Streaming video to your iPhone

Danny Gorog
11 September, 2010
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Streaming video to your iPhone has always been difficult. It’s a feature that many consumers want but one that Apple hasn’t taken any action on. To this day, the only way to watch a streaming video on your iPhone is to stream it from the web (using YouTube or an equivalent video sharing site), or physically sync your device to iTunes and transfer it.

Rumours about a wireless sync solution persist, but until they become a reality, one piece of iPhone and iPad software that I have been testing, called Air Video ($3.99) works a treat and lets you watch any Mac or PC-based video on your iPhone whether you’re connected at home or over 3G.

There are two parts to the Air Video solution.

The first is a small application that runs in the background on your Mac and lets Air Video access your computer. You use this software to specify which folders Air Video can access. You can also add iTunes playlists to the list of available folders.

In my case I added my Movies and TV shows playlist, so everything I have in iTunes is available via Air Video. There’s one caveat: Air Video can only play DRM-free videos (all major containers and codecs supported are supported including mp4, m4v, mov, avi, wmv, asf, mpg, mpeg, mkv, 3gp, dmf, divx and flv), so anything you buy from the iTunes store won’t play.

The second part of the solution is a little app called Air Video. It’s a universal app that will run on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. Once you load it, and assuming you’re on the same network as the computer running the Air Video application, Air Video will automatically find your Mac and list it under the Servers heading.

To see the list of available videos, tap on the name of your computer and you’ll see the folders or playlists that you’ve chosen to share. To play a video simply tap it and within seconds your iPhone will open the movie player and begin playing the movie.

If you want to use Air Video away from the house you will need to configure port forwarding to forward port 45631 and ensure you know the IP address of your computer (or else the domain name if you have this set up). You’ll also need to remember to uncheck the ‘Air Video WiFi’ option in the Air Video settings panel on your computer.

If you fancy watching your movies on an even bigger screen then simply plug a compatible Component or Composite video-out cable into your iPhone, plug it into your TV and Air Video can play your movies on the big screen too.

If you’re hopping on a plane and don’t have network access Air Video also offers an option called ‘One Touch Offline Conversion’ where your video will be converted to an iPhone-friendly format and saved on the device. Be sure to use this option well before you get to the airport as it can be time and battery consuming.

However, there are some caveats with Air Video. I found performance on the iPad was much better than on the iPhone, thanks to the 802.11n networking. The new iPhone 4s support 802.11n too, so this should boost performance. Also, the larger screen and better sound from the iPad makes a big difference.

Air Video creators InMethod also offer a free version if you’d like to trial the performance before you buy, but you’ll only be able to display a limited number of movies from each folder. Still, I recommend downloading the free version to ensure that your network and connection is fast enough to make Air Video a worthwhile purchase.

This article originally appeared in the August issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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