iPhone Life magazine

REVIEW: Multimedia player "nPlayer" released with unique(!) multilingual subtitle support

Today, I've browsed the AppStore for new multimedia player releases I hadn't heard of. Around the 80th position (that is, back down on the second page), I've noticed a brand new app, “nPlayer”, promising a lot of niceties. I've immediately purchased and started testing it.

As it has turned out, the app, at least for me, has turned out to be well worth the price. Particularly if you want to display more than one (soft, textual – regrettably, VobSub (standard graphical) subtitles aren't supported) subtitles at a time, this app is for you!

The player costs $3 (that is, while there certainly are even more expensive players, it's not exactly cheap) and is Universal. It's available HERE.

Pros

- ability to display more than one subtitle tracks at a time – this is BIG for people like me, speaking several languages and trying to keep their knowledge up-to-date, which is really-really hard unless you actively spend a lot of time, say, watching TV, reading etc. every day. Being able to read subtitles in more than one language at the same time is just great. An example screenshot with no less than four (!) subtracks (Dutch, English, Finnish, French) of THIS  Kung-fu Hustle chunk with the user interface displayed (as usual, click the picture for the original-sized image):



Note that, while you can display the textual subtitles any number of languages at the same time and you can easily resize / reposition them, the latter can only be done to all the on-screen subtitles at the same time. That is, there's absolutely no way of, say, grouping one (or two), at most, two-line sub at the bottom and one (two) at the top, which, on the 4:3 screen of the iPad, would make it possible to play back 2:35:1 movies (like the above  Kung-fu Hustle) to be played back with subs entirely below and above the movies, in the letterboxed black area. In this regard, AVPlayer(HD)'s (see next paragraph) approach (separately settable subtitle positions, sizes etc. for the two displayed subtracks) is definitely superior. Hopefully this will be fixed in future versions.

The subtitles can be embedded and, unlike with the only other AppStore player capable of rendering two (but not more, unlike with nPlayer) subtitles, AVPlayer(HD) by EPLAYWORKS.Co.Ltd., has been recently removed (story HERE) from AppStore and it's still not known when it'll be back (and it also supports SMI subtitles only, for bilingual ones.) (Note that, technically, CineXPlayer – The best way to enjoy your Xvid movies by NXP Software B.V. is also able to display (at most) two subtracks at the same time. I, however, don't really recommend that player.). And, needless to say, there's no way of “hacking” more than two rows of text into SRT subtitle files before muxing them to MP4 files so that they can be embedded and also supported by the stock Videos app. I've, always wanting to be able to watch movies with subs in more than one language, played quite a bit with this before, trying to use for example \r's and similar control characters to make the rendering engine insert a linefeed. No success.)

Finally, note that displaying multiple subs also works in hardware-accelerated MP4 / MOV / M4V decoding mode (the default for these iOS-native types).

- high(er)-resolution WMV files are played back pretty well; the HD-DVD VC-1 results are well above of those produced by other players

- adaptive scrubbing, just like in the stock Videos player (unfortunately, without the target frame being shown)

- can fill in the entire screen (great for watching e.g. 2:35:1 or 16:9 videos on the 4:3 iPad / 3:2 pre-5th-gen iPhone / iPt screens afar) (note that this must be enabled in either the global or local Settings – the runtime zoom icon on the bottom right only zooms but doesn't change the aspect ratio). Also works with hardware decoding.

- access to both the iTunes-synchronized Videos and Music library (can speed up e.g. radio plays playback – something really useful with, say, the first six parts of the very-very slow, very dragging German version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (HGTTG) ;-) ). Note that the app will always group the Music contents by Album; this means if they aren't correctly / consistently named as is the case with, for example, the official CD's of both the English and Finnish version of HGTTG's when using the default CD names during grabbing to iTunes. You can see this situation (messed-up album names) in the following screenshot:



Needless to say, the player can't access iTunes playlists, should you use them instead of the official Album tags, to get your grabbed CD's into order.

- access to both the videos in the Camera Roll and any other album

- rewinding/fast forwarding one-finger swipes usable here too. In this app, the seconds you step can't be configured in this way (they can, however, be separately configured for the two back/forward icons). The app rewinds / fast forwards about 20 seconds for every inch of your screen swiping; this way, you can precisely control the amount of time you'd like to rewind / advance. Great!

