RealPlayer Support: Streamed Audio and Video

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Digital Collections Department streamed audio and video can be played using the RealPlayer. This page describes what you need to view streamed media and provides solutions for common problems viewing streams with RealPlayer.

Getting Started

Connection to the Internet. For best performance, we recommend a broadband connection (DSL, Cable, or on-campus internet).
Current Version of Real Player.To ensure the best possible experience with the stream, we recommend that you use the most recent version of Real Player.
Sound Card and Speakers/Headphones.You'll enjoy the audio portions of streams if your speakers are turned on and your sound card is working.

Where can I download Player software?
How do I install RealPlayer?
How can I test my player software?

Troubleshooting and Optimizing Audio/Video Playback

The streaming video is jumpy, blurry, or sometimes pauses.  
The audio sounds distorted.  
I can hear audio, but I don't see video of the stream.
What does it mean when the real player says "Buffering"?
More help

Where can I download the RealPlayer software?

The RealPlayer software is available for both Windows and Macintosh platforms. Northwestern users do not have to pay any fees to get RealPlayer. Please refer to the links to both new and old versions of RealPlayer directly below.

Versions of the Real player software:
  • Free RealPlayer download for WIndows and Mac OSX is available at http://www.real.com/realplayer/player-plus. Please make sure you have the latest version of the player; there were some security problems with earlier releases of RealPlayer 10.5 and with 10 beta for Mac and with the RealOne Player: read the Real security advisory for more information.
  • Premium Real players (RealOne Player Plus, RealOne SuperPass, etc.). These pay versions of the Real players have expanded features and access to content from Real Networks. If you subscribe to these services, your player will also work to access free content from Northwestern University.

Installing RealPlayer

The process for installing RealPlayer is very simple and very fast. You can see RealPlayer's explanation of this process.


How can I test my player software?

Older versions of the Real player may not support some of the newer compression types used to deliver content at Northwestern University. The following quick links will test how well your Real Player will play Northwestern content:

You may also wish to visit the Real Customer Support page for more advanced help directly from Real.


The streaming video is jumpy, blurry, or sometimes pauses.

Do not connect to Northwestern's VPN service while attempting to access streamed Real content. Users have reported performance issues. If you are not certain whether or not you are using VPN, consult NU Information Technology's VPN pages.

In order to access streamed media from an off campus location, your network must be fast enough: typically, for audio only, the network must be capable of a download speed of at least 100 kilobits per second (kbps), and for video, at least 400 kilobits per second (kbps). If you are not certain how fast your connection is, contact your internet service provider.

Other software may affect the speed of your connection and the ability to access streamed media. If you have a personal firewall installed, or are simultaneously using other network-intensive software, try disabling them temporarily.

You can also consult the Real player help page which troubleshoots problems playing video.

If video playback seems choppy (changing connection speed)

Sometimes the Real player comes installed with a setting for connection speed that is too slow for Northwestern content. A symptom of this problem is choppy video; your video may look more like a slideshow than smoothly playing video. If you are working on a Mac, this may be an issue with your bandwidth settings. To properly set your bandwidth settings:

  1. Click on the RealPlayer menu and select the Preferences from the options.

  2. Click the Connection icon in the top toolbar.


  3. Click "Test Connection". This will automatically reset your Connection Speed and Maximum Bandwidth to the highest value supported by your connection.

  4. Set the Connection Speed value at one level below the speed of your modem.

  5. Set the Maximum Bandwidth equal to the speed of your modem.

IMPORTANT: your network speed will differ from the settings shown in the image above depending on who your Internet Service Provider is. If you are connected to the Northwestern network from an on-campus location such as a dorm, lab or office building, you can choose the Office Lan (10Mbps) or T1 (1Mbps) setting. If you are using a DSL line, a cable modem, or other type of internet connection, ask your Internet Service Provider to tell you how fast your connection is, and choose the corresponding setting.


The audio sounds distorted.

Network congestion may be so great or your Internet connection to the streaming server may be so poor, that audio portions of streams sound distorted. Try changing settings to optimize performance:


I can hear audio, but I don't see video of the stream.

First, make sure that video came with the stream -- some streams are audio only. If this is indeed an audio and video stream, network congestion may be so great or your Internet connection to the streaming server may be so poor, that video footage is slow or absent.


What does it mean when the real player says "Buffering"?

Buffering is RealPlayer's way of receiving and storing some of the stream before you access it. Before you are able to see a video or listen to a file on the Internet, RealPlayer downloads a portion of the file on to your machine and then starts to play it. This lets RealPlayer begin playing a stored part of the file while the rest of the file downloads.

If the file stops playing and RealPlayer displays a message saying it is buffering, RealPlayer is giving the downloading information time to catch up to the speed of the actual presentation of music or video.

If the stream frequently stops and re-buffers, you may want to change your buffer settings


More help

  1. If you've already checked your connection settings, and video appears to come through consistently, but still runs slowly/choppy, try closing all other programs. The Real Player will happily use all system resources you can give it.
  2. Real Player movies might not play if you are behind a firewall. Ask your network administrator if there is a way around the firewall (though, in many cases, there is no solution.)
  3. Browser cache: some users have reported problems when their internet browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Mozilla, etc.) is set to cache files instead of downloading a fresh copy with each request. The message "link not found or outdated" might indicate a problem with browser cache. Try emptying your cache and then re-requesting the streamed file by clicking the link again.

The NUIT Support Center can assist with RealPlayer, laptop configuration, or other problems. Digital Collections staff are also happy to provide assistance to NU faculty and grad students. If the above information does not answer your questions, please submit a streaming problem form or send email to Digital Collections