My dream is to be able to view any video I want, when I want it, wherever I am. Until a fully-integrated solution is available, I rely on my iPhone and Safari to stream video from websites. I've discovered a variety of apps that let me stream video from online sources and stream video stored on my desktop computer. Most of the apps discussed in this article work via a Wi-Fi or 3G connection. If your local carrier doesn't support 3G, you'll have to rely on Wi-Fi or use the slower EDGE data connection. Unfortunately, streaming video may not work well with EDGE. It almost all cases, streaming video works best with a Wi-Fi connection.
Apps for streaming movies and TV
More and more streaming solutions are becoming available from the App Store. With them, you can watch movies, live and archived TV shows, sports, video sharing sites, and more. Here are some of the better solutions available. (Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all titles in this article are available for both the iPhone/iPod touch and the iPad. )
Free, app2.me/2968; unlimited streaming: $8.99/month, 30-day free trial available
Netflix introduced its unlimited video streaming option in 2008, and it has really become popular. The entire catalog isn't available via streaming, but over 17,000 movies and thousands of TV episodes are. At the $8.99/mo level you also receive one DVD at a time via mail. However, there are news reports that a cheaper, streaming-only service will be offered in the near future.
The Netflix app was available for the iPad when that device was released, and several months later it was released for the iPhone and iPod touch. The iPad version lets you both watch movies and manage your queue; as of this writing the iPhone version doesn't offer queue management.
This is one of the most popular video-streaming apps; the quality is very good, especially with movies that stream in HD.
Free, app2.me/2700; unlimited streaming: $9.99/month, small section of free videos available
Although services such as Joost and Boxee were early competitors, Hulu soon became the most popular site for free movies and archived network TV programs (as opposed to Netlix's subscription service). The videos do have commercial interruptions, but it's much less than network TV. In July 2010 they introduced Hulu Plus, a fee-based service that lets you access a greater variety of shows, but still with commercial interruption. Around the same time, they also released their Hulu Plus app for the iPad and iPhone/Pod touch. Unlike desktop computers, which can access some Hulu content for free, the Hulu Plus app can only access content if you subscribe for $9.99/month. (You can access about 20 videos in their free gallery if you want to try out Hulu Plus without paying.)
Free (iPad only), app2.me/2486; free content
If you like ABC, you'll love this app. It lets you stream current ABC TV shows for free. The quality is excellent, with some content being available in HD, Most of the popular series are available, including Desperate Housewives, Brother and Sisters, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Modern Family, and Dancing with the Stars. The app also includes the schedule for ABC's broadcast TV.
Free (iPad only), app release pending; service is $4.99/month, 30-day free trial available
This new service seems to be one of the better streaming deals out there, compared to the cost of basic cable TV service. For $4.99 a month you can access all the major network channels; $5.99/month gives you the same service with DVR capability. The iPad app wasn't available as of the middle of October, but its release is imminent. Unlike Hulu and other sites that offer archived content, this service streams major networks live. These include NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, PBS, CW, Telemundo, and many more. It also offers a channel guide similar to the guides found on cable TV services.
Free, app2.me/3115; movie rental is $2.99 or $3.99, $9.99/mo for 4 movies a month
Like Netflix, mSpot rents movies. You can rent movies individually or purchase a monthly membership and get four movies each month. You can watch movies on a PC or Mac browser or on your iOS device using the free player app. Free trailers are available for most movies, and you can sign up for a free account and watch the site's free movie of the week. Note that the site recommends a 3G or Wi-Fi connection.
Free, app2.me/3116;content free
Joost lets you watch a motley assortment of videos via a Mac/PC Web browser or using the iOS app. You won't find any movies or current network TV shows, but it does offer celebrity news and gossip, music videos, action sports, comedy, and some original Web content. I enjoyed watching a couple old Rocky & Bullwinkle episodes, and The Lone Ranger. It also offers a number of episodes from foreign TV series, which seem to be quite popular among users. There's a ton of content here, and the quality is very good.
Cinema for iPad
$2.99 (iPad only), app2.me/3117; free content
This is a very attractive app that streams movies from YouTube's collection at prescheduled times. The selection includes about a dozen movies, including Grand Canyon, Hangmen, The Hunt for Gollum, and Dick Tracy Detective. Unfortunately, no additional movies have been added since the app's release last May.
$2.99 (iPhone/iPod touch version only), app2.me/3118
This app lets you stream over 200 live TV channels already available online. Unfortunately, many of those channels are foreign or of not much interest, and reviews say that many of the channels don't work.
TVUPlayer offers live TV streaming from over 1,000 channels around the world. The content is the same as that found on TvuNetworks.com. Some iPhone and iPad users used this app to watch the 2010 World Cup.
Free (iPhone/iPod touch only; no iPad-specific version), app2.me/3121
CoolStreaming is another app for watching hundreds of online TV channels. The price is right, but the reviews are fairly critical. It works best via Wi-Fi; 3G streaming is limited to 5 minutes.
SPB TV Free
Free (iPhone/iPod touch only; no iPad-specific version), app2.me/2553
SPB, a long-time developer of smartphone applications, offers a free streaming TV app that lets you access over 100 channels from 17 different countries. It includes public TV channels, an integrated TV guide, and features such as picture-in-picture.
Streaming from video sharing sites
All iOS devices include a built-in YouTube app that lets you access this most popular video-sharing site. However, not all of YouTube.com's features are available in the app. For example, you can't access the suggest feature when searching or the thumb-up, thumbs-down system for rating videos.
