VLC Media Player for iPad Disappoints

| Quick Look Review

A likely first reaction to the VLC Media Player for the iPad is that it’s just as good as the Mac version. For this iPad version 1.0, that turns out not to be the case.

For those who aren’t familiar with the VLC Media Player for the Mac, it’s a video player that handles a wide range of video formats. Even before you could play HD content in iTunes, VLC could handle HD back in 2004. For most Mac users, it’s their backup player for oddball video formats.

With that in mind, the announcement of the VLC Media Player for the iPad was greeted here at TMO with enthusiasm. However, as we started using it, we found it that it connects to iTunes only. There’s no way to connect to a site on the Internet and download a file directly. And that means no Dropbox support either.

What you have to do is connect your iPad to a Mac or PC, select the apps tab in iTunes and scroll down to the File Sharing section. There you can connect to a directory on, say, a Mac and select files to sync to the iPad.

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iTunes File Sharing

I recommend, for ease of use, you designate a single directory you’ll use for this transfer and sync process. The problem, however, is that there’s no published list of file extensions that’s currently supported. Here’s what the developer told me: “This first version of VLC for iPad only plays back a few extensions. Renaming all your files to “.avi” should fix most of them.” He referred me to a bug tracker where more is explained, including the currently supported file formats: .avi, .mkv,.ts, .mov, .mp4 and .m4v.

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Bug Tracker

Once you get the file synced, it appears in your library like this:

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VLC Media Player Library

At that point, playback is fairly straightforward. I played a .wmv file that I renamed to .avi, “Blue Angel Crash” and it played just fine. However, the file is low resolution (320 x 240), so I wish there were a way to size the video down to avoid the blockiness of smaller files. Unfortunately, the screen size is fixed in the VLC Media Player. The only screen size control is to rotate the iPad to obtain portrait or landscape mode.

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Playback (Will Ferrell as G.W. Bush)

Bottom Line

The ability to interact only with iTunes, the failure to support lots of video file formats, to document what is supported, the requirement to change some file names to end in .avi and the fixed window size make this version of the VLC Media Player a lot less useful than it could be. Moreover, the support site is in French, so if you don’t speak a little French, you may not recognize the labels for the fields in the feedback form.

Even though this is a free app, I’d recommend avoiding some frustration and wait for the next update. If I were doing a In-depth review, this version would be given a Disappointing rating.

VLC Media Player for iPad requires iOS 3.2 or later.

Comments

Tiger

John,

Now I’m confused. I was at a soccer game Saturday for my nephew and a guy had his iPad with him (why I won’t even venture to ask). He was complaining that he had no way of watching content on the iPad and he was really upset. I pointed out to him that VLC had been released. Right there he downloaded it over 3G and began watching videos. No Mac. No iTunes syncing. He just started watching content. What’s odd is that even if he’d already installed the content from his computer in iTunes, it only accepts formats that are set FOR iTunes and would have been able to play them anyway. So these were files he was downloading on the spot. That seems to fly in the face of your comments…

Thoughts??

John Martellaro

Good question: Maybe he figured out how move some movie files in his iPad video library into VLC.  However, the developer says you have to use iTunes file transfer, and I could find no other method.  And, as you said, playing files that already play in QuickTIme on the iPad is pointless.  Ask him how he did it!  Maybe I missed a trick.

iVoid

You can lay the itunes sync issue right in Apple’s lap.

They are the ones who haven’t provided a proper common home directory you can sync data to. They’ve left it up to each app to provide their own sync services and only to their own app data space.

The recent iTunes sync process is cumbersome and really is a pain if you’re trying to use multiple apps to access the same files.

I know it’s for security to prevent one app from corrupting other apps data, but I still miss using the best app on any data on my system when I want to.

dmuzzy

Nice trick with the “.avi” extension, I will have to give it a try.

@iVoid, I think once Apple can get the file directory issue sorted out, they’ll have made great strides toward making this device truly productive. Some type of DropBox solution that allows for push file updates and local storage would be ideal.

Tiger

If I can get a response I will, but let me tell you, he did NOTHING. He barely knew how to use his iPad to begin with. A lot of his issues were ID 10 T errors. But he downloaded VLC and within 2 minutes was showing people videos, so it was nothing he did.

As for the directory/cloud issue, while Apple is “responsible” the most likely culprit is the continued DRM issue with the MPAA and RIAA. Being able to move files around that easily pretty much means they can be shared and given away, violating their most sacred tenant…PROFIT above all else.

anthonymoody

Completely agree this is a total let down. Fine - there’s no centralized file system (yet) but jeez at the very least they could’ve given the app ‘Open In’ capability so that you could pump files in from apps like mail and goodreader.

scottnsf

while it plays most of my videos, volume has often been so poor i had to get ext speakers.  but what i really need an answer to, is how do i REMOVE vids from it?!  there is no obvious way to manage/edit the files once they’ve been added to VLC!
i’ve written to themtwice in English and heard nothing.
by the way, i added the vids from an external drive that’s turned off during ITUNES syncing, yet the vids are still there.

John Martellaro

scottnsf: As I described in the review, connect to a Mac or PC via iTunes. Select the apps tab.  Scroll down to the File Sharing part of the page. Click on VLC on the left.  Select the video file on the right.  Hit the DELETE key on the keyboard.  Poof.

macslut

@Tiger,

My guess is that the guy downloaded VLC and then used the built-in Video app to play videos he already had or YouTube.

Sorry, but the author is correct, there’s no way to get videos on the iPad in a way that they’ll play with VLC unless you use iTunes and sync.

This is partially the fault of iOS.  However, VLC doesn’t support Open With (yet), so playing movies you receive via email isn’t an option either.

plexia

Actually, many of the issues discussed can be solved by jailbreaking your iPad.  With a jailbreak app called iFile, you have complete access to the iPad’s filesystem.  You can copy, delete, and move files; you can even wirelessly transfer the files to the vlc folder wirelessly via the program’s webserver.  Just have your computer and iPad on the same wifi network, open any browser and type in the ip address of the iPad as displayed on the screen to go to a website where you can navigate the contents of your iPad.  I’ve been doin this and it’s great!  Also, with another app called Yourtube, you can download youtube videos.  If you put the files you downloaded into the vlc directory on your iPad, you could actually download videos from the internet and play them on VLC without any computer involved.  While I know that jailbreaking is not really for everyone, and can technically void your warranty, it just makes the iPad a whole lot more useful.

reub

it just makes the iPad a whole lot more useful.

spot on, in all seriousness I used my iPad a fraction of the time before jailbreaking it. VLC is good on a Jailbroken iPad.

scottnsf

much thanks to those of you who offered me your help.  my problem WAS thereby resolved, but better news is that there is a VLC update for Ipad today, including that file management issuue, which i had emailed them about.  a very good sign that they listen and WILL continue to make it better all the time.

ohyeah

Plexia,
I just lost a few minutes of my life to (...register an account on this forum just to…) say thank you for the great tips. I had no clue this was possible. Definitely made things easier. Cheers !

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