Quick Look: Air Video HD for iPhone

My iPhone 6S Plus makes for an excellent mobile media machine — the trick is getting my media onto it. I use Netflix a good 80% of the time, but I’ll occasionally want to re-watch my own library of movies and ripped DVDs, and Apple doesn’t present a very easy path go sync those to the iPhone. AirDrop seems like the easiest way to quickly throw files onto the iPhone, but iOS 9 and 10 have a weird habit of sending videos straight to the Photos app, which really doesn’t provide a very good playback experience. The controls are all tucked into the corners of the interface, and Photos doesn’t bother to remember where you left off in a video.

I first looked to Infuse to provide my mobile media solution because it looks great and plays basically any file I can throw at it. Unfortunately, Infuse also has issues getting files from my Mac and onto the iPhone. I used to be able to rename my .mp4 or .mkv files as .Infuse files before transferring them over, but this no longer seems to work on iOS 10. Every video sent over AirDrop is placed in the Photos app.

This change has led me to rediscover an old favourite from the App Store: Air Video HD. Air Video HD is awesome because it has a lot of flexibility for media: I can stream things locally on my home network, online over LTE, or download things to my iPhone for easy offline playback. The best part of Air Video HD is that it makes each of these things very, very easy to set up. All it takes is a good 5 minutes of configuration and you’re pretty much ready to use it.

Local Network Streaming

The two parts of Air Video HD are the iOS app and the companion desktop app, which can work on either macOS or Windows. Most of the setup happens on the desktop app, which basically runs as a utility in the background. You can set it up to watch specific folders, which will allow the iOS app to see any kind of video files in those locations.

Once the desktop app has been set up to watch your folders, all you need to do is load up the iOS app, connect to the desktop app, and tap on a video start playing it. It really is that simple. The streaming happens almost instantaneously for me on my local network, with my late 2013 13-inch MacBook Pro acting as the server. It works for my crappy old low-res DVD rips, and my own 1080p videos exported from Final Cut Pro X.

I use Air Video HD pretty often for home streaming because it takes basically no preparation. My Mac is always on when I’m home, so I can easily stream videos from the Mac to my iPhone, wherever I am in the house.

Offline Playback

Air Video HD doesn’t have the same content-first interface that Infuse does, but it beats Infuse handily in terms of convenience. If I want to prepare a video for offline play back, I swipe left on the video, and then tap “Download”. The video will then be converted on the Mac (if necessary), and then downloaded straight to my iPhone.

I wouldn’t use Air Video HD as a media library because it doesn’t allow much organization of offline files, but it makes for a great inbox of videos that I’ve been meaning to watch.

Online Streaming

One cool extra feature that Air Video HD brings to the table is easy online streaming. I set up a PIN for my Air Video HD Server, entered the PIN on my iPhone app, and I was all set.

I love this option for quick remote play back in a pinch — especially if I’ve forgotten to export one of my own videos to Dropbox for showing to coworkers.

My Mac isn’t always online when I’m away from home, but if it’s asleep, I can easily wake it up by using Screens VNC on my iPhone first.

Conclusion

I don’t foresee Apple loosening the controls for media transfers on iOS any time soon, but as long as Air Video HD is around, I don’t really feel constricted by living within Apple’s walled garden. It’s incredibly easy to set up, and the one-time price of $10 CAD has proven to be well worth it for me.

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