RealNetworks responded today to the recent beta release of Microsoft's new Windows Media Player 7 with a new media suite of its own, the Real Entertainment Center (REC). Essentially, a slightly modified version of the existing RealPlayer with a bundled copy of RealJukebox thrown in for good measure, the new suite includes an Internet radio tuner, a CD ripper for copying CD music to the computer, and a player that is compatible with a wide variety of media formats, including RealAudio, Microsoft's Windows Media, and over 40 other formats. REC takes the all-in-one scheme used by Microsoft Office and applies it to the media market, giving consumers a single location that contains every tool they'll ever need. The difference between RealNetworks' offering and Windows Media Player, however, is not subtle: REC will set you back about $50 if you want the full product, while Windows Media Player is free.

"This has really been optimized for consumers,'' says RealNetworks' Rob Grady. "This has everything for everyone, from hard-core computer music fans to your mom. We really believe consumption of digital media is at an inflection point." The improved RealPlayer (bumped to version 8) found in REC offers enhancements to its streaming audio and video capabilities, while the new RealJukebox application (version 2) offers an improved, Web browser-like user interface and the ability to organize music that's downloaded from the Internet or ripped from a CD. A third application is new to the suite, RealDownload, which makes it easier to download music from the Web.

"\[RealDownload\] sort of completes the suite because content acquisition is a huge thing, because you can't enjoy it if you can't get it," says Grady. He also notes that the company offers a free version of REC, but the added-cost "Plus" version features better sound quality, a full graphic equalizer, and other tools, making it appropriate for high-end users