iPhone Life magazine

Review: Multimedia Player PlayerXtreme

UPDATE (24/05/2012): the new (2.3) version has just been approved by Apple. It has, among other things, improved UPnP support:

 

 

In my tests, directory listing indeed worked with Majestic. However, streaming didn't (all I saw was a black screen) and downloading have turned out to be VERY slow - more than an order of magnitude(!!!) slower than with GoodPlayer, under exactly the same circumstances. That is, UPnP-wise, this app still has a lot to be improved...

 

Originally posted:

(Note that this article contains a LOT of additional information on other video players too – not only on PlayerXtreme. It'll be extremely useful for app developers too as it explains how the User Interface of decent video players should be designed.)

Let me continue my series of multimedia-related articles with an in-depth analysis of the just-updated multimedia player PlayerXtreme by PentaLoop.


(main screen with many of my test videos and sounds. As with all my articles, click the thumbnail to see the original, Retina-sized iPad 3 screenshot!)

It's one of the, fortunately, very few multimedia players that force the users to purchase new functionality via In-App Purchase (IAP) and not upfront. I've always hated IAP's because it can be unreliable and if, the developer goes out of business or just removes its app from the AppStore, purchases can't be restored. In this case, I ended up waiting for more than two(!!) weeks to be able to activate the app. I've purchased the (most expensive, all-in-one) Pro version via IAP back on 04/16 so that I can fully review it. The activation didn't work on (mostly non-jailbroken ones) any of my devices I've tried it on. I've immediately mailed and (even twice, see the Twitter dates HERE) Twittered (@pentaloop) the devs – to no avail, they haven't answered to any of my twits or my mail. (The update released today, however, already let for activate the Pro version via restoring the purchase and, finally, I could test the app.) See why it's, for the customer, just far easier and safer just to offer a non-IAP version of the title? Well, enough of rants (I do hope devs do stop this IAP madness in general!), let's move on with the review.

Two screenshots of the IAP options:





First and foremost, I do not recommend this app. There is simply no feature in it that would raise it above the best apps in the category (GoodPlayer, AVPlayerHD etc. and, of course, if you're jailbroken, the best of the best, XBMC), not a single one. On the contrary: It has several major mistakes that could have been, programmatically, really easily avoided. The most important example of them is the non-thought-out user interface – the subject of the entire next section. (The other, non-GUI-related problems are discussed in the next section.)

The problems with using your own playback interface over that of the Videos (iPod) player

When hardware playback is used (for MP4 / MOV / M4V files), the app's own interface is shown. This, in itself, wouldn't be a problem if the hidden (stock Videos) playback controls' functionality could be accessed via the interface. That's not the case, however. For example,

- while MP4's with standard, embedded subtitles (an example with two main subtitle tracks is HERE; another one with multiple ones (and two AAC tracks) HERE) are happily played back with the subs displayed by Videos or most third-party apps using the hardware acceleration, no subtitle tracks are even hinted at in PlayerXtreme, let alone showing them.

 

This is how the built-in, original Videos (iPod) engine renders the "bubble" icon and shows the list of the available audio tracks (upper arrow) and subtitles (lower arrow):

As has been explained, third-party multimedia players using the original iPod interface will offer the same audio  and subtitle  track (of which, the Finnish-language one is also (partially) shown in the background) selection capabilities.




(This shot shows the app doesn't recognize (see the lower right corner) any audio tracks in M4V (MOV / MP4) files. The same stands for subtitle tracks: it would also show “None”.)

Incidentally, the list of how current iOS multimedia player applications behave in this respect can be found in the, currently, still work-in-progress version of the main chart (OpenOffice format!) of my forthcoming “iOS Multimedia bible”. Look at the row “<i>If original interface not (fully) acessible</i>, subtitles? Test material: Avatar sample http://dl.dropbox.com/u/13100693/html/042012RetinaHDVideoPlayers/avatar-sample.mov . If no HW acc., SW capability listed (starting with “SW”)” As usual, _+ stands for working flawlessly (you can switch between the tracks and they're correctly rendered),  _- stands for non-working. With titles not allowing for hardware accelerated playback, I listed the software playback mode (which, of course, you'll want to avoid at high resolutions, particularly at 1080p!)'s compliance with the “SW:” prefix. Some of the better and more recommended apps failing this test are AVPlayerHD by EPLAYWORKS.Co.Ltd. (the player that, currently, has the fastest H.264 software decoder and is, otherwise, well-featured with tons of goodies) and BUZZ Player HD by BUGUN Software (not so recommended app as AVPlayerHD  or GoodPlayer, but still a very competent one). Two screenshots showing this:

 

(AVPlayerHD. Notice the following: 1, on the left, the text bubble icon is greyed out because, as is also shown in the info dialog presented in the center of the screen, the app doesn't recognize the subtitle tracks in the file.) 2, I've used full vertical scretching to show unique zooming modes offered by the app (here, vertical scretching) can be used in this mode. Also you can use speed changing (arrow on the right; it's showing "2.00X" to denote twice-as-fast playback. The diabled state of the colored cross on the left (see the upper icon in the left rectange, also pointed to by an arrow), on the other hand, shows that the special Picture-in-Picture (PiP) mode of the player can't be used when utilizing hardware playback.)

