iPhone Life magazine

Azul Media Player: Is It Indeed the Best?

Azul Media Player (Currently $0.99 for iPhone) is being featured in Apple's Staff Favorites as "The #1 Travel App of 2012." While I've never recommended it personally, I decided to thoroughly test version 4.5 to find out if I should trust its recent recommendations.

As it turns out, its ranking as an Apple Staff Favorite doesn't guarantee the player is indeed the best of the bunch compared to its alternatives. While the Web downloader, video camera recording, and effecting functionality of the app are indeed pretty good if not flawless, it's quite poor overall and I do not recommend it as a video multimedia player.

If you read the detailed pros and cons list below, you'll see there are much better video players around. However, for the current discounted price of $0.99 for the iPhone version or $2.99 for the iPad, it may still be a good buy if you do want to play with the camera effects or need a video downloader app.

However, for “plain” video playback, there are much better choices such as: AVPlayerHD, HD Player Pro, nPlayer if you need DSP's,It's Playing if you don't use it for H.264 software decoding, GoodPlayer or, if you're jailbroken, XBMC or RushPlayer+.

All of these players offer far better format support, compliance, and battery life while decoding the same video in software, stability, error-tolerance.


Note I've dedicated at least one large article to almost every single bullet below. Feel free to read my previous articles for background info on all the compliance/efficiency tests I run.

 

Cons

  • No Retina (high-res) support for software-decoded videos – this is by far the biggest problem, particularly on small-screen devices with high resolution (iPhones starting with the iPhone 4 and iPod touch models starting with the 4th gen.)
  • Not Universal (meaning you need to pay for two versions, should you want to use it on both small-screen iDevices and iPads)
  • Not very good H.264 decoder (definitely slower and less-compatible than that of the top players)
  • The player being a completely new product, existing customers of pre-4.0 versions need to purchase it again
  • No DTS/AC3 audio. In addition, users are only warned about the absence of their support when they specifically enable Hybrid Player Plugin in Settings; otherwise, no warnings will be displayed.
  • No embedded simple, textual MKV subtitle support, like that of the standardized Monsters test video. (External SRT's and embedded SSA's are supported)
  • MTS (camera AVCHD container) support is particularly bad – for example, of the float plane passingstandardized test video, only two frames were shown
  • No gesture-based ffwd / rewind (there are two dedicated ffwd / rewind icons though, both with 30s steps)
  • Crashed pretty frequently while software-decoding my suite of test videos; for example, it always crashed when switching audio tracks in the standardized Harry Potter MKV test video (needless to say, better players do NOT crash when playing back this video (either))
  • The “Hybrid” switch is pretty much different from that of, say, AVPlayerHD in that you'll VERY frequently need to disable it – unlike with AVPlayer(HD), which offers a much higher degree of compatibility. Unfortunately, the trips to the Settings menu to do this is rather frequently needed.

  • Defaults to software playback even with iOS-native videos and, unless you do enable the native plug-in, doesn't ask users to select between the two modes, which means unsuspecting users will be presented sub-par quality (stuttering 1080p videos even on the fastest iOS devices (currently, the iPhone 5 and the iPad 4), let alone slower ones)
  • No Apple CC's, not even in hardware-decoded mode
  • Absolutely no Hi10P support (not that it'd be any good if it was supported, given the low efficiency of the H.264 decoder)
  • WMV decoder definitely slower than that of AVPlayerHD (WMA Pro audio is supported, though)
  • Limited audio file format support: absolutely no FLAC, APE, OGA, WV or advanced (except for WMA Pro) WMA support. (WAV is supported.)
  • Poor M-JPEG (camera AVI) video support: premature end of video playback, messed up colors
  • No UPnP / FTP / SMB streaming (HTTP streaming is excellent, though)

While it does support background remuxing of MKV's (which is needed, given the low-quality, slow H.264 video decoder),

