Your Movies Everywhere! (Part 3)

6/22/2013 9:13:37 AM

Watching Videos on iOS Devices

With an iOS device in your bag, you can watch movies wherever you go!

It wasn't all that long ago that watching films on the move meant carrying some sort of portable DVD player, plus all the discs you wanted to watch. What the iPod did for music, it eventually did for video, too, and now all but the smallest of Apple's portables supports video playback. It's a little different, of course, since video files take up a lot more space than audio files, but there are some pretty efficient compression techniques in use to produce stunning visual quality at relatively small file sizes. iPhones, iPads, and iPods are capable of playing back video at larger frame sizes and bit rates than you might imagine, so small certainly doesn't have to mean less sharp. Apple provides a number of ways to buy, rent, and watch videos on your iOS device, of course, and there are also quite a few third-party apps that let you do it, sometimes in ways Apple's own tools don't allow.

You can buy or rent movies and watch trailers from the iTunes app on any recent iOS device without connecting it to a Mac.

The iTunes Solution

One important way to watch videos is to buy or rent them through the iTunes Store on the device itself, when signed in with your Apple ID. Although the specific version of the movie might differ slightly depending on your device an iPhone 3GS, for example, would prefer an SD rather than an HD movie this is all taken care of automatically because the store detects which device you're using and serves you the appropriate version.

We've already looked at how renting works you get a predetermined amount of time to watch a movie once downloaded, and it can only exist on one device at a time. After you've watched it, it is automatically deleted. Buying is different in that you get a copy of the movie that you can keep, although you probably won't want to store digital movies on an iOS device unless it's of a higher capacity, say a 64GB version. Even then, why bother? To make life easier. Apple allows you to endlessly re-download anything that you have previously bought. So, let's say you buy a film on your iPad, watch it, and then delete it. At any time you could go into the iTunes Store's Purchased tab on your iPhone and re-download the movie to that device.

So, you get access across all devices that use your Apple ID, including your Mac. without having to store the files locally. It's not yet possible to store your own movies in the cloud like you can with music through the iTunes Match service, but it's not inconceivable that this might happen at some point. iTunes 11 contains a useful new feature that lets you watch a movie on one device, whether it’s from Apple or from your own collection, and then stop, pick up another device, and continue watching the same movie from exactly the point you left off. This is done via iCIoud, so it may point to future integration of videos into the cloud.

Turn on Home Sharing In iTunes and you can access your local movie library from all your iOS devices wirelessly for streaming.

Transfer Your Own Movies

You can also transfer movies from your Mac to your iOS devices, of course, and this is quite flexible. With your device connected to iTunes on your Mac either via a USB cable or wirelessly, go to the device and select its Movies or TV Shows tab. While you can choose to sync whole libraries or playlists, movies are much larger than music, so many people choose to manage them manually. To do so, go to the Summary > Options tab for the device, and select the option to manage videos manually. When it is ticked you will be able to drag movies directly to the device, and as long as they are correctly formatted, they will appear under its Movies or TV

Shows tabs. If you want to free up space on the device, deleting movies is as simple as selecting them in the list and hitting backspace. You’re not able to accidentally drop incompatible movies onto a device, since iTunes will not let you. If it says a movie can’t be played it usually means the frame size or bitrate is too high, in which case you can use iTunes or QuickTime Player to make a compatible version.

Video that you shoot on your iOS device can be shared by email, message, or uploaded straight to YouTube.

You can choose to sync movies more creatively, if you like, though you'll still need to keep an eye on how much space is being used. Rather than syncing all movies you can choose to sync only specific playlists, or unwatched movies.

In iTunes 11 there's now an option to sync the last one, three, five or ten most recent unwatched movies. Use Smart Playlists and things get even better; you could, for example, set one up to always display recently added movies and have that sync. Since they update automatically, it should always add recent movies to your device

The issue of size versus quality is an interesting one when it comes to watching video on iOS devices. On a smaller screen, even a Retina screen, there’s only so much detail the human eye can really see. Apple's own applications use H.264 encoding to produce high-quality videos at smaller file sizes, and any content you rent or buy from Apple will use this codec, as well. If you are manually encoding videos, you can choose the MPEG-4 codec, which is much faster, and although its image quality is less sharp, this may be less noticeable on an iPod touch than on an iPad with Retina display. If you have a recent Mac and you're not in a huge rush to get content onto a device, stick with H.264 encoding it offers really stunning results, even if it does take a little longer to render.

Streaming Video

It’s possible to watch videos on your iOS device over your local network without actually copying them to the device itself. With iTunes running on your Mac, Home Sharing switched on, and everything connected to the same wireless network, you can open the Videos app on your iPad or iPhone and tap on the Shared tab at the top of its window. All the videos from your iTunes library will now be available for streaming to your device. If you do choose to copy videos using the sync or manual drag-and-drop techniques, you’ll want to keep an eye on how much space they use. You can do this on the device itself by going to Settings > General > Usage, or by connecting to iTunes and looking at the usage bar in the device’s window. An HD video can take anywhere from 1 to 4GB of space, depending on how long it is and what settings have been used to compress it. If you buy or rent from the iTunes Store, you can see a movie's size before you download it.

Both Vimeo and YouTube have native iOS apps that can be used to access online video, and in some cases even record and upload content.

You’re not limited to Apple's own ecosystem if you want to watch videos on your iOS devices, although it does ensure a consistent experience. There are a number of ways to get video onto a device (copied or streamed) that don't involve using iTunes. First up are a range of iOS apps that support non-standard video formats and codecs. Apple could support things like AVI files, but it chooses not to. Luckily there are apps that do, usually available for free or for a low price at the App Store. There are loads of these, including Playable, AVPIayer HD. 8player, Oplayer HD. CineXPIayer, GoodPlayer, and more.

They use open-source codecs to allow the playback of weird and wonderful video files like AVI and MKV without prior conversion. You usually get content into the app using the sharing tab in iTunes, so you simply drag and drop videos into the app's area in the Sharing pane. You might have video from a camcorder, for example, that you could play back without having to convert it first.

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