When all is said and done, Apple’s pretty restrictive when it comes to playing media on your iOS device. Out of the box, only Apple’s own formats are supported, which is fine if you’re wedded to iTunes, but not so great if you have media in a variety of different formats.
You could manfully try converting them all using a tool like Handbrake, but if you want a quicker, fuss-free solution, then check out VLC Streamer Free instead.
VLC Streamer Free takes the best bits of VLC Media Player -- namely the bit that lets you play just about any media file on your computer without installing loads of different codecs or media players -- and takes it one step further.
The app is paired with VLC Streamer Helper, which you install on your PC or Mac. Once up and running, your iOS device is able to access any media file on your computer’s hard drive and – after a short wait while any necessary transcoding is done – it can then play it over your wireless network.
The beauty of this approach is two-fold: first, you keep all the files on your gargantuan hard drive, so your iPhone or iPad doesn’t get cluttered up with media, and second, you don’t have to worry about converting your media by hand -- VLC Streamer Helper does all that in the background.
Both desktop and app work superbly -- you can queue up files using the desktop app, allowing VLC Streamer Helper to get on with the task of transcoding them so your iPhone or iPad can watch them without unwanted pauses, or you can select which files to watch, view or play using your iOS device. You can even choose a quality setting based on your iPhone or iPad’s resolution, plus network connection’s speed, enabling you to strike the perfect balance between quality and access times.
While it’s usually possible to start watching a video within seconds of selecting it, if time isn’t pressing, we’d recommend waiting until the clapperboard icon appears next to a movie file, indicating it’s been fully transcoded and is ready to go. We found this resolved some buffering issues, as well as lip sync problems, with certain media files. The app will let you watch any media that VLC Media Player can, but be aware that some obscure formats may not be supported.
VLC Streamer Free is ad-supported, but you can remove these by forking out $1.99 for the paid-for version. Another bonus of the paid-for app is that you can opt to save media to your iPad after it’s been transcoded, allowing you to watch it offline. It all adds up to an incredibly elegant and neat streaming solution, albeit one that’s suited more to smaller networks where the media is stored on a single computer.
VLC Streamer Free is available through the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, while VLC Streamer Helper is available as a freeware download for Windows, Mac and – albeit an unsupported beta – Linux.