  1. the remuxing algorithm is definitely inferior to that of the, in this regard, top players (AVPlayer(HD), nPlayer, HD Player Pro etc.): some videos aren't at all shown, some others (for example, my standard AAC MKV speed tester) visibly stutter now and then.
  2. MKV's with both DTS / AC3 and AAC (the former two are, as has already been stated, not supported by the player; the latter, of course, are supported) audio tracks will completely refuse to be played back. (An example is HERE – another one in the standard video playback compliance test suite created by me.) More recommended players not supporting AC3 but with MKV remuxing support are better in this regard (too): for example, HD Player Pro has no problems with the same file – it nicely defaults to the AAC track and plays it back. (And has no stuttering problem, either.)
  3. while it does provide Retina (high-resolution) support when remuxing MKV files, there still isn't. Two screenshots:



This with the default non-enabled Hybrid mode, where it explicitly states it would have high-resolution rendering after enabling Hybrid decoding mode and this is after enabling it. As you can see, there resolution is still the same (low, non-Retina).

This means you absolutely will want to avoid using this player if you plan to play back MKV files on an iDevice with a Retina screen. 

Regarding the video recording (which is absolutely unique among generic video players),

  1. videos are recorded at VGA (640*480) resolution only, even if you don't plan to apply any filters on them. This is a MAJOR problem, meaning you in no way can use the app to record videos if you want higher-resolution footage. Then, it's better to record the video with, say, the stock Camera app (which, as opposed to Azul, supports touch-to-focus (see next bullet) and, along with the jailbreak-only CameraTweak and/or my video camera enhancer tools, can become VERY powerful) and adding effects on the desktop. (Even the inexpensive iMovie app is capable of doing this.)
  2. No touch-to-focus during video recording, only automatic one – this is a MAJOR flaw, given that this function would be essential in many cases and is fairly easy to implement (there are even Apple-published example projects showing how this is done - feel free to ask me for more info. I'll even publish a "Programming the camera" type of article on implementing it some time.)
  3. resolution / bitrate changing isn't possible and there are no separate focus and exposure carets either. These too are all supported by most decent third-party video recorders (e.g., FiLMiC Pro) in the AppStore – or, for that matter, the absolutely essential “CameraTweak” app for jailbroken iPhones / iPod touch models. (CameraTweak only lacks bitrate fine-tuning which, on the other hand, is easily done by my Camera app tweaks.)
  4. It doesn't keep the device on while recording videos, which means recording will stop when the device times out, all this based on the global timeout setting set in the system-level Settings

Pros

  • Regarding the video camera / effecting mode (along with downloading, the most important and (only referring to the camera effecting) unique feature),
  • runtime DSP effects can not only be applied to videos you record but also any third-party ones, including a videos you import from the Camera Roll
  • torch and front/back camera swapping is supported (albeit also see the video recording-specific cons list above)
  • Can extract audio tracks from movie files (albeit you'll still want to prefer desktop-based tools like MP4Tools for this for speed / stability / compatibility)
  • Very good HTTP (Web) download capabilities with support to many popular video Web pages
  • HTTP download manager
  • Bookmarks (while no frame thumbnails are shown (as opposed to the, in this regard, far superior iMPlayer), you can give each thumbnail a name. Thumbnails are accessible globally (via the red flag on the extreme right), not only during the playback of the video you're added them to.
  • Some SSA subtitle support (at least they're correctly positioned – but still not animated. HD Player Pro's and XBMC's SSA support is far superior.)
  • Access to the iPod library and the Camera Roll
  • Good DVB TS support (supports dynamic aspect ratio changes, scrubbing (albeit very often crashes when you do scrub), multiple audio and subtitles. However, there's no multiple subtitle track selection support and interlaced content is presented with the wrong field order, resulting in a wave / “wobbling” effect.)
  • Playback speed change
  • Playlist support
  • Background audio support (must be explicitly enabled in Settings)
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Werner Ruotsalainen is an iOS and Java programming lecturer who is well-versed in programming, hacking, operating systems, and programming languages. Werner tries to generate unique articles on subjects not widely discussed. Some of his articles are highly technical and are intended for other programmers and coders.

Werner also is interested in photography and videography. He is a frequent contributor to not only mobile and computing publications, but also photo and video forums. He loves swimming, skiing, going to the gym, and using his iPads. English is one of several languages he speaks.