- wireless video playback over AirPlay works as expected (and as is done by, say, AVPlayerHD):

a. in non-mirroring mode, native iOS movies are transferred as is to the ATV and played back from there as expected. (This also means you'll need to select your subtitle and audio tracks on the ATV itself, should the need arise. Unfortunately, this also means there's no way of displaying more than one subtitle track on the screen at once. For that, you'll need to use the mirrored mode (see Bullet b below) Only audio is sent to the ATV when playing back videos using software decoding.

b. in mirroring mode, both hardware- and software-decoded videos are sent in mirroring mode (also meaning both full subtitle support and reduced performance / noticeable stuttering), but, fortunately, in the somewhat wider, 16:9 mode, unlike with several other players.

- wired TV output (tested via HDMI and VGA) is also flawless: full screen is used in both hardware- and software-decoded modes. As with hardware playback of iOS-native file formats (and unlike with AirPlay in its non-mirrored, native mode), multiple subtitles can be displayed on the TV screen.

- really decent M-JPEG, MS-MPEG4 and MPEG-2 decoder. MPEG-2-wise, all MPEG-2 tests (direct DVD rips into MKV's (see THIS) ; 1080i60 ATSC DVB (U.S. recording) and 576i50) produced decent results.

- decent 1080p H.264 decoding performance (but see the 720p Harry Potter-related bullet in Cons!)

Cons

- no hardware MKV playback

- no directory list sorting

- no DSP's (brightness, volume, saturation etc. boost - see the It's Playing review to see why it can be very important)

- decoding of the very simple (720p and low-bitrate; that is, computationally much-much less demanding than casual 1080p videos) standardized Harry Potter test video is pretty stuttering (and has some serious lipsynch issues).

Interestingly, the H.264 decoder produced (compared to the other AppStore players) far better results in 1080p than with this video. It seems the player has some severe issues with, say, pixel doubling – exactly the same problem (weak, stuttering low-resolution WMV playback, while high-res WMV videos don't exhibit more stuttering than the best other players) applies to other video formats / decoders. I do think it's an easily-fixable bug as no pure CPU power needs for the fix, unlike with, say, 1080p playback.

- no support for Closed Caption (U.S.) or DVB / teletext subtitles (Europe) in MPEG-2 DVB TS recordings, unlike, when it comes to the latter, in several other apps (GoodPlayer is, for example, particularly strong at playing back European DVB recordings with both DVB and teletext subs).

- no MKV embedded simple textual subs seem to be supported (at least with the Monsters test video – SSA ones in MKV's are supported, as is explained in the next bullet)

- Advanced positioning of ASS/SSA subtitles isn't supported – unfortunately, the app description's statement (“Support SubStation Alpha (SSA/ASS) Styling”) is pretty misleading in this respect. Nevertheless, at least the text is correctly displayed, including Unicode characters like Japanese kanjis. The subtitle displaying setting for, for example, the standard Suzumiya test video is as follows (the beginning and end of the three lines are just visible behind the dialog window in the foreground):



Note that, under the list item annotated above, I needed to override the default setting too and select the list element of the filename itself to get the correct bilingual subs with both transcripts and the original of the Japanese text song:




- low-resolution WMV files are played back a bit stuttering: for them, use another player. (The playback of higher-res ones aren't worse than in, say, AVPlayer(HD) or ProPlayer.)

-  no app-level  locks / login or directory passwords / hiding from iTunes File Sharing

- doesn't show the jump-to frame while scrubbing, unlike several other players

- VobSub (standard graphical) subtitles aren't supported (neither embedded or external) – this is also a painful omission from such an, otherwise, subtitle handling-wise, exceptionally good player

Verdict

A $3 really well-spent – at least for me, who do need multiple subtitles with videos played back using hardware decoding (that is, videos in iOS-native formats) and variable-speed playback of the audio books and radio plays in my Music library. For you? It all depends on your own needs. Hope the above list of pros / cons helped you to decide whether it's worth purchasing the app.

UPDATE (15/Nov/2012): you'll want to check out THIS and, then, THIS article. (New features like bitmap subtitle and hardware MKV / AVI playback and dropped AC-3.)

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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.