standard (Keizer, 2000). “more than half a million players were downloaded
by users during the first months of its availability in 1995…” (Vaughan,1998, p.413).
Real runs on both PC and MAC OS platforms, requires a 16-bit audio card and takes up
relatively little space (16MB on a PC and 32MB on a Mac) while using 4% of system
resources when it is being run (Keizer).
Real Player’s interface is colorful and relatively user-friendly. It is set up to resemble a
sort of “mini” movie screen for your computer with a channel list (Real Channels) to the
left and with over 100 pre-set Net radio stations found under presets on the toolbar. It
also has a built in search tool. Chances are that if you can function comfortably within a
browser (e.g. Netscape or Internet Explorer) then you can operate Real Player as well.
Real Player supports most formats except for Quick Time and Microsoft Windows Media
Player proprietary extensions (e.g. mov, qt); however, by the end of 2000, it will support
Media Player extensions.
Ironically, its main drawback comes from its immense popularity. Because it is so
popular, there is frequent net congestion, which will either prolong the download time
before it begins to stream, cause it to play “jerky” or rebuffer midstream, or cause it stop
playing all together. Another of Real Player’s drawbacks is that it doesn’t play CDs.
This, however, is easily reconciled by the fact that you can download its free companion,
Real Juke Box (http://www.real.com/jukebox), which does play CDs along with other
forms of digital music (e.g. mp3).
Microsoft Windows Media Player 6.4 (WMP)
Microsoft Windows Media Player, as its name implies, was developed by Microsoft and
comes bundled with Windows. As such, this media player has a great deal of potential in
terms of market share. However, unlike Real Player, WMP is only available to PC-
users—ignoring the Mac segment of the population.
Windows Media Player’s interface is not as inviting as Real Player’s and also lacks some
of the RP “extras”. It does have a list of channels, found under favorites in the toolbar as
well as links to radio stations, a music download site, and a media guide. One advantage
of its basic appearance is that it is easy to operate.
The “media player” battle has been extremely competitive between Windows Media
Player and Real Player. One advantage that Media Player can boast is that its files tend to
load and play faster than real audio ones. It requires 16MB of RAM and a 16 –bit sound
card and chews up 10% of system resources while it is being run (Keizer). WMP supports
almost all media types-- except for Real Player extensions and plays CDs.
Windows Media Player is useful to have—especially given its convenient omnipresence
if you are a PC user, but if you have room for only one program, then you may want to
choose Real Player since the majority of internet-based media is in Real Player format.
Apple QuickTime 4.0
Quick Time Media Player is designed by Apple and is the only one that was specifically
designed for Macintosh operating systems. But, unlike Microsoft’s media player, QT
functions across platforms. That is, there is a Windows version in addition to the Mac
OS version. It requires 16MB of ram on PCs and only 8MB on Macintosh computers and
plays most media file formats except for Real Player and Windows Media Player
Quick Time’s interface is designed to look like a miniature computer monitor. It, like
Real Player and Windows Media Player, has entertainment channels (e.g. CNN.com,
ABC News, & Nickelodeon). There are twenty-one channels (compared to 90 Real
Player channels) that pull out from a panel beneath the play button and are also listed
under favorites on the toolbar. Also, it has no search tool and no QT media guide--- thus,
making it difficult to locate sites that make use of Quick Time technology. Its largest
disadvantage, however, is that it requires 12% of Window’s system resources in order to
run (Keizer). This may cause a home PC to perform sluggishly or to freeze if other
applications are running at the same time.
So, which is better? This is a question that is difficult to answer. After weighing the pros
and cons of each, it may come down to a matter of personal preference
Platforms RAM Sound Requ. Supported
Real Player Win 95/98 & Mac PC- 16mb 16 bit audio card All except Quick
OS 8.1 MAC- 32MB & speakers Time & CDs (with
Real Juke Box)
Media Player Win 95/98 16 MB 16 bit sound card All except Real
Player & CDs
Quick Time Win 95/98 PC 16 MB Soundblaster or All except Real
Mac OS Mac 8 MB comp. Audio in pc Player and Media
The real contest seems to be between Real and Microsoft. Early in March, as Foley
reported (2000), Real agreed to include support for Microsoft’s Media Player formats by
the end of the year. Real representatives believe this will allow their player to become a
universal player and will thus increase their market appeal. While Microsoft insists that
the deal brings them one step closer to “near world domination” (Foley, paragraph 17).
Real representatives retorted "Microsoft is just one of the colors on the globe, “ Doherty
said. "Real is still the mapmaker." (Paragraph 18). CNET performed their own
comparisons and gave the strongest stamp of approval to Real Player, giving it a score of
9 out of 10. Microsoft’s Windows Media Player earned a seven and Quick Time earned a
5. I performed my own (unscientific) test and agree while disagreeing with CNET.
I performed my test on a PC with Windows 98 and found that both the sound and video
quality was clearest using Quick Time. Windows Media Player and Real Player came in
second and third respectively. However, Quick Time caused my computer to run
sluggishly and made it very difficult for other applications (e.g. Microsoft Word) to
perform efficiently. Real Player, however, ran with relative efficiency without affecting
other applications. Nevertheless, Keizer asserts that differences seem to be most obvious
at higher bandwidths (i.e. ISDN- a faster cable connection as opposed to a 56K dial up
modem). You can examine the differences for yourself with the links below.
Examine the differences for yourself:
Test out the quality yourself by comparing the differences yourself by clicking on the
links below. You will also find links to examples of each of the media players at the end
of this report.
Quick Time http://www.qt3.com/samples/famous/bill-gates.html
Real Player http://www.videoseeker.com/play.cgi?80100245:rv5:56
Window Media Player http://www.videoseeker.com/play.cgi?80100245:wm:56
Foley, M. (2000, March 14). MS-Real Networks? What’s the real deal? ZDNet
News Internet [Online]. Available:
Keizer, G. (2000, January 11). Live from your PC: CNET reviews three top
streaming media players. CNET Internet [Online]. Available:
Vaughan, T. (1998). Multimedia: Making it work. New York: Osborne McGraw
*This paper is written by Leah Graham for the course EDC385G Multimedia Authoring
at the University of Texas at Austin.
Real Player 7.0 Basic
http://www.real.com (Real Player’s home page)
• Real Video Show Case http://realguide.real.com
Music, entertainment, and sports media links
• The Late Show with David Letterman
• Live Concerts.Com
Features interviews and performances by musicians including live concert events.
A site run by Yahoo that allows you to search specifically for media items like CD’s, audio books, and TV
and radio stations. Formats are real audio and Windows media.
Apple QuickTime 4.0
http://www.apple.com/quicktime (Quick Time’s home page)
• Channel QT
Includes software, plug-ins, and links to tool…including Virtual Reality tools.
• NHL Break Away 1998
Site with Hockey clips from play off games.
• Texas State Senate
Supplies latest news updated daily and Real Audio broadcasts of sessions. Includes a Quick Time Video
tour of the capitol building.
Microsoft Windows Media Player 6.4
http://www.microsoft.com/windows/mediaplayer/en/default.asp (WMP home page)
Selection of streaming audio and video. You'll find the latest headlines, music, online radio stations,
streaming movies, live sports, etc.
• Microsoft Web Events
A guide to audio and video on the Web. Includes a categorized directory of sites offering multimedia
content and a schedule of featured events.
You can hear the weather, your horoscope, and even the joke of the day. You can search this site for just
about any type of audio or video file found in the WMP format.