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We've got high expectations. Not only do we want to be able to use our phones to make calls and send texts, but we also want internet access, games, apps that get us to social media, a music player as well as online music. We want to watch movies and read books and take pictures and -- whew, our little phone is starting to get a little crowded. And pretty much the same story goes for the iPad even with its bigger memory. Streaming music can take some of the load off, but if we could move a few of those episodes of Mad Men off our iOS devices, that sure would free up some space.
Video streaming apps to the rescue!
VLC Streamer ($.99)
Boy, did we have high hopes for Hobbyist Software's VLC Streamer. Apart from carrying the trusted VLC name, there were free and paid versions to test, and there were free and paid versions of the same developer's remote for VLC. That last app lets you turn your iPhone into a remote control for your VLC player on your computer. Run the player software once to set up, then anything you run from your VLC media player on your desktop or laptop can be controlled from your iPhone.
The set up for the remote was such a breeze that, as we've stated above, we had high hopes. Maybe we've been spoiled by the remote's ease of use or maybe we've been spoiled by other streaming apps, but VLC Streamer did not make us feel the love.
For starters, VLC on the desktop is known as the Swiss Army Knife of media players and there's a very, very good reason for that. If you've found the video or audio codec that stumps VLC, then you're pulling in obscure pirated video from Belorussian torrents or something from the very remotest corners of the online galaxy. Because this baby does it all. So when an app advertises itself using not only the VLC name but also with the claim that it uses "the power of VLC to stream movies to your device," how could we not expect great things?
Was set up easy? It wasn't without its complications and for reasons we can't fathom, VLC Streamer forces you to open your Systems Preferences panel to set a password every single time you start it. Even after you've set one. Every single time. Did we tell you how annoying this is? Plus, we kept getting messages that the VLC player had crashed.
Once started, the streaming server ran rather quietly in the background with a light memory footprint. And the app installed on our phone without a hitch. But getting these two to talk proved a little more difficult.
If It's Not Alphabetical, We'll Have Problems
Nor was navigating the app as intuitive as we'd want. Once the server is running and the app recognizes it, you are given a list of Visible Computers, including yours. When you tap your computer in the list, you're taken to a screen where you tap to "Add a movie." Here, you find yourself in familiar territory with your main user account on your Mac or your Documents folder on your PC. From here you can hopefully navigate to wherever you have movies stored on your computer. There's only one back button and that's back to the very beginning, VLC Streamer choosing an Up option at the very top of the list of folders you're navigating through. So tap wisely.
Navigatae Wisely, As You Might Be Looking a While
Do you have movies you're looking for in iTunes? Well, good luck. Since Apple keeps movies and TV shows in the Movies subfolder of the iTunes Music folder, you'll be tapping and scrolling for some time. And if you go looking for a file somewhere else, well, you can scroll back to this location again when you return. Also, for reasons we struggle with, folders aren't always listed in alphabetical order.
Get Used to This Button. It's How You Go "Back"
Well, that's all fine and good, just a bit of navigation trouble. Not quite. Did you use Handbrake to rip your DVDs into a universal Apple format so you'd have digital versions of these? Well, VLC Streamer seems to have a ton of problems processing these videos. What about the ever popular .mov format? That seemed to have issues too. In fact, a 9 second video at a 200 bitrate and a 15 frame rate failed to play for more than 3 seconds. Ditto a 10 second .mov file. A 2 second long .avi file processed for over five minutes without ever playing.
VLC Streamer isn't just difficult to navigate. Once you get where you're going, it's difficult -- if not impossible -- to even get the party started.
At $.99 you can't ask for the world, but you could ask for an app that does what it's advertised as doing.