(BUZZ Player. The volume boost and the balance sliders are deactivated when using hardware playback (see the arrowed rectangle) and there isn't any way of enabling subtitles / to select the audio track in this mode.)

- M4V's with more than one audio track (test file HERE), both (all) sound tracks playable (as they're all AAC) by stock Videos, can't be played back by the app correctly either, as you can't switch the tracks. This is particularly problematic because the Videos app (and also the hardware player component) always starts playing back all AAC tracks together and the only one track you really want to listen to must be manually selected in it. However, if you can't select the track (as is the case with PlayerXtreme), you'll end up having to listen to the cacophony all the tracks at once.

(In the chart, you can find a detailed comparison of all iOS players' behavior in this respect in the “Multiple audio tracks? (check with THIS http://dl.dropbox.com/u/13100693/html/042012RetinaHDVideoPlayers/2AACAudioAndManySubs.mov  ). If no HW acceleration, can the SW decoder switch?” row. The following high-quality third-party players failed this test:  AVPlayerHD, BUZZ Player HD (again), EC Player and RushPlayer, the two latter titles being tolerably good at playing back high-resolution MKV content. (Actually, they aren't able to display and/or switch subtitles either (see the previous bullet), but, with the Avatar sample, they, at least, didn't crash. With the two-audiotrack M4V, they do.)

- there isn't even a way to zoom into the image! While the iPod plug-in and most other titles (see the “Zoom?” row in the chart just under the previous two ones) do support zooming in, with this title, it's not possible.

There would be a point in using its own playback user interface if and only if they provided at least the same functionality (subtitle / audio track changing, zooming and, preferably, seeking with support for fine-tuned stepping). After all, if you do use your own playback interface, you can provide access to additional functionality to the user; for example, video playback speed change (possible even in hardware playback mode with the excellent AVPlayerHD (too bad it lacks compatibility with subtitles and multiple audio tracks, as has already been mentioned), RushPlayer and It's Playing by Addition, Lda. (Too bad  there's a major performance hit playing back anything in “It's Playing”, even in its HW accelerated mode; therefore, I don't recommend it.) Also, some players support brightness change even in HW accelerated mode, which is a godsend in a bright environment when watching some dark scene. There are custom zoom modes too in the best players utilizing their own interface over HW playback; for example, the most important is filling in the entire screen by vertically (but not horizontally, as opposed to the stock Videos' default zoom icon's functionality!) stretching the 16:9 (or 2.35:1 and the like) video. That is extremely useful when you need to watch the iPad from a distance (for example, in the sauna or in the gym – both I do very frequently and, then, can live with the vertically distorted picture.)

This is, unfortunately, not the case with PlayerXtreme, which doesn't have any kind of such, highly useful functionality it could offer. Therefore, there was absolutely no point in going for a user interface of their own – after all, they offer no added functionality.

Other problems

Unfortunately, the above-mentioned list is just one of the problems of the app. There are a lot more. For example,

- its audio boost functionality (a $1 IAP itself) is very bad and doesn't come even close to the quality of that of GoodPlayer. The sound becomes highly distorted when you enable it, unlike with GoodPlayer. Do NOT purchase / use it!

- its networking support (another $1 IAP) is completely buggy and non-working. With UPnP / SMB network sources where GoodPlayer (and a lot more, network-aware apps) worked just fine, it refused to stream or even load the filelist. (This problem was, by the way, mentioned by a lot other users as well in the AppStore.)

- its H.264 AVC software decoder is far inferior to even the average ones (e.g., that of GoodPlayer) in 1080p, let alone the best ones (most importantly, AVPlayerHD). At 720p, it doesn't even come close to the majority of other titles. Unfortunately, its ASP decoder (see the Big Buck Bunny 1080p AVI test) is also VERY bad. The WMV decoders are somewhat better but are still not in the same league as, in this respect, the best players.

What is good, then?

Well, it's still much better than the absolutely worst titles like iSpring Movie Player, Playable, Video Media Playerflex:player or even the, from the AppStore, long-removed VLC, which, for some non-understandable reason, many people love. (They don't seem to realize how astonishingly bad, dog-slow and unoptimized this old VLC player is... While its 2.x version is probably the best OS X video player, the same can't be stated of its old AppStore port.)

All in all, I give this player two stars out of five. A definitely not recommended title, even if there are several even-worse players around. Go for something quality instead; most importantly, GoodPlayer or AVPlayerHD if you don't need hardware MKV playback or EC Player if you do. Or, of course, XBMC if you're jailbroken. The latter just can't be beaten.

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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.