About half a year ago you might’ve seen my incoherent but rapturous blabbering about Air Video, the app I’ve been relying on for watching movies and TV shows both on my iDevice and my TV via Apple’s AV Component Cable. Life has moved on since then and on one fateful birthday eve (quite recently in fact) I was gifted with a full-blown NAS (ReadyNAS Duo) – a Network Attached Storage device for the uninitiated. Seeing as it fully supported DLNA network playback I immediately went shopping for an app to do away with the PC middle-device altogether between me and my lovely shows. And after some digging I rested my inquiring mind on AirPlayer, which looked like the perfect answer to my needs.
AirPlayer is an UPnP/DLNA client for your iPhone, iPod Touch and /or iPad. This is the technology that has been widely adopted over the recent years by various Audio/Video equipment manufacturers and is the de-facto standard for network audio and video playback, along with displaying photos. On the server side you can get a variety both free and commercial products that offer DLNA support available for almost all platforms imaginable, including a built-in version in Windows 7. And almost all NAS products have their own version built-in as well.
AirPlayer takes full advantage of the technology and after a short while of scanning the network, it recognized both the built-in ReadyNAS DLNA server and my Windows 7 laptop. Just a tap away was my complete library of videos, music and photos. The browsing experience is quite satisfactory, with all my media available both organized by my default folder layout and by the parsed DLNA tags, including stuff like artists or albums for music.
I had no issues listening to my music collection – AirPlayer easily handled my MP3s of up to 320bps with no stuttering or audio artifacts. I was a bit puzzled though as to why the devs decided to use some custom player for audio instead of the iPhone’s native one. My photo collection similarly presented no issues for the app, including high-res photos up to 10-15Mb.
Video playback was a completely different kettle of fish, however. Eating through converted h.264 mp4 files was a breeze, at least after I manually turned on QuickTime rendering in the options. All other formats were almost a complete disaster. I tried feeding AirPlayer almost everything but the kitchen sink – DivX and XVid, WMA, MKV mostly in standard resolution quality (around 624 by 352 pixels with 1Mbs bitrate), and sadly, the results were poor at best. The very first time I attempted watching a TV show (Xvid) in standard resolution, I got almost a slideshow instead of a video. After a reboot of my iPhone 4 the same video started out fine, but the audio fell out of sync with the image after only a few minutes. I won’t even talk about the 720p stuff – it was a disaster. And trying out standard quality MKV wasn’t much better, with the image freezing every few seconds.
But I was going to use it to watch videos on my TV, right? Having connected my iDevice with the AV cables, I was confused to have zero results and the videos still played back on my iPhone. A few seconds of looking through the settings and I found the manual TV Out toggle. One should note that it doesn’t seem to check that a cable is actually connected and tries to send the feed out regardless. This means that if you turn it on and have no TV connected you’ll only find audio out on the iDevice, with no image for no apparent reasons. And after I got through sorting out the settings and relaxed on my couch to watch some stuff, I was rewarded with a similar slideshow as I experienced trying to watch 720p on the device itself. Just to compare, playing the same videos both with TV out and from iPhone, I had no issues with AVPlayer (TMA Review) or xBMC, recently released on Cydia for jailbroken iDevices.
Unfortunately, it still seems that comfortably watching streaming videos other than pre-converted H.264 mp4 is only a dream. While boasting “streaming almost any formats of video from your media server, XVID, AVI, RMVB, MKV, MOV, MP4, M4V etc” AirPlayer falls short of providing comfortable performance even on the iPhone 4. And don’t even think about trying the TV Out. At least it does ok with music and pictures, though there are at least a couple free apps that can handle this part of the equation. To everyone else the only choice at the moment is to either stick with something that does conversion on the server side (i.e. Air Video) or jailbreak and enjoy the superb hardware accelerated xBMC, though it doesn’t have TV Out support just yet.
With this I declare AirPlayer officially touched!
|Reviewed Ver:||V1.0.08||Min OS Req:||3.0|