Playing with video on the iPad

One of the great uses for the iPad is watching video.  Seriously, it’s a reasonably large display, held close to the user and, whilst it may not replace the big flat screen in the living room for family viewing, it’s more than good enough for catching up on the normal stuff.

Whilst I’m waiting for the BBC to release an iPlayer app for the iPad (iPlayer support is currently limited to streaming content), I have some video content that I’d like to catch up on whilst disconnected from the ‘net.  Unfortunately, my iPad didn’t want to play it… until I converted the video to a suitable format.

My first task was to use GSpot (on a Windows machine) to have a look at what codecs the file used.  It turned out to be an XviD video/MP3 audio file at 30fps in a .AVI container.

According to Apