There’s no doubt that watching movies on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch is one of the greatest pleasures of these Apple apparatuses (apparati?). How did I survive before having the ability to bring up the latest episode of “Family Guy” from the comfort of my own bed? Or car, office, Starbucks, airport, or even some airplanes (the ones with Wi-Fi)?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the age-old irritant — storage space — to rear its ugly head. Space may be the final frontier but there’s never enough of it for the terabyte devouring videophile. As magical as they may be, the iPhone and iPad still suffer from “byte-envy”. Oh sure, I could un-sync the films I’ve seen, convert new films from my Mac to the appropriate format for my iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, and sync those. But my devices are supposed to be about convenience and quickness. I have a need for speed!
Fortunately, InMethod has come to the rescue with its Air Video app for the iPhone/iPad. This clever, inexpensive app allows you to stream video from your computer to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, quickly and with very little effort. Better still, since it works over both Wi-Fi and 3G networks, you can stream movies almost anywhere. And best of all, there’s a free version (Air Video Free) that lets you try all of Air Video’s features but limits the number of movies you can access.
To get started you’ll need to install either the paid or free version of the app on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and then download and install the free Air Video server software for your computer (Mac or Windows), which you’ll find here: http://www.inmethod.com/air-video.
When you open the Air Video Server its icon/menu will appear in your menu bar as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: The Air Video Server menu bar icon and menu
The next step is to configure the server. It’s pretty simple, as you can see in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Configuring your Air Video Server is a snap
Here’s the drill:
- Choose Server Preferences from the Air Video Server menu.
- Make sure the Server Running switch is set to Yes.
- Click the Shared Folders tab.
- Add the folders and/or iTunes Playlists that contain video content you wish to stream.
- Click the Remote tab, then click the check box to Enable Access from Internet (Beta).
- Write down the 9-digit Server PIN number that appears when you Enable Access from Internet.
Finally, here’s a tip: Click the Settings tab and check the Start at Login check box. This will insure that you’re never disappointed because you forgot to start the server manually.
That’s it. Your server is now up and running.
To watch some video, start by launching the Air Video application on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Tap the “+” button on the Servers screen. If your device and computer are on the same Wi-Fi network, the computer running the Air Video Server should appear (DocsMacPro in Figure 3).
Figure 3: Connecting to the Air Video Server on your Mac or PC
If you don’t see your computer’s name here, don’t worry. Tap the Enter Server Pin item and provide the 9-digit server PIN number you wrote down earlier.
That’s it! Now you can begin to enjoy your videos anywhere with one exception. Like all other non-Apple apps, Air Video can’t stream your DRM-protected video files, which is to say you can’t watch any videos and movies you bought from the iTunes Store.
But that is the only bad news. The good news is that pretty much any other kind of video — including mp4, m4v, mov, avi, wmv, asf, mpg, mpeg, mkv, 3gp, dmf, divx, and flv — will stream to your device. Which is to say that pretty much any video you’ve ripped, downloaded, created in iMovie, shot with your camcorder, and almost every other kind of video you might have on your hard drive, can be streamed to your device. Best of all, unlike video you drag into iTunes, there’s no need to create a special version for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch — Air Video is able to convert all of the aforementioned video types on the fly!
When you select the server on your iPhone you’ll see the folders you chose to share on your computer’s Air Video Server as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Video content available for streaming
Tap one of the folders and then tap on the video you want to watch.
Figure 5: Some of the items in the Movies 2 folder on my Mac
As I said, Air Video can convert pretty much any video format on the fly. So, if a movie isn’t already in a format your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch knows and loves, you use what is one of Air Video’s most amazing features — Play with Live Conversion, as shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6: Air Video will convert this AVI file on the fly so I can watch it almost immediately
Live Conversion allows you to watch the video while it’s being converted for your device. What’s really cool is that the conversion is done on your Mac or PC so your video usually begins playing within a few seconds. And, unless your network connection is particularly slow, it will play without many (if any) hiccups.
By the way, if you tap the Convert button, the file will be added to the conversion queue. The Air Video server will then convert and save the converted file on your Mac or PC. So if you know you’re going to watch a video in the future, use this option and it will begin streaming faster and play with fewer hiccups.
So now, while I’m lying in bed, sitting on the back deck, or slurping a latte at Starbucks, I can watch pretty much any video I like (except ones with DRM, of course). And the video looks pretty much like video that’s stored on my device, as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7: Watching a movie with Air Video
In my case Air Video lets me choose from over 75 gigabytes of video — far more than would otherwise fit on my iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
One curious feature of Air Video led me to the discovery of an even more curious standard feature of the iPhone. If the Mute switch to your iPhone is enabled (i.e. muted), you won’t hear the audio for video you play in Air Video, and the volume buttons are disabled. While that make sense — after all, what’s a Mute switch supposed to do? — it isn’t what happens when you play video using the YouTube or iTunes apps. In those cases the Mute switch has no effect on the iPhone’s volume and you’ll hear the audio even though your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch is supposedly muted. If someone has a logical explanation for this obvious incongruity I would love to hear it.
Perhaps the only possible downside of this app (and it was hard to find even one), is that it would have been nice if there were more thorough instructions on installing the server, selecting videos, and the conversion options. The instructions on the InMethod Web site assume that the user is familiar with servers, streaming, and conversion. Although I had no problem getting things running, I wonder if that would be the case for a less geeky iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch user.
Other than that, the app is pretty much flawless. And, in fact, the only issues I ever experienced — occasional hiccups and slow response from the server — were almost certainly issues with my network connection and not with the Air Video app or server.
Air Video is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad running iPhone OS 3.0 or later.
The bottom line
If you like to watch video on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, Air Video is a must-have app. For a mere three bucks you can have access to all of your videos that aren’t protected by DRM from anywhere with Internet access. It has quickly become one of my favorite and most-used apps and one I’d hate to be without.