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video formats iosOne 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.

video formats ios

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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.

ios play multiple videos

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.

ios play multiple videos

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.

ios play multiple videos

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.

ios video format

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.

ios video format

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.

ios video format

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.

2011-09-08 14h42_58

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.

image

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:

2011-09-08 14h30_04

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.

video formats ios

Bottom Line

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.

Image credit: Shutterstock

  1. Emily
    September 17, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I am glad I am still running VLC on my iPod touch :) I think I downloaded it like 3 days before it got taken off the app store :)

  2. Jeff
    September 16, 2011 at 4:55 am

    Air Video - will play ANY file (I just watched a .vod based movie for goodness sakes) with NO need to even pre-load them via iTunes. Runs completely via WiFi, and offers live streaming conversion of the files, or you can queue videos to convert first. You need to install software on your computer too, but it's simple, painless and just works. Allows you to browse whichever folders you nominate on your computer, and select video files to play. VERY happy I shelled out the $5 for it...!

    • Yaara
      September 16, 2011 at 7:07 am

      Oh wow, I've written about the free Air Stream Media Player a while back and this seems to be its older and better brother or something. I'll be sure to check it out, looks great. Thanks!

    • Gary Dauphin
      September 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      Air video is okay, but even with a solid WiFi network and a good "server" computer, I still get a large number of hiccups and audio-sync issues.  Its not perfect, but if you don't want to spend hours converting your Vid files to MP4, its a reasonable solution.

      • Palaemon
        September 17, 2011 at 7:09 am

        I have 100s of movies & TV shows and Air Video works perfectly. AVIs, MKVs, etc. never hiccups.

        I mostly use it over local wifi, but use it every time I'm out of town on vacation. I also use it to push videos from home to my AppleTV (that I bring on vacation.)

        I have an older core 2 duo iMac, and decent Internet.

  3. Jeremy
    September 16, 2011 at 1:20 am

    You forgot about GoodPlayer. Destroys cinexplayer. Goodplayer supports ac3 files. the end.

    • Yaara
      September 16, 2011 at 7:05 am

      Awesome, I will definitely check it out. Thank you!

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