If you scour the app store for video players you will find a plethora of newcomers to the iPhone/iPad party. With Quicktime as the basis for all comparisons on the iPhone, we will examine the good and the bad of a few that I believe are important. All products were tested on iOS 4.
This is the default video player that comes with the iPhone. It is fast and plays back many video types and codecs that are supported by Quicktime natively on the Mac (1)(2):
- QuickTime Movie (.mov)
- MPEG-4 (.mp4, .m4v)
- MPEG-2 (OS X Lion only)
- MPEG-2 (OS X Lion only)
- MPEG-4 (Part 2)
- Apple ProRes
- Apple Pixlet
- Component Video
- DVC Pro 50
- Motion JPEG (Mac OS X v10.6.x only)
- Photo JPEG
- Sorenson Video 2
- Sorenson Video 3
For the benefit and simplicity of this article, one should concentrate on the File types listed above as opposed to the codecs. The codecs can exist in many different forms, but if the File type is not recognized, then no matter what program you use, it will not work. For example, many will use the term H.264 and assume that it only relates to Apple's MPEG-4 file type. It does not!
Additionally, Quicktime does not support AVI file types on the iPhone or the iPad. This is a major faux pas that is second only to the worst aspect of Quicktime: The need to sync your computer to your iPhone in order for the files to work. It is uncertain, as of the time of this report, whether this will change. What is certain is the fact that Apple will probably not change its view on .AVI files.
In terms of playback, Quicktime offers very good performance as would be expected from an Apple default program. It is also the main depot for developers sending compatible movie files from their apps. They generally open in Quicktime to avoid additional software configuration.
Version tested: 2.14
Size: 10.4 mb , 9.3mb (iPad)
Cost: $1.99 $2.99 (iPad)
If you are a regular to this blog, you will know how excited I was to see CineXplayer. However, not having an iPad at the time, the excitement was muted. CineXplayer is probably one of the first Apps to natively play back .AVI file types while still supporting the other native Quicktime formats. The performance of Cinexplayer to play the formats that it supports is flawless. The larger screen of the iPad allows for a much better viewing experience. However, ever since version 1 of this software (I am reviewing version 2.1.4), there has been little improvement in my opinion in regards to this app.
First you must use a computer if you want to upload .AVI or other movies to the device. There are no Over-the-air (OTA) options to choose from. Second, the lack of codec and file support remains somewhat problematic. Although it can play back Xvid files (AVI), it still cannot recognize .MKV files. Additionally, there are reports that its support for AC3, the audio format of choice for the iPhone, Quicktime and other Apple sound files remains elusive. It is "hit or miss."
The new support for 3D movies is promising on the iPad, as is the integration with Facebook - if you're into sharing what you are watching with your friends. But although Cinexplayer has arrived for the iPhone the continued lack of OTA downloads and streaming makes this one secondary at this point. You are still tethered to iTunes and your computer if you want to download a movie to your iphone or iPad.
AVPlayer and AVPlayerHD
Version Tested: 1.43
Size: 8.1mb 8.3mb(HD)
Cost: $2.99 (both iPhone and iPad(hd)).
We now move on to what I call "the big boys." AVPlayerHD is available only for the iPad and as its name implies, it is able to display full 1080p videos on the iPad and export them to a big screen TV.
The beautiful thing about AVPlayer for the iPhone and AVPlayerHD for the iPad is not only does it deliver where others have failed, but it sports one of the most elegant user interfaces that I have ever seen on either a Palm or Apple product. When you use it, you feel as though Apple and its programmers wrote the app. It is elegant, yet simple and the use of the color RED is nothing short of wonderful.
But don't let the aesthetic UI fool you, the programmers of this little puppy have done their homework and they have produced not only an elegant app, but one that is extremely useful.
