The iPad is a fantastic, lightweight and highly portable computing device. With it, you can achieve most of what you can do with a regular computer, but in a much more friendly and tactile way. Despite all the limitless possibilities available, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the iPad is also an amazing device for watching videos: it’s bigger than an iPhone or those portable DVD players equipped with a tiny screen, so you can enjoy what you’re watching more, yet it’s not too big as to be cumbersome like a laptop; and its amazing battery life makes it an idea travel companion on those long, tedious trips.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not merely a gateway to the iTunes Store. Of course, you can purchase any TV show or film available from its immense catalogue, but this isn’t the only place you can find entertainment for your iPad. Not only is the web peppered with video, but there are also apps available to allow you to stream media directly to your device – even live television. It’s also possible to convert your DVD collection into iPad-compatible files, and you can even enjoy videos stored on your iPad on your living room TV set, either by wired connection or wirelessly. A small screen is ideal for personal use, but nothing beats a large HD television when it’s time to enjoy entertainment with friends and family.
But don’t forget about versatility: if you’re ever bored with simply consuming films and TV shows, your iPad will be there to help you turn on your creative juices and actively create content, from filming to editing and sharing.
We’ll show you where to find great video, and how to convert and enjoy it on the most portable computer yet designed.
Grab videos from the web
With the excellent built-in web browser Safari, you can grab almost any video off the web and enjoy it on your iPad.
Launch the YouTube app and sign in to gain access to all available videos, including your favourites
YouTube, the world’s largest video-sharing website, has been compatible with iOS since the very first iPhone. Back then, you needed the specially built app to access most of the popular clips. Nowadays, although that’s still available, that program’s become redundant, since you can see them all directly from Safari – YouTube detects that you’re using an iPad and brings up an H.264 version of the video you wish to enjoy (as opposed to the default Flash-based one). But, in response to the immense popularity of all of Apple’s iOS devices, other video sharing sites that had also based their entire network on Flash are now offering H.264 alternatives, which makes the experience seamless for iPad users. Suitable sites to try include Vimeo, Blip.tv, Viddler and Dailymotion, to name but four.
The iPad won’t let you download any video off the web, however (unless you’ve purchased it through the iTunes Store), so if you need to grab something from the internet, you’ll have to resort to your tried and trusted Mac or PC. Be aware, however, that downloading copyrighted material without the owner’s permission isn’t legal.
Your Safari browser is now capable of seeing most video sharing websites natively, without the need for Flash
Do the hard work yourself
If you don’t fancy watching endless clips on YouTube and would rather not purchase a video off the iTunes Store when you’ve got a perfectly good copy of the same movie on DVD, you could set about converting your own DVD collection into iPad-compatible files. It’s a bit of a time-consuming process, but extremely worth it once you can access all your movies. The laws are changing in the UK and if it’s not already, it’ll soon be legal to make a copy of DVDs you own, as long as it’s for your personal use. Problem is, it’s not as easy as it sounds since all commercial DVDs come with sophisticated copy-protection built-in.
There are, however, programs that allow you to do just that. On the Mac, check out the excellent RipIt (www.thelittleappfactory.com/ripit). PC users have more choice than their Mac brethren, and a quick search will reveal a host of programs to choose from. All these software packages make a perfect copy of the DVD files onto your computer, minus any copy protection. The next step is to convert the video you want into one compatible with the iPad.
In this case, the program you need is Handbrake (www.handbrake.fr). This free software is amazing. It has a host of presets if you’re not comfortable with tweaking parameters: just select your DVD, choose a preset and you’re good to go. Once the file has been converted, add it to your copy of iTunes where you can pepper it with metadata, like the film’s poster (which you can grab from www.impawards.com) and the cast and crew list and short synopsis (from www.imdb.com). All that’s left to do now is sync your iPad with your computer.
Stream video to iOS
There’s a problem with converting your DVD collection: the chances are, you have more movies and TV shows than will fit on an iPad – even the 64 GB version – so why do the hard work if you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labour?
