One of the things I like most about modern tablets and other portable devices as opposed to laptops is that you can watch videos in your bed, on the sofa, or in the garden without feeling like there’s a fevered walrus sitting in your lap.
Then again, there’s the slight inconvenience of having all my media stored on my computer, and the tedious process of manually adding videos to your iPad through iTunes. It’s worth it, but not all that fun. That’s why I started streaming my videos from my computer to my tablet.
Before we get started, let’s clarify what I mean by ‘streaming’. Although some of the apps discussed below let you stream your video over the Internet, in general we want to stream the video over your local network. That way, streaming video won’t impact your Internet bandwidth, and streaming quality only depends on the speed of your router.
1. Connect To A Desktop Client Application
The easiest way to stream video to your device is probably to connect to a desktop client; an application on your main computer that’s ready to play ball with your mobile or tablet. This requires very little set-up, and offers a high compatibility, as most of these client applications are ready to transcode files that don’t play natively on your device.
Air Playit [Android & iOS]
Air Playit’s desktop client is available for Windows and Mac. The mobile application is free, both on iOS and Android. After selecting the folders you’d like to share in the desktop application, your videos should show up on your device.
Besides streaming transcoded videos to your device, Air Playit can also convert the video on your computer with the click of a button, so it can be downloaded over your local network and stored on your device for later enjoyment.
Emit Lite [Android & iOS]
Apart from Windows and Mac OS X, Emit’s desktop client is also available on Linux. Emit Lite does most of what Air Playit does, with one added benefit; Emit is able to display subtitles from SRT files, and softcoded subtitles in MKV files. However, this free version is ad-supported, and ads can be shown even while you’re watching videos.
The Linux client and subtitle support might give Emit Lite the edge over Air Playit, even despite the sometimes intrusive ads. After all, subtitle support is indispensable for a lot of foreign users, and anime lovers.
Boxee for iPad [iOS]
A lot of you will be familiar with Boxee as a desktop media center, but Boxee is also available for the iPad. Like its desktop counterpart, you can use it to queue, watch and discover online media, but you can also stream video from your computer to your iPad over your local network. This requires the Boxee Media Manager software, which is available for Mac OS X and Windows.
Apart from the Boxee Media Manager, it doesn’t hurt if you’re using Boxee as a media center on your computer as well. With this, you can push videos from your iPad to Boxee on your desktop when you feel like swapping your tablet for the big screen.
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2. Connect To a UPnP/DLNA Server
A desktop client might give the best media compatibility and fastest set-up from scratch, but connecting to a UPnP/DLNA server gives more flexibility. The chances are you’ve already got a UPnP/DLNA server. Most media center applications double as a UPnP/DLNA server; this can usually be turned on in the preferences.
By default, these servers don’t transcode media. This means that the files visible on a UPnP/DLNA server are not necessarily playable on your device. Some of the applications listed below support other video filetypes, like AVI and MKV. Otherwise, you’ll need to convert some files in advance, or use a UPnP/DLNA server application that supports transcoding like MediaTomb (Windows, Linux) or PS3 Media Server (Windows, Mac, Linux).
BubbleUPnP is one of the best Android applications of its kind. Although BubbleUPnP itself is no formidable media player, video playback can be delegated to other applications, so you can play virtually any media without transcoding or prior conversion.
It should be noted that this free version of BubbleUPnP comes with some limitations. As such, the playlists you create are capped, music downloads are limited to batches of maximum 40 tracks, there’s a time cap on remote control of the local renderer, and there’s a limit of three plays per app launch when BubbleUPnP is called from an external application. All in all though, BubbleUPnP does what we want it to do.
Media Link Player Lite [iOS]
DLNA/UPnP applications are a dime a dozen on iOS, but almost all the free ones are limited in such a way that renders them practically useless. One exception on this rule is Media Link Player Lite. Nevertheless, it supports only the most rudimentary video formats. This simply means you’ll have to use a media server that’s able to transcode your files, as outlined above.
Not an option? You’ll have to go premium, or access your media in a different way. One of the best UPnP/DLNA applications is 8Player, which can play most any file. However, the lite version will only let you play the first five files in every folder, prompting you to upgrade for full support.
3. Connect To An FTP Or SMB Server
Although UPnP/DLNA is a protocol that’s at ease sharing digital media, it’s not the only way to access a remote server or computer. Two other popular network protocols are FTP and SMB.
FTP is short for File Transfer Protocol, and it’s one of the standard protocols to share files over a network (e.g. the internet). SMB, also known as ‘Samba’, is the default way to share files and folders from Windows desktops, but you can also enable it on Mac OS X (System Preferences -> File Sharing -> Options) and add it to Linux.
ES File Explorer [Android]
ES File Explorer is a free Android file browser. It’s an application you may want on your Android device in any case, but the main features we’re concerned about are the ability to connect to remote network shares. This means you can view the contents of folders that are shared on your computer and, as a result, the video files therein.
Now, because ES File Explorer is not the video powerhorse we’re looking for, we’ll want to open these files in another application like MX Player. Again, if you’re looking for an Android video player, Angela’s 8 Best Mobile Video Players For The Android Phone is a good place to look.
OPlayerHD Lite, as a rare case, is almost as magnificent as its premium counterpart. The main difference between these two is a very non-intrusive text ad. The application does everything we need; it lets you add SMB network shares and connect to FTP servers, making it easy to scour your computer for a video across a network.
No need to outsource the rendering to another application; apart from browsing video sources, OPlayerHD also comes with a very decent video player. You can expect to play most any video file, with subtitle support added into the bargain. Other interesting features let you download these videos for offline enjoyment, and TV Out.