iPhone Life magazine

Ever wanted to watch WMV (TV) streams on your iPhone? Now you can!

In my article on playing back (among other formats like DivX, XviD, Flash etc.) WMV files on the iPhone (see the 08/11/2009, 0:50 CET UPDATE), I’ve already mentioned there hasn’t been any way of playing back WMV streams – that is, the most widely used format for live TV broadcasts (netTV, the TV streaming app, doesn’t support and Sling does require Sling player hardware at home). Up to now, that is.

Enter the AppStore program Streamer. In addition to it being in the AppStore (no jailbreaking necessary to use it - unlike previous third-party video players), it’s free.



Its interface is really simple and pretty much incapable. (That is, in no way will you want to use it to play back radio streams – use FStream, Pocket Tunes Radio, ooTunes and the like for that. They offer a lot more functionalities, a lot better built-in station directories, a much better way of searching for / adding new streams [e.g., through its built-in Web browser when existing] etc. Make sure you read my dedicated, all-in-one roundup.)

Note that it isn’t compatible with some streams (that are, otherwise, perfectly playable in CorePlayer under Windows Mobile). For example, THIS Finnish stream is only played back with a garbled video:



Incidentally, the case is exactly the same with some (standard) WMV files under vlc4iphone reviewed and compared in my dedicated article (see URL above). This (also) shows the two apps use the same code.

Fortunately, some other streams are played back much better (but, with higher-quality streams, with stuttering video); for example, THIS (high-quality stream) and THIS (a low-quality version of the previous channel). Two screenshots of the latter two streams:

High-quality stream:


Low-quality one:


Some other screenshots:

Adding your own TV (or radio – but, again, there’re far better choices for playing back radio, even for free) stream:



The built-in station dictionary (as you can see based on the bar on the right, there’re very few pre-programmed stations built-in)::



Verdict

Don’t expect much: unlike CorePlayer under Windows Mobile, it isn’t compatible with a lot of current streams out there and when it is compatible, it stutters (particularly with higher-quality streams), has low audio quality and doesn’t support landscape full screen). Nevertheless, in many cases, this can be the only way to watch streaming video on the iPhone.

Don’t forget to check out e.g. the free netTV Lite in the AppStore. It may have some channels for you. (And, don’t forget 3D Unrestrictor is able to tell the iPhone OS to let netTV Lite stream over cellular connections, not only Wi-Fi). Alternatively, consider getting a Sling player receiver if you only want to watch channels available where you live. Finally, don’t forget to look around if there’re other solutions to get the work done. For example, in Finland, the commercial service “TV Kaista” records all programs of all TV channels. These programs can, right after a given program has ended, made available for download / streaming. (At least in their original, 8 Mbps, XGA-resolution MPEG2-TS format. Transcoding them into other formats – for example, formats natively understood by the iPhone – takes some time – but, in general, no more than an hour or two.) These streams are played back just great by the iPhone. What is more, the iPhone-compliant streams use (low complexity) H.264 streams, which is played back by the hardware on the 3G S (but not on the 3G), meaning very-very little power consumption, as opposed to most? all? other mobile smartphone platforms. All these programs are accessible via the built-in Safari. That is, in Finland, you’ll want to go for TVKaista if you own an iPhone and want to watch TV on it.

 

UPDATE (09/07/2009): Version 2.0 is out. 

It has somewhat more built-in stations - but in no way as many as currently compatible (see wwiTV at http://wwitv.com/ - many of these streams are compatible with Streamer).

At last, Landscape full srceen mode is usable.

The developer states it has better performance. During my tests (with the 3Sat low- and high-speed streams) on my iPhone 3G S this hasn't turned out to be right - it's equally unable to play any fast(er) and high(er)-quality streams without major stuttering and presenting more than, say, 1 frame a second.

All in all, it's still far from being usable with most streams out there - only plan watching really low-quality ones with it. Better ones will hopelessly stutter (if they can be played at all).
 



UPDATE (09/27/2009):

1.) Version 2.0 of Streamer (see the previous update) has a new Settings dialog. Then, you can increase the decoding quality of WMV streams. Setting it to the highest value has helped with the Finnish stream (TV7) producing distorted picture.

See the "Video Decode Quality" (currently set to Hi) at the bottom:



Nevertheless, don’t set it to higher values than absolutely needed – stream decoding becomes even more sluggish at higher quality levels.

2.) The latest (1.3) version of NetTV has a lot of new stations (some of them can only be decoded on the iPhone 3G S but not on the much slower, plain 3G). Note that NetTV Lite only has few streams. Too bad the developers don’t maintain an updated list of the supported streams (only a subset of them, lacking, for example, the German station list) so you can’t know whether your favourite one is supported without actually purchasing the app ($3). This isn’t the best business approach, I'm afraid... Want to master your iPhone and iPad? Sign up here to get our tip of the day delivered right to your inbox.
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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.