In addition to YouTube, there are a few third-party apps that let you access other online video sharing sites.
Dailymotion is a top video-sharing site with fewer content restrictions than YouTube. Not all content is available via the app.
Free (iPhone/iPod touch only; no iPad-specific version), app2.me/3124; free content
Unlike most video-sharing sites, Justin.tv lets you watch live video streams. The justin.tv site can have over 2,000 active streams going on at any one time, and some streams have as many as 50,000 viewers. With the app installed, you can stream live from your iPhone and reach the whole world.
Like Justin.tv, Ustream lets you watch live streams or stream live content from your iPhone. They offer three separate apps; one on for viewing streams; one for recording videos from your iPhone and sending them to your Ustream, Twitter, or Facebook account; and one for broadcasting a stream (iPhone only). The ability of the viewing app to access UStream content is limited, with no access to categories and a problematic search function.
Websites with Streaming Video Accessed Via Safari
According to Apple, it disallows the use of Flash on iOS devices due to performance and security issues. Because of this, many streaming video sites won't work on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Fortunately, some streaming video sites are making changes that will allow you to view their content from the built-in Safari app.
(m.youtube.com): Google, which owns YouTube, has developed a version of the website that it hopes will replace the built-in YouTube app. YouTube mobile not only lets you access YouTube videos via Safari, but also has features not found in the app. In fact, the mobile site incorporates all the latest user interface features, such as suggested search results as you type in your search term, and the thumbs up/thumbs down rating system.
(m.dailymotion.com): The desktop version of the Dailymotion site works quite well on the iPad, but iPhone and iPod touch owners will want to use the mobile version of this top video-sharing website.
(revision3.com): Revision3 upgraded their Internet TV network so that all of their streaming videos use html5, making them viewable on the iPad. They have a range of specially produced programming, including shows that review apps, HD technology, videos, computer games, movies, and more.
Streaming your own content to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch
Finally, there are a number of apps that let you stream content from your own desktop computer to your iOS device. Some of these apps only let you stream content stored on your computer, but others let you stream stored content and any online content your computer can access. The latter are particularly useful.
For example, you can access Hulu movies for free on your desktop computer, but have to pay $9.99 a month to access them using the Hulu Plus app on your iPad. With one of these apps you could stream Hulu content from your desktop computer to your iOS device for free.
ZumoCast lets you stream videos and music stored on your computer to your iPhone or iPad wirelessly via 3G or Wi-Fi. No uploading or syncing is necessary, and it automatically converts the streaming content on-the-fly to a format appropriate for your device. The app guides you through a simple process of setting up your Mac or PC. (You'll need to set up a free ZumoCast account to use the app .) Once set up, selected videos play instantly, as if they were on your device. But since they are not, it doesn't fill up the memory of your device. The app also lets you save music and video for offline viewing or listening. ZumoCast doesn't recognize and won't stream copy protected files, such as some iTunes rentals or purchases.
Like ZumoCast, Air Video lets you stream video content stored on your Mac or PC to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. It also converts the videos on the fly to a format compatible with your device; you'll need to download and install the free desktop software to do this. You can also use the desktop software to convert videos and store them on your device for offline viewing. As with ZumoCast, the app only works with video that's not copy protected.
Like the previously mentioned apps, this also lets you stream media files stored on your Mac or PC to your iOS devices via Wi-Fi or 3G. If you have an Apple Component or Apple Composite connecting cable, it also lets you stream media from your device to your TV. Like the others, it only works with unprotected content.
In addition to streaming your own media content, OrbLive lets you stream Internet TV and radio, webcams, and cable TV (if you have a TV tuner card in your PC or Mac). The reviews in the App Store suggest that it works well over a Wi-Fi connection but inconsistently over 3G. As with similar solutions, you need to download free software to your desktop computer and OrbLife can't access protected content. The free version of the app limits you to three random pieces of media in each category (music, video, photos, etc.); it's obviously designed for test purposes only. Orb also offers OrbMedia ($4.99, app2.me/3132), which is similar to the full version of OrbLive but is limited to streaming the media content on your computer (no live TV, Internet video, etc.).
Free (iPhone/iPod touch only; no iPad-specific version), app2.me/3133; Subscription required: $39.99/first year, $19.99/subsequent years, $79.99/lifetime.
PlayOn is a software program that runs on your Windows PC, giving you access to a wide range of Internet content on your TV, including Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon VOD, and many others. Relatively new to the App Store, the PlayOn Mobile app lets you access the PlayOn service via a Wi-Fi or 3G connection.
The service not only lets you access the above-mentioned media content, it lets you watch it via any computer or device connected to the Internet, wherever you are. PlayOn requires that you subscribe to their service at $39.99 for the first year. A version of the app that will allow you to access Pandora and media stored on your computer is in development. When released, it will be available on the App Store for free.
More streaming solutions on the way
As the number of streaming solutions mentioned in this article demonstrates, streaming is quite popular with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad users. A wide variety of solutions are currently available, and new ones are streaming into the App Store all the time. Eagerly awaited this fall is the release of HBO Go for the iPad, which will allow you to access HBO's offerings wirelessly. Best of all, the service will be free for HBO's cable subscribers. In addition, Verizon recently announced that it will offer a version of the iPad that will work on its reliable and fast network.
With improved wireless networks and new apps to take advantage of them, the future of streaming is bright!