With large 5.5″ iPhones and giant 12.9″ iPad Pro models pushing the boundaries of Apple screen sizes, watching video on your iOS device is more accessible than ever before. Whether you’re taking your iPad on a long-haul flight or use an iPhone to watch your favorite TV episodes on your commute, you don’t have to pay for the privilege.
Though Apple’s ecosystem places emphasis on paid apps more than the Android alternative, there is still a hearty selection of completely free apps. So here are our favorite free video players, as well as a few paid recommendations for those looking for even more.
Sync Using iTunes
Before we get to the third party options, remembering that you can sync video using iTunes on a Mac or Windows computer. Simply add the video to your iTunes library (the easiest way is to click and drag), find it in iTunes, then drag the content to your device in the sidebar. The catch here is that the video must be in a format that iTunes supports in the first place.
Once copied you can access the video using the Videos app on your iOS device. Support here in basic and limited, but it does come with a few benefits too. The biggest benefit is the ability to use this video with other apps that rely on Apple’s central media library, like Algoriddim’s vjay. If you’re not too keen on the protracted process of importing and copying within iTunes, a pricey app called Waltr 2 ($39.99) lets you copy to Apple’s media library via drag and drop.
Times have changed since the days of jailbreaking your device to install VLC Media Player. The app is now a bonafide iTunes app that has Apple’s approval, allowing you to play a huge number of files and formats on your mobile device. Using VLC you can bypass the restrictive media libraries used by Apple, and use a few more unorthodox means of accessing media content.
The best of these is Wi-Fi transfer. You can drag and drop files into a browser window, provided you are sharing the same Wi-Fi network as your iPhone or iPad. There’s also iTunes File Sharing, cloud storage integration, and FTP support for loading up on media. You can even stream local media over SMB, and from uPnP media apps like PLEX.
Other welcome features include a media library for organizing your files, gestures, multi-track audio and subtitle support, and the ability to adjust playback speed. VLC for Mobile is the best place to start if you need a truly free and powerful, yet lightweight media player. DTS and Dolby AC3 are among some of the unsupported codecs.
Verdict: Start here, it’s the best free player on the App Store bar none.
Infuse 5 (free, $7 upgrade to Pro)
Infuse 5 is like VLC on steroids, with a beautiful UI on top. It enjoys greater support than VLC, particularly when paired with the optional $7 upgrade which enables Dolby AC3 and DTS support. There’s the same breadth of options for transferring media as seen on VLC including Wi-Fi transfer, FTP and AirDrop support. Networked computer, NAS drive, media server, and URL streaming is also supported.
Integration with TheMovieDB and TheTVDB allow you to download additional information like covers and descriptions. Download subtitles for free with a simple tap using OpenSubtitles, and use gestures to control things like volume and scrub through the video with ease.
Infuse 5 is a capable free player and a solid paid option for anyone looking for a few extra features. That includes better support for video and audio formats, AirPlay and Google Chromecast streaming, syncing between other instances of Infuse, and cloud service support from the likes of Google Drive, Dropbox and more. Fortunately you can try before you buy without any annoying adverts.
Verdict: It’s a decent player but requires the Pro upgrade to beat VLC.
Just like KMPlayer for Windows and the Mac beta version, KMPlayer plays a variety of files and formats. And just like VLC and the free version of Infuse, KMPlayer lacks support for some of the licensed formats including Dolby AC3 and DTS audio codecs, and DivX video. Fortunately newer codecs including H.265 are supported.
KMPlayer provides the usual options for importing media: Wi-Fi drag and drop, FTP server support, and compatibility with cloud services like Google Drive and Dropbox. There’s support for gestures, the ability to organize files using the media library, and no intrusive adverts or in-app purchases.
Unfortunately KMPlayer doesn’t support quite as many formats as VLC, nor does it provide much in the way of additional features or support. It’s still an option though.
Verdict: Not as good as VLC in terms of formats, but some users may prefer it.
Formerly known as XBMC, Kodi is probably the best media center you can get. It’s free, open source, compatible with a wide range of codecs and formats, but there’s one catch: Kodi isn’t available in the App Store. If you want to run Kodi on your iPhone or iPad, you’ll either need to jailbreak it, or compile it yourself using Xcode.
Fortunately we have a simple-to-follow guide to compiling and installing Kodi on your non-jailbroken iOS device. The best thing about Kodi is the version parity shared between all compatible platforms. Every device can enjoy the same compatibility, hardware limitations notwithstanding. You can’t necessarily record cable TV through your iPad because there’s no way to connect the cable, for example.
But all the other features are there: massive customizability, themes, support for network shares, streaming across the internet, a comprehensive media library, remote control support, and more. Installing can be a hassle, and the app may be overkill for simple video playback, but if you want Kodi on your iPad you can have it.
Verdict: An awesome fully-fledged media center for your iPad, but compiling and installing can be a hassle.
A Few Pricier Alternatives
The pro version of Infuse is probably the best video player on the platform in terms of codec support, user interface, and media organization. It comes with more features than most users will ever need, and it’s well worth the price of a movie rental ($7) if you’re looking for a premium app.
Another alternative is nPlayer ($9) from Newin (beware duplicates) which offers comprehensive support for DTS and Dolby AC3, a huge number of video formats, AirPlay and Chromecast support, and lots of media-related tweaks and extra features. It’s very similar to Infuse in terms of functionality, but the free version includes advertisements.
Don’t Forget Streaming Services
If you already subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video for use at home, you can grab the respective service’s mobile app and watch content on the go too. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for iOS allow you to download shows over a Wi-Fi connection and watch them offline, wherever you are.
These streaming apps are free and included as part of your subscription, but not all content can necessarily be saved offline. However a good portion of their catalogues are available, and if you’re already paying a subscription you might as well make use of them.
Unfortunately many other on-demand services don’t allow you to download content offline, but rather stream it over a Wi-Fi or cellular connection instead. This includes HBO GO and Hulu, but also on-demand TV services. It’s always worth checking your local providers to see if they support offline media in your region.
Rent or Buy via iTunes
Finally, if you’re really stuck for something to watch and only have your iOS device for company, it’s possible to rent and buy movies outright via iTunes.
Simply open the iTunes Store app on your device, tap the Movies or TV Shows tab and find something to watch. Hit the Rent or Buy button to grab what you’re after, and the card tied to your Apple ID will be charged. You can also use iTunes Gift Card credit against these purchases.
Which iOS Video Player Do You Prefer?
Does VLC do everything you need it to? Maybe you’ve upgraded to Infuse Pro for the extra features, or don’t mind using iTunes to transfer your media the old fashioned way. Let us know what your favorite iOS video app is in the comments below, and we might just add it to the list!
Original article written by Simon Slangen.