First, the file type, codec issue. Essentially a non issue here. It plays the following file types and codecs (listed together here) natively:
I would suggest that you shop around before plonking down $40 for one of these things and making certain that you have a television that accepts composite video. In addition, ensure that the device is compatible with the iPhone 4. Some are not. A good place to look for compatibility is the Apple Store of course ($$$) and also Buy.com. I have seen the cords there for $17.99. (3) (4)(5)(6)
Apart from playing long form videos, this little program also supports subtititles! Personally, this means that I can now watch several episodes of the Korean medical soap opera Behind The White Tower (7)and read the subtitles (Great show by the way :) ). It is obvious that the writers of this app had an international audience in mind when they wrote the app.
I spoke earlier about the UI, but make no mistake, the language issue is incorporated in this app by the wonderful use of gestures for making things work. There are no long explanations of instructions, just swiping your fingers in certain positions will produce the desired effect. In addition to this, the artsy partisans can enjoy changing the color scheme of shows watched. This is really a nice touch for the old sepia movie crowd.
As I posted in one of my earlier reviews of this and the other app to follow, the simplicity of the UI was not the only thing that I enjoyed about this app. There is also the file transfer mechanism chosen by the authors that makes this one a winner. You do not need to have your computer attached to the device to transfer files to it. You can if you want to however and this will produce the "side loading" effect found in Cinexplayer. It will download the files in iTunes and serve them via USB and Itunes to your iPhone or iPad. But be forewarned, this method of transfer will eat up valuable hard drive space on your computer. Remember that backing up your data to your computer means that all of those video files get backed up again, so you will have duplicates of your movie files on your hard drive.
Much more interesting is the new FTP transfer system recently implemented. It does work and you have the ability to set up your device as an FTP server or client. It's really not my favorite way to access my Network Attached Storage (NAS) which I have to do via my computer, but it works for any FTP client, so you are not necessarily locked into just downloading files from your local Machine.
For the computer, using your local address will allow you to upload and download files from your computer wirelessly. It works with either the usual port 8080 HTTP route or via an FTP program.
Although it is nice, I still prefer the ability to use SAMBA or AFP directly. But this method is not bad. I cannot get the FTP client to work using the Apple Airport presently, but I think that is just me.
There are other wonderful things about this program, but you may not need any of them. Just know that you can throw a lot of file types at it and it will respond nicely.
OPlayer and OPlayerHD
Version Tested: 1.31 iPhone, 1.1.01
Size: 33.1mb, 17mb (iPad)
Cost: $2.99, $4.99 (iPad=hd)
The first thing that you may notice about this app is the sheer size of its iPhone version. It is almost 4x the size of its competitors. It is also the most expensive of the ones that I have reviewed.
OPlayer has a few things going for it that other programs still lack. But this one almost went down in flames due to some social faux pas. I sometimes feel sorry for Jonathon Young, the young programmer who created this wonderful app. It is obvious that Jonathon created this program in response to a need that existed for playing codecs that were outside the realm of Quicktime. But with success came trouble. Having had Oplayer hailed as the best AV player for the iPhone bar none, Jonathon administered an update that just about crashed every time the app was opened. Jonathon's slow response to the issues almost relegated this app to obscurity. It received a plethora of negative comments in the app store. I refrained, mainly because I did not do the update. I am apt to waiting for feedback about updates before taking the plunge - something I learned from my Palm Lifedrive days. And of course in the tech world - unfortunately for Jonathon, if you make a slip, there is always someone waiting to take over ie. AVPLAYER.
But some time in August a new update to this program was released and I have to tell you, it was well worth the wait.
What is obvious about Oplayer is the fact that it is not as snazzy as AVPLAYER. It is obvious that this is either a one-man or two person software endeavor. It is not elegant nor is it appeasing to the eye. But what it has going for it is something that cannot be denied. It will brute force almost any codec that you throw at it. You may have to do a little work to get it going, but once you do, the App shines.
First, let's talk about filetypes and codecs covered:
- .iso (really?). Who would download an .iso file to their iphone? Almost nobody. But the secret sauce is .......... Streaming from a NAS.
