The first version of RealPlayer was introduced on April 3, 1995 as "RealAudio Player" and was one of the first media players capable of streaming media over the Internet. Then, version 4.01 of RealPlayer was included as a selectable Internet tool in Windows 98's installation package. Subsequent versions of the software were titled "RealPlayer G2" (version 6) and "RealOne Player" (version 9), while free "Basic" versions as well as paid "Plus" versions, the latter with additional features, have also been offered. For the Windows OS, the RealPlayer version 9 subsumed the features of the separate program, RealJukebox.
RealPlayer 11 was released for Microsoft Windows in November 2007 and for Mac OS X in May 2008. RealPlayer 15 was released on November 18, 2011. This version allows users to transfer video, music and photos between their computers and mobile devices, share links of videos and photos on sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and download videos from popular sites such as YouTube and Metacafe.
RealPlayer was initially accessed by many users as a plugin to watch streaming video or listen to streaming audio (for example, most of the BBC's websites formerly employed the plugin); but in the early 21st century, Adobe Flash and subsequently HTML5 video became preferred options for this purpose.
In February 2016, RealNetworks released RealPlayer 18, which incorporated the features of the previous year's release of RealTimes, an app that makes multimedia montages from users' photographs and videos, backed up and accessible via cloud storage. The Real.com Blog states that "RealPlayer with RealTimes (aka "RealPlayer" for short) will still include the legacy features, such as Downloader, Converter, and Web Videos. It will also still include our RealTimes features, such as Photos and RealTimes Stories™, our automatic video collage feature."  Note that as of 2018, the publisher only provides RealTime for use on a Mac and no longer publishes a media player called RealPlayer for macOS.
Features of RealPlayer include a video download utility, a web browser, "visualizations" (graphical animations or "light shows" that appear on the screen when playing music), equalizer and video controls (including Crossfade and Gapless playback in RealPlayer Plus), recording audio, CD ripping, and a media converter which allows converting files to a variety of common audio and video formats.
Photo and Video Sharing - users can post videos to Facebook and Twitter directly from the software, as well as share directly to friends and family via email or SMS messages.
Video: DVD (*.vob), Video CD (*.dat), MPEG Video (*.mpg, *.mpeg, *.m2v, *.mpe etc.), AVI (*.avi, *.divx), MJPEG video playback from .avi files, Windows Media (*.wma, *.wmv etc.) (requires Windows Media Player 9/10), QuickTime (*.mov, *.qt) (QuickTime Player must be installed), Adobe SystemsFlash (*.swf) (Flash or Shockwave Player must be installed), Flash Video (*.flv).
RealPlayer has a wide variety of plug-ins. Some of the plug-ins are listed at the RealPlayer accessories page, but not all.
There are four audio "enhancers" available for the latest version of RealPlayer. DFX, iQfx, Volume Logic, and Sanyo 3D Surround. Lake PLS, created by Lake Technologies, works only with RealJukebox, and has limited use. There are some registry tweaks which allow Lake PLS to work with RealPlayer 10. Lake PLS is still available on the RealPlayer website.
RealPlayer Skin Creators
RealPlayer has had two skin creator plug-ins: SkinsEditor for RealJukebox -- an easy to use skins creator made by DeYoung software. The second application, RealJukebox Skins Converter, converts Winamp skins into RealPlayer skins.
vTuner Plus is a radio tuner specially created for RealPlayer.
The available visualizations from the RealNetworks site are: FrequencywurX, FyrewurX, FlamewurX, XFactor, Spectrl View, FluxWave, Puddle, Paint Drops, Polka dots, StickSterZ 1.0, Circle, On the road, Real Logo, and Hubble Bubble. There are some more visualization plug-ins like Surreal.FX by RealNetworks, G-Force and WhiteCap by SoundSpectrum and SticksterZ 1.1 by Eric Metois.
Firefox Browser Download (Firefox Add-on)
RealPlayer has a browser download add-on for Firefox (currently v1.0) which allows users to download video from a video player window (pop-up menu above top-right side of video player).
an audioscrobbler plugin that connects RealPlayer with the Last.FM social music network.
