One of Apple’s biggest cons is their restrictions. True, their devices are amazing, superbly crafted and work like a charm, but why can’t they play more than one specific video format?
I’ve been spending my days converting videos into M4Vs that my iPad will agree to play, and even then I sometimes found myself confronted with the cryptic “the video cannot be played on this iPad” error. Apple, in general, tend not to approve alternative players that allow you to play multiple formats, and after some sort of disagreement, the VLC app was removed from the market.
True, I can jailbreak my iPad and just get VLC, but are there any alternatives that don’t require jailbreaking?
The Free Option: FlexPlayer
FlexPlayer is a free media player for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch (OS 4.2 and later) which allows you to play many different video formats. According to its iTunes page, FlexPlayer supports “AVI, DivX, Xvid, VOB, MP4, MOV (plus many more)”. Let’s see if it really works.
When you first launch FlexPlayer, you will get detailed instructions on how to add videos. This is useful because adding videos to FlexPlayer is not done by just adding videos to your iTunes library. If you do that, you won’t be able to upload anything that’s not in the acceptable format, and the videos will not be added to FlexPlayer.
In order to add videos to FlexPlayer, plug in your device and launch iTunes. Select your device on the left menu bar, and then choose the “Apps” tab.
On this page, scroll down until you find the “File Sharing” menu. Look for FlexPlayer on the list and start adding videos. You can either click on the “Add” button or drag files straight into the documents interface.
As you can see, I tried adding an AVI file, an XVID file and a MOV file. All of them formats the iPad would not dream of playing normally.
When you add videos to the list, they will immediately appear in your FlexPlayer. You don’t have to sync it manually. The options are limited – you can watch videos and you can delete videos. That’s pretty much it.
And here you go, here is what watching an AVI looks like. Both video and sound worked without a hitch and I was able to play all three file formats with no problem.
There are no further options that I could see, but the existing options worked great.
The Paid Option: CineXPlayer
CineXPlayer comes in two versions, an iPad version ($2.99) and an iPhone/iPod touch version which is also iPad compatible ($1.99). I tried the iPad version, and my guess is that the iPhone version works on the iPad, but only as iPhones apps usually do – covering about 1/3 of your screen with a X2 option. In my opinion, this is not a good solution for a video app, but if someone has actually tried it and thinks differently, do tell us about it.
Now to business. CineXPlayer offers many more options. When you first launch it, you will get a tutorial, complete with screenshots, which explains exactly how to add video files.
The method is identical to the one I described for FlexPlayer. Go to the “Apps” tab, scroll down, find CineXPlayer and add your files. Again, I tried adding an AVI, an XVID and a MOV.
After you’ve added movies, they will appears as thumbnails or as a list. As a default, CineXPlayer plays an amusing, computer-game-like background music when you browse your movies, which is somewhere on the border between annoying and fun. CineXPlayer offers folder options and you can catalogue your files for easy browsing.
The playing itself wasn’t perfect. My AVI file only played sound – no image. My XVID file played well, but when I tried it a second time there was suddenly no picture. Closing the app and re-launching it fixed it, but the AVI file remained picture-less. The MOV file played well.
As you can see, CineXPlayer offers many more options – 3D (requires a further download), TV viewing, subtitles and social sharing to name a few.
The whole social sharing thing was a bit clunky, but I finally managed to get this window:
Pretty cool if you’re into social sharing and want your friends to know what you’re watching. It seems to be limited to Facebook, though.
As opposed to FlexPlayer which lets you play videos and that’s it, there are some settings here you can adjust to your liking. You can also buy some add-ons to enhance your experience with CineXPlayer.
As much as I like tweaking things, I did not feel that CineXPlayer provided an overall better experience. This is probably due to the fact that not all the videos actually worked. If I can’t play all formats, all the extra settings become less relevant.
Having said that, the file type I couldn’t play has given me trouble on other devices, and your files might work like a charm. If the bear-bones interface of FlexPlayer is just not enough for you, give CineXPlayer a spin, it’s not that expensive and it seems to be well thought out. For me, I will stick with FlexPlayer for now. Sometimes you just can’t beat simplicity, and I sure do love the price tag that comes along with it.
Want to share your own experiences? Know of some more alternative players we should try? Share in the comments.
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