Thanks to Apple's restrictions, you can't get a perfect video player that handles all formats and performs with the same efficiency as Apple's built-in Videos app. Nevertheless, PlayerXtreme HD does just about everything you could ask for within the confines of iOS's walled garden.
Platform: iPhone and iPad Price: Free ($2.99 for Pro) Download Page
- Supports plenty of formats: 3gp, asf, avi, divx, dv, dat, flv, gxf, m2p, m2ts, m2v, m4v, mkv, moov, mov, mp4, mpeg, mpeg1, mpeg2, mpeg4, mpg, mpv, mt2s, mts, mxf, ogm, ogv, ps, qt, rm, rmvb, ts, vob, webm, wm, wmv
- Simple, familiar folder-based interface that feels a lot like a desktop environment (which you may or may not like)
- Search through your media
- Supports streaming over SMB, UPNP and Wi-Fi
- Download files to the app over your local network
- Open files from directly from email attachments
- Great control over the look of subtitles
- Boost the volume of soft audio by up to 12 times
- Password-protect your library
- Hide folders that guest users of the app can't see but you can
Where It Excels
PlayerXtreme HD tries to do a lot and succeeds in most areas. In addition to playing just about every type of video file under the sun, it makes getting those files to your iPhone much easier. You can transfer them the traditional way -- via iTunes, over USB -- or you can just do it via Wi-Fi over your network. If you'd rather just stream the media, PlayerXtreme HD will detect media shares. For example, if you run Plex Media Server on any computer then PlayerXtreme HD will see its UPNP share and have access to your entire library. This makes it really easy to watch on the fly without the need to wait for a transfer to complete. Navigating the app also works wonderfully. The folder interface should feel familiar to most users who've at least seen a desktop computing environment, and you can switch between various sections of the app by just swiping in from the left side of the screen. Overall, everything works easily and intuitively.
Where It Falls Short
PlayerXtreme HD operates on an add-on model. While great in some ways, if you want access to a lot of the described features (notably network streaming) you have to pay for the pro version via in-app purchase. It only costs $2.99, so it isn't like you're breaking the bank, and you can get individual features for $0.99 apiece. That said, it's a little annoying to jump into the app and try things out, only to find that you can't actually use certain features because they've been locked down. Other than that, you'll find little to complain about in PlayerXtreme HD. The interface may not be everyone's cup of tea, but offers practically no learning curve so you won't find yourself fumbling around, trying to figure out how to get the app to work.
GoodPlayer ($2.99), our previous top pick, offers essentially the same feature set as PlayerXtreme HD. That said, we think PlayerXtreme HD puts it in a nicer package. It also doesn't cost you anything if you don't need every single feature. GoodPlayer still works as a solid alternative, so you won't go wrong if you want to use it instead.
The built-in video player on your iPhone is worth mentioning because it really is a great player -- at least for the formats it supports. You do have to sync with iTunes to get files in it, unless you buy all your video directly from the iTunes Store, but it's a good way to handle podcasts or anything else you don't mind putting in iTunes. Sure, it's far from perfect, but it does what it does pretty well.
While StreamToMe and AirVideo are technically not video players, but rather video converters and streamers, it's hard to ignore them when they are one of the best solutions for video playback on your iPhone. If you have a server available to stream files, either of these apps are really handy. You may want to supplement them with a local video player (you know, like GoodPlayer), but they do an excellent job for all those files you can't play back smoothly.
Of course, there are lots of other video player apps for iPhone that aren't mentioned here, as many of them are pretty much the same thing. If you have a favourite that was left in the dust, however, let's hear about it in the comments.
Lifehacker's App Directory is a growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.