By Werner Ruotsalainen on Wed, 02/27/2013
iDevices make great video playback machines thanks to their (in most cases) excellent screen and built-in hardware support for video decoding and playback. Tons of third-party multimedia player apps have sprung up to meet demand, and their developers update them frequently.
These recent updates are great news for multimedia enthusiasts. I will review major updates of two of the best players, AVPlayerHD and It's Playing, and will report on new versions of some other players as well. Let's start with AVPlayerHD.
In several of my articles (see my latest review and tips & tricks collection), I've mentioned AVPlayerHD. The otherwise absolutely excellent multimedia player had very limited FTP support. All it could do was simply download videos from FTP servers prior to playback, meaning absolutely no streaming capabilities.
Version 1.60, which has just been approved by Apple, has come to the rescue!
(AppStore update list. As with all the images in the article, click the link for the enlargened, original image.)
The new version, as its update notes state (see above), has greatly enhanced FTP support: now, it supports streaming over FTP and has a decent download manager. (Note that, according to some reports, it can't render embedded subtitles in streamed files.)
Unfortunately, there's still no UPnP or SMB (two much more widely used file access protocols) support in the app. However, adding full FTP streaming is definitely a step forward.
If you do need DSP's, the best player (see THIS for more info) has received excellent SMB support – and a brand new Settings screen where you can make hardware playback default among other things.
The screenshot shows the file list (showing the remote list of an SMB server), with the new Settings icon in the bottom left corner:
The SMB buffering has been fixed. Among other things, it, in addition to showing the currently pre-buffered video (see the thin line just under the position slider), it also displays the speed it's downloading/buffering content. See the annotated meters in the top left corner for the latter.
Because of the sophisticated buffering support, I haven't encountered annoying pauses during playback over SMB (assuming I let the player sufficiently pre-buffer). And yes, it supports hardware playback of iDevice-native files. And, what's more, it can play back MKV's (assuming they're compatible, see remarks below) using hardware acceleration over SMB! No other AppStore player is able to do this – only the jailbroken XBMC.
Unfortunately, over SMB:
- while it lists the embedded subtitles in iDevice-native files, it doesn't render them;
- with some MKV's, it just stated it was unable to open them; for example, the standardized Monsters and Harry Potter test videos. Other MKV's (for example, the standardized Birds test video (link) or my AAC-only Kung Fu Hustle test video) were played back OK;
- the new version uses the CPU during hardware MKV playback as the old one (see my previous article for more info).
Note that the app also has a greatly enhanced desktop streamer client, which can convert (non-supported) AC3 audio to AAC in runtime while streaming.
The initial (1.0) version is in no way recommended, and unfortunately, the new version isn't much better than the old one. The update notes of this player promise improved MKV playback. Its MKV playback is still much, much inferior to the best players (AVPlayer(HD), nPlayer etc.).
For that matter, it doesn't even support the Retina screen of the small-screen devices (iPhone 4+, iPod touch 4+), as you can clearly see in the following screenshot (see the badly pixilated and aliased lines on the right and the girl's similarly pixilated arm!):
All in all, I still don't recommend it. Other players in the same price range are better.
As you can check out in my previous review, far the biggest problem with this player was the lack of hardware decoding of iOS-native files.
The new version fixes this. Whenever you tap an iOS-native (mp4/m4v/mov) video, a dialog box is displayed, which lets you select from hardware and software decoding:
Unfortunately, the app hasn't really been fixed. For example, there is absolutely no iPad Retina support when using software decoding. That's true all the time, except for hardware mp4/m4v/mov video playback. This alone makes the player useless for iPad 3/4 users. Not that I'd recommend the player to anyone else – for the same price, there are much better choices.
I've always recommended iMedia Player, the free (as-supported), but still excellent player. The major version bump introduces file list manipulation and playlist capabilities, and also has added SMB support – something absolutely missing from earlier versions. The chart below points out the new features:
- it supports automatic discovery (unlike some other apps) in addition to manually adding a server;
- it supports hardware-accelerated playback of iDevice-native formats (mov/mp4/m4v), which is a definite plus;
- it doesn't allow for manually fine-tuning pre-buffering. This means you may encounter buffering pauses during streaming as you can't instruct the player to pre-buffer as much as possible before starting the entire playback.