There’s no built-in way to stream your videos from your computer to your iPad, but thankfully, there are a few developers out there who’ve come up with elegant solutions to do just that. One of these is Matthew Gallagher’s StreamToMe, which only costs £1.99 and will work on any iOS device. You’ll need to install the ServeToMe software which is available for free from his website – www.projectswithlove.com.
With StreamToMe and its companion app ServeToMe, you can watch any video stored on your computer from your iPad. Tap on a movie to stream it from your computer onto your iPad. You can choose to have it full screen or with a sidebar on the left
The process is remarkably simple: launch ServeToMe on your computer and after a few seconds, the server component will be running automatically. Your iTunes library is already set to be shared, so if all your movies are already catalogued within it, there’s nothing else for you to do. You can however, also specify other folders to share, if some videos are stored elsewhere on your machine.
Next, go to your iPad (or any other iOS device) and launch StreamToMe. Most video formats will work as is – a few will be automatically transcoded if they won’t play, but perhaps the best feature is the app’s ability to play back DRM-protected files (those purchased from the iTunes Store). As long as such a video has already been synced to your iPad in the past, StreamToMe will be able to play it directly – although you’ll have to specify for particular film to be rerouted to Safari: for some reason, iOS’s web browser can play DRM files, but no third-party app can. That’s a small inconvenience for the sheer practicality of being able to access all your videos from your iPad – and you’re not limited to your home Wi-Fi network either: when running, ServeToMe displays an ‘External address’. Type that value when setting up a server manually in StreamToMe and the setting should “just work”, wherever you are – although of course, it’ll be much more cost-effective to do this within range of another Wi-Fi network as the cost of streaming large video files over 3G would be prohibitive.
Stream video from iOS
Streaming video to your iPad is one thing, but is it possible to stream from it? Sadly, this isn’t as simple as it could be. There’s a feature called AirPlay, which allows you to stream content from your iPad wirelessly to your HD TV, but it’s dependent on you also owning an AppleTV. With it connected to your television, the process is effortless – you can start watching a film on your iPad then tap on the share button that will appear by your volume and start/stop controls and your video will be sent to your AppleTV and displayed on the larger screen. Amazing though this is, this process doesn’t work with other equipment – you can’t even wirelessly stream a file back to your iTunes program on your computer.
But if you haven’t got an AppleTV, all is not lost. With the help of the Apple Digital AV Adaptor you can hook up your iPad to a television via an HDMI cable, which means this process is still limited to high-definition TV sets, but at least there are more of those around than AppleTVs. Your TV will then display everything your iPad shows (even your rows of icons, business apps, games, and of course, videos). The only drawback of course is that you’re tethered by a cable, but at least your entertainment isn’t trapped on your iPad should you find yourself somewhere without an AppleTV at hand.
TV Streaming Services
What about streaming video from the internet? You can of course play back clips from web pages, but is it possible to watch live television on your iPad using only an app? Yes it is, and best of all, it’s free.
One such program is called FilmOn Plus and gives you access to the main British channels along with many foreign ones. You could also try TVCatchUp, which lets you watch TV live. Tap the channel you want to watch and after a few seconds, you’ve got a TV channel on your iOS device. Make sure you have a TV licence, as this live content requires one.
If this isn’t enough for you, then check our the BBC iPlayer app. With it, you gain access to all films and TV series available on that network, on demand. Although as you would expect, this service only works as long as you’re in the UK. There are also apps for Channel 4OD and iTV Player, so you’ll never be short of captivating content.
Lovefilm offers a compelling alternative when it comes to mail-order DVD rental companies. Along with its regular service of renting you DVDs you can enjoy on your TV, you also gain access to its online streaming service via their free LoveFilm Player for iPad. With it, you can choose from a vast selection of movies. Depending on the subscription you’ve chosen, you’ll gain access to their streaming services from either two hours per month to an unlimited amount.