With your broadband connection, you're ready to watch streamed news clips and the latest videos from Brittney Spears on your PC. But you don't want to download five different media players to do it.
You can ease some of those download pains with the ChoiceCaster media player from ESynch. This week, the company posted a free beta of the player, which promises to play all audio and video formats supported by Apple's QuickTime, Microsoft Windows Media Player, and RealNetworks' RealPlayer. Designed for broadband users, a free final release is expected by the end of the month.
Note that although ChoiceCaster removes some of the confusion as to which media you can play, you'll still need to download the other three players to support their unique formats. You can activate playing from one central control, although the other players must reside on your system.
"ChoiceCaster is the first stand-alone player to play QuickTime, Windows Media and Real[Audio] formats in one tool," says Roland Wood, vice president of sales for ESynch. The player also includes a media guide and an integrated browser window, he adds.
The ChoiceCaster media guide offers advanced features like scheduled notifications, Wood says. "You can tell it to remind you on your cell phone, pager, or by e-mail when Regis Philbin is appearing at ABC.com."
The ChoiceCaster guide also includes a library feature that will scan your hard drive for any file supported by the player. This feature may work better for video than audio. When I tried this, it located endless amounts of strange .wav and MPEG2 audio files associated with Windows, but failed to find my MP3s; you may still want to hang on to your jukebox.
Besides playing multiple media formats, ChoiceCaster is unique in having an integrated HTML browser, according to Wood. The player is in use by several Web site partners, including Disney, that drop their branded "skins" on ChoiceCaster along with relevant links.
For example, if you're watching a video you like, you can click to go straight to a page where you can purchase the CD, Wood says.
Although you need the other players to play every format, ChoiceCaster points you in the right direction so you don't have to figure out which one you need to play a new file.
"When you install the player, it looks at what video codecs you have. If you're missing one like QuickTime, it takes you to the Web page where you can download the QuickTime player," Wood says.
Until streaming media formats and players are truly compatible, you will need multiple applications to watch it all. But ChoiceCaster does make it easier to just hit Play.