The SMB Multimedia Playback bible & Roundup – every single iOS app tested

This is Part III of my streaming-specific full(!) roundup series. (Links to previous parts: Part I: streaming Windows Media / Silverlight Internet TV streams; Part II: UPnP)

In this part, I quickly review every single iOS multimedia player with SMB (see Wiki) access.

When will you find using SMB useful? Please consult Chapter 1 (“What can you use UPnP for on iOS?”) in my UPnP roundup; the why's are pretty much the same. (Common, cheap, consumer NAS'es almost always support SMB; remote access possible etc.)

As you'll see, there are far fewer decent players for playing back multimedia files off SMB shares properly than is the case with the previously-reviewed UPnP. For example, should you want to play back iOS-native video files (that is, MP4 / M4V / MOV ones) from your SMB share, you'll (as of 7/Dec/2012) have only two real choices (eXPlayer HD and PlayerXtreme), one not even currently present in the AppStore, "thanks" to Dolby – the other SMB-capable players just can't play back videos off SMB hardware accelerated. The situation is far better with UPnP, where also well-known players like GoodPlayer, BUZZ Player etc. are capable of hardware-accelerated playback from UPnP servers.

In addition, many players, which are SMB-capable on paper, just don't support it properly. (You'll find a list of them below.) The proportion of plain useless players is far lower with UPnP.

Right, let's start with the titles you will want to use, assuming you plan to play back iOS-native video files (that is, MP4 / M4V / MOV ones).

1. Recommended titles for hardware decoding

1.1 eXPlayer (HD / Pro)

(iTunes links: small-screen version (Lite) / iPad-version (Lite) / Universal version (no Lite of this one!))

This is currently the most recommended player as
- one of the very few that has hardware acceleration
- on top of that, it's unique in that it even has scrubbing in hardware decoding mode (too).

Note that it has pretty weak H.264 codecs so you won't want to use it to watch your 1080p MKV's from an SMB source. For HW playback of iOS-native files, however, it's excellent. During the entire streaming of the ten-minute 1080p Bug Buck Bunny (file HERE), I've only encountered three pauses requiring manual resuming; typically around the startup. If you aren't annoyed by doing the same with the stock YouTube client, then, here, it won't annoy you either. (Under the same circumstances, the jailbreak-only XBMC behaved far worse and it's highly unlikely its buffering code will ever be enhanced.)

This player supports both manual address input and automatic searching:

(click for a much larger, better-quality version!)

1.2 PlayerXtreme

In my yesterday's UPnP roundup, I was happy to report the developers of PlayerXtreme fixed all the bugs of their player, UPnP-wise (see THIS for a review of an early version with very weak UPnP support). The same states for SMB as well; now, I encountered no problems when playing back SBM shares. For example, the last-tested version half a year ago couldn't download / stream anything from the Mac's built-in SMB; this one can. It even supports hardware acceleration of iOS-native files – something very rare among iOS players! The only problem is the lack of repositioning support. If you often scrub during playback, you'll want to prefer  eXPlayer (HD) instead.

Note that, currently, the player isn't available for purchase (and haven't been for several weeks) – most probably because of Dolby. The developer promised on 3/Dec that the player would be reapproved to the AppStore “soon”.

2. If you don't need hardware acceleration...

… then, there are a lot more decent choices:

2.1 BUZZ Player

Probably this is the most recommended SMB player without hardware acceleration. It has a definitely better H.264 decoder than the other title (GoodPlayer) listed in this chapter but 1080p is still not playable on A5. Otherwise, it's an  excellent title.

2.2 GoodPlayer

GoodPlayer has always had excellent streaming support. So is the case with SMB. It supports everything you need: both automatic and manual discovery and both downloading and streaming support. An example of the latter:

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Too bad it doesn't support hardware acceleration and has comparatively weak codecs. This means you will not want to use it for 720p+ playback on A5(X) / 1080p playback on A6(X)-based iDevices.

Note that its little bother, PowerPlayer, only supports downloading:

Unfortunately, the latter (PowerPlayer) can't play back iOS-native files with hardware acceleration either (albeit the developers are promising they'd implement it some time). All in all, it's in no way recommended for SMB access.

3.  Theoretically supports SMB but has major problems

As has been explained in the introduction, while several multimedia players promise access to SMB, a sizable portion of them isn't even compatible with the one built into OS X. (This could have been the easiest to test for an iOS developer – after all, iOS development must be done on a Mac. Testing SMB compliance couldn't have been easier with the server already available in the operating system of every single iOS developer...)

VM Player HD: always  printed „Request not supported” when trying to connect to a manually-entered (no automatic discovery is supported, unlike with UPnP) SMB address. An example of these error messages:

Where I've set up the server just fine:

viPlay (while it did log into the server, it could play back none of the titles)

AcePlayer (while it does list the files, neither streaming nor downloading work)

yxplayer by (in addition to lacking HW acceleration and automatic discovery, the biggest problem is that there is no way of entering credentials, so, it's not able to access password-protected SMB shares. Most other apps do accept credentials.)

3.1 Other, non-recommended titles

EC Player: has no HW acceleration and crashes a lot

4. The future

I've tested an internal alpha version, with enhanced SMB support, of It's Playing. It's promising. However, for the time being, go for exPlayer instead. I'll let you all know when It's Playing receives truly groundbreaking SMB support.

5. The complete(!) feature & comparison chart

As usual, you'll find all the SMB-specific information (along with yesterday's UPnP data) in THIS chart. (Sorry for the external link: the chart would be too wide when included here.) The rows contain the now-current versions of the tested players; the columns have the SBM and, then, the UPnP test results. + stands for existing / supported, - for non- existing / non-supported; n/a for “not applicable”.

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<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>