And the playback is near flawless. As I stated in my earlier review about this app, if you find the audio synching to be out of time, you can alter this without difficulty by decreasing the hardware decoding and skipping frames. Skipping frames does not really show up appreciably if you are watching a movie on the iPhone4. The quality is again exemplary as it is for the other apps, with the exception that the iPhone4 can only display a max of 720 p XVIDs. A minor inconvenience.
As with AVPlayer, Oplayer can play back subtitled video. This appears to work relatively well and I had no problem playing back my default file used for this review (7).
One feature that I have always liked about Oplayer is the security touch that was built into its first iteration. The changing of the port numbers with each use of the software is pure genius. For most players, including AVPlayer, port 8080 appears to be the ubiquitous route. I do not need to tell you what the dangers are of having just one port available for transfers. The variation of ports is a good thing and it is continued in this version of the program.
Where AVPlayer excels with its swashbuckling UI, Oplayer excels in its ability to play back almost anything. Yes, you have the ubiquitous USB connection that uses iTunes. See my previous report about that. It is the fastest way to get a movie onto the device, but it is problematic when doing backups. Oplayer has the FTP transfers just as its nearest competitor does. But here is the kicker. With the latest version of OPlayer, those of us using NAS drives finally have a streaming and downloading video player that does not need an additional program to use it. Normally, on the iPhone or on the iPad one would use a separate program to download a file from a NAS drive and then transfer it to the video player of choice. OPlayer now allows you to use the SAMBA protocol to download directly from your NAS drive or STREAM to your device and not download it at all. THIS IS A DREAM COME TRUE. Although there is no AFP streaming (Apple's native protocol), most devices can do both so you can use OPlayer to do a lot. HTTP streaming is also supported, although I have never tried to use it.
So what are the weaknesses? Well we've beaten the elegance thing into the wall. It is not elegant at all. In fact it is downright ugly! The instructions on what to do are.... well.... nonexistent. You really have to figure it all out as you go along. The web site has gotten a lot better and there are now some YouTube videos that offer support. But you have to do a lot of work sometimes to get what you want. Downloading files remains simple if you use the HTTP route, but you do have to worry about Time Outs once in a while with larger files.
The HD version of the app for the iPad is only slightly better than the iPhone version, but offers no additional features.
- Catalan (really? )
The feedback that Jonathon Young received from a lot of users seems to have driven him to make some well thought out changes. Apart from the broken English postings on his blog http://olimsoft.wordpress.com/, Jonathon appears to be earnestly trying to right the silence that he provided in April. There is now a snazzy website called "edavs" which is short for Embedded Devices AV Solution,which offers information on present, new and upcoming products.
I still find this piece of software to be very useful in the long run, particularly when I am having trouble with certain codecs. And I can still say that I highly recommend it on the iPhone.
Real World Testing:
Reading from a NAS Drive:
Only the Oplayer on both the iPhone and iPad was able to read from the NAS drive using SAMBA. The SAMBA setup was easy enough. Although I was not fond of the fact that it accessed the first layer of the directory, I was impressed by the fact that it still worked. I would like to see it open in a folder so that all of the network drive is not shown when connecting.
As for streaming, the quality is excellent. There were some issues with rotating the device to landscape mode once a movie commenced, but when playing the file natively this did not occur.
Additionally, once the device was turned to the portrait mode, it was fine. Interestingly, if you begin watching the streamed movie in landscape mode it does not stutter.
On the iPad, the results were passable. One thing I could not tell was whether the HD version was streaming 1080p or 720p like its iPhone neighbor. The quality was still quite good. A recent check on the iTunes site now states 1280x720 for XVID and 800x600 for everything else. Apparently there are some audio synching issues if you go outside of this.
So what about that iso file thing? Well, streaming it (I wasn't crazy enough to sit and wait for an ISO download) took a while. It was stuck on 95% load for almost 3 minutes before it began streaming. I would say "Not quite ready for prime time" on that one. Additionally, I could not get the DVD menus to work well, so I would say don't rely on this to remotely control your DVD's.
