One of the reasons people are excited by iOS devices is because Apple is the first company to make multimedia convergence really work.
Previous examples of broadly similar technology often failed to convince in every area – a good games device having an awful web browser, for example, or a decent music player being terrible for watching videos on.
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By contrast, Apple's iPad, iPhone and iPod touch are all great for a wide variety of tasks, including surfing the web, playing games, listening to music, reading electronic books and watching videos. However, the lack of storage space on iOS devices means video can be a problem, since video files are often huge.
On your Mac, you probably don't notice this, since hard drives are now typically in the hundreds of gigabytes; but iOS devices currently max out at 64GB (and the devices with the lowest capacities offer just 8GB of storage), which means that even a relatively modest collection of movies, video podcasts and TV shows may leave you with little space for storing anything else.
For many people, the solution is to just sync a handful of videos to a device, watch them and then replace them with a few more unwatched shows.
However, media management of this sort is a tedious process, and while it makes sense putting in this kind of effort if you're loading a device with specific content for a train journey or holiday, Air Video makes it unnecessary if you're within the boundaries of your Wi-Fi network.
The Air Video system comes in two parts. On your Mac, you install server software and then, via the application's preferences, define which folders it should make available (such as /Movies); you can also create playlists (standard or smart) of your favourite video podcasts and movies in iTunes, and add those to the list.
You then install Air Video Free or Air Video on your device(s), which enables you to access your defined folders and playlists, and play the videos within. The free version of Air Video only shows a few randomly chosen items from any folder or playlist, but nonetheless offers a useful taster for the full version (and a means of playing content if you only want to watch a few items now and again, without syncing them to your device), but the full version lacks such restrictions.
Both versions handily provide live conversion (assuming your Mac's powerful enough) of video formats not otherwise compatible with iOS, including AVI and FLV, and there's also an option for saving outputted files so Air Video doesn't have to convert them again next time.
If you fancy paying for the full version of Air Video, it's on the App Store for £1.79. And because it's a universal app, Air Video will work on any device running iOS 3 or later.
Here, we explain how to use Air Video for various tasks. For further information about (and troubleshooting details for) the system itself, simply visit www.inmethod.com/air-video.
Use Air Video to access your videos over Wi-Fi
01. Install the server
Download Air Video Server for your Mac. Open the DMG, drag the Air Video Server application to your Applications folder and launch it.
After a few seconds, the Air Server icon should appear in your Mac's menu bar (it looks like a film strip with a Wi-Fi signal over it). By default, the server will be turned on at this point. You can use Stop Server and Start Server within the menu to disable and enable Air Video Server.
02. Configure the server
Within the same menu, select Server Preferences, which opens the Air Video Server Properties window. Click Shared Folders.
Here, you define which folders on your Mac and which iTunes playlists you'd like to enable the Air Video iOS app to access. Note that the Air Video app can happily navigate folders, so adding your Movies folder ( /Movies) and the Films and Podcasts iTunes playlists might be enough for you.
However, you can also manually create other video-oriented playlists in iTunes or use smart playlists to collect certain series. For example, we're fans of Robert Llewellyn's Carpool (see http:// llewtube.com for more on the series), and created a Carpool smart playlist by using the playlist rules Media Kind is Podcast and Name contains carpool.
Before closing the window, you might also want to check Start at Login under Settings if you'd like Air Video Server to automatically start when you boot your Mac. If not, you'll have to launch the application manually each time you want to use Air Video.
03. Use the iPhone app
On your iPhone or iPod touch, launch Air Video, tap the + button and select your Mac from the available servers. On doing so, you're returned to the servers list, which will now include your computer. Tap it and you'll see the folders and playlists you added earlier.
Tap one to load its contents. Tap a video file to see its details and Play to start playing it using standard iOS video controls. This should work fine with QuickTime files and iTunes content that's not protected by DRM.
Note that the inability to play content with DRM over Wi-Fi is a restriction imposed by Apple.
Videos that cannot be played will show an error message when you press Play. (Strangely, we found some videos that were 'DRM protected' nonetheless played!)
04. Convert incompatible videos
Many video file types that work on your Mac won't play on iOS devices. However, rather than converting them, adding them to iTunes then syncing them, let Air Video do the grunt work.
You get two options: Play with Live Conversion plays the video in real-time (assuming your Mac is powerful enough); Convert converts the video to an iOS-compatible format, the settings for which can be amended in Conversion Settings.
If you're feeling impatient and want to watch a video while also making a conversion for later, just start the conversion going and then use the Play with Live Conversion option. And should you want to see the conversion queue at any time, simply press the Queue button; you can then edit queued items or cancel specific conversions.
05. Use the iPad app
As noted elsewhere, Air Video is a universal application, which means you can buy it once and install it on multiple iOS devices. On the iPad, the features mentioned in the previous two steps work in the same way, but the interface is quite different.
Instead of the iPhone version's 'sliding column' approach, Air Video on the iPad has a dual-pane setup much like Mail's. On the left, you see a list of videos, and you tap one to load it into the playback area on the right. The video list can be expanded if titles are cropped (tap Expand) and collapsed once you're done (tap Collapse).
If you decide you'd like to watch your video full-screen, start playing it and tap the full-screen icon at its bottom right, as you do when viewing video embedded in a web page.
06. Air Video Free
If you only want to watch the occasional video and are feeling particularly miserly, Air Video Free is an option. It's also a universal app, but it only shows a few randomly chosen items per folder or playlist.
You can refresh until you see what you want to watch; alternatively, create folders or playlists with only a few items prior to an iOS Air Video session.