VLC Media Player for iPad Disappoints

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.


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.


Bug Tracker

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


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.


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.