I do not use FTP that much for anything anymore so my testing was limited to my other computers using an FTP server. AVPlayer and OPlayer worked well, but AVPlayer's server capabilities were quite remarkable. Although there are some issues with getting FTP to work immediately.
Both work well for HTTP downloading. However as I have stated on several occasions, the use of unique ports with Oplayer is something that I find refreshing. It is interesting to note that not many programmers have adopted this scheme. AVPlayer, as usual was the most elegant, with a beautiful meter showing how far the download progressed.
Both AVPlayer and OPlayer have security settings. OPlayer allows you to add a password to use the app. AVPlayer uses the numerical keypass to do the same essentially.
Ease of use:
AVPlayer wins that round hands down when it comes to simplicity. One can get more complex with the hand gestures that are used, but overall the UI for AVPlayer is the most "Apple-like."
Oplayer - Period!
For the iPhone, I reiterate my view that OPLAYER is the best video player out there. Although there is stiff competition coming from AVPlayer, OPlayer still outshines AVPlayer with its incredible array of features for downloading and streaming, not to mention its ubiquitous language support. If your movie is already downloaded into the iPhone memory then AVPlayer has a commanding lead with its hand gestures, color changes and again, dare I say it --- UI.
Even though OPlayer has its faults - (while using HTTP, despite having the wandering Ports that I love, OPlayer still does not show a progress bar for downloads. Unless you are using something on your desktop computer showing data flowing in and out of your computer, you have no idea if the file that you are uploading to OPlayer is actually getting there or not. This flaw needs to be fixed!) - the wandering Port feature for downloads, the subtitles, language support and near flawless playback makes this one a winner for the iPhone, but for how long?
Where as I may forgive OPlayer for its shortcomings on the iPhone, I cannot do the same on the iPad. It's $4.99 price tag makes it one of the more expensive players on the iPad. AVPlayer on the other hand excels in the iPad environs. Its tremendous UI advantage is only amplified on the iPad. Although it still pales when it comes to connectivity (SAMBA, Subtitles), once you get your file on the device, the playback using AVPlayer is spot on. I had some issues with OPlayer on the iPad. It seems that the little nuances that can be forgiven on the iPhone - tracking, pixels etc., are amplified on the iPad. Folder management seems to be more concerning to me on the iPad than it was on the iPhone. AVPlayer seems to excel in almost every department from ease of use to custom playback. AVPlayer is well suited for the iPad.
One feature lacking in both was AirPlay. I am hoping that iOS 5's screen cloning will resolve this issue, but for now, tethered playback to HDMI seems to work well for both using the iPad device. On the iPhone, the Composite playback wires appear to work well.
My Recommendations for Video Playback:
For the iPhone: OPlayer. (Olimsoft)
For the iPad: AVPlayer (EPLAYWORKS)(8)
(1) http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3775 Quicktime Native Codecs.
(2) AVI not supported on iPhone Quicktime.
(3) For composite cords (subject to change): http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1454
(4) More on composite cords (iPad): http://www.apple.com/ipad/accessories/
(5) Buying a composite cord. Pricey, but guaranteed to work: http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC748ZM/A
(6) Buy.com site for iphone 4 composite cords (again may be subject to change): http://www.buy.com/retail/product.asp?sku=219450938&sellerid=18700237
(7) Crunchyroll also shows this streaming video. I really recommend it. Link is here to Crunchyroll http://www.crunchyroll.com/behind-the-white-tower.
(8)Olimsoft's new website: http://www.edavs.com/
(9)EPLAYWORKS website: http://eplayworks.com/
(10) Video still from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Disclaimer: The above mentioned review represents the opinions of myself and no other entities. All software was purchased at full cost via the iTunes App store. No Demo or Review copies were entertained. This review is based upon real world use using standard equipment. No input was sought from the companies mentioned in this report. All software was used on iOS4. A recent trial with iOS5 has shown no appreciable issues so my review stands for both iOS4 and iOS5.