Supported platforms for RealPlayer
RealPlayer SP includes audio CD burning capabilities, DVR-style playback buffering, multimedia search, Internet radio, a jukebox-style file library, an embedded web browser (using Microsoft Internet Explorer), and the ability to convert and transfer media to a wide range of devices. This includes music players such as iPod and Zune, smartphones such as iPhone and BlackBerry, portable gaming devices such as Sony PSP, and console gaming systems such as Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. Since version 11, RealPlayer SP has gained Flash Video support, DVD, SVCD, VCD burning (120-minute), and video recording (DRM is supported).
As of 2011, RealPlayer Enterprise is a licensed product for enterprise applications which can be customized and remotely administered by RealPlayer Enterprise Manager. The free Realplayer Enterprise Education Edition has been removed. Both versions of Realplayer Enterprise are lightweight, ad-free versions of RealPlayer, missing most consumer features and most plug-in support. The RealSched.exe update reminder can be disabled in two steps, and it is not reinstalled upon running the player.
While RealPlayer for macOS had been distributed (for free) in the past, as of December 2018[update] no macOS version of RealPlayer is available for download from the Real site.
The last stable release as of July 2010[update] included Real's Helix playback engine for RealAudio and RealVideo, a 10-band equalizer and video adjustment controls, and a full-screen, resizable "theater mode" for video playback, as well as many features found in its Windows counterpart.
Since the release of version 10 on January 7, 2004, RealPlayer had become much more closely integrated with macOS including features such as:
QuickTime playback support (including full-screen viewing which Apple only introduced to its own basic QuickTime Player in 2007)
An integrated Web browser based on Apple's WebKit framework, resulting in RealPlayer and Safari sharing cookies.
Available versions of RealPlayer for macOS are 32-bit. The current macOS 10.14 (Mojave) is probably the last macOS that will run 32-bit applications.
RealPlayer for Linux/Unix was developed separately from the Windows and Mac versions. The client is based on the open-source Helix Player which can be found at the Helix Community Website. It supports Windows Media 7/8, RealAudio/Video, MP3 and Ogg Vorbis. The interface depends on the current GTK+ theme.
The Android version of RealPlayer is currently available as a free download from the Google Play Store. It supports Real Audio, Real Video, MP3, 3GP, AMR, and other media formats.
The Symbian version of RealPlayer allows mobile phones to play Real Audio, Real Video, MP3, 3GP, AMR, and other media formats. It is provided as freeware. In newer Symbian devices it can also be used to stream both audio and video content in the form of MP3 (music) and 3GP (videos).
RealPlayer 1.6.1 (US) or RealPlayer 1.6.0 (worldwide) is available for free for PalmOne-made Palm OS 5 devices, such as the Palm Tungsten or Zire series. It is also compatible with RealPlayer Music Store tracks. However, they will neither install nor run on non-PalmOne-made devices like Sony'sClie line of PDAs. Realplayer for Palm OS does not support later Palm smartphones such as the treo 700p, 755p, or Centro, although the treo 600 and 650 are listed as supported devices.
RealJukebox was a computer program released by RealNetworks that allowed users to organise their digital music. It was first released in May 1999. By late 2001, the functions of the program had been integrated into the Real's core media player program, RealPlayer.
PC World magazine named RealPlayer (1999 Version) as #2 in its 2006 list "The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time", writing that RealPlayer "had a disturbing way of making itself a little too much at home on your PC installing itself as the default media player, taking liberties with your Windows Registry, popping up annoying 'messages' that were really just advertisements, and so on." In 2007, it placed RealPlayer, versions 1996–2004, at #5 in its list The 20 Most Annoying Tech Products.
US-CERT has issued multiple security advisories reporting defects which allowed remote sites to use RealPlayer to execute attack code.
Real Alternative is a codec which allows RealMedia files to be played without the installation of the RealPlayer software. In 2010, RealNetworks sued Hilbrand Edskes, a 26-year-old Dutch webmaster, for unlawfully providing a hyperlink to the Real Alternative codec on his website, alleging that Real Alternative is a reverse engineered codec and therefore illegal. In November 2011, RealNetworks' case against Edskes was dismissed and RealNetworks was ordered to pay him €48,000 in damages. The case, however, cost Edskes €66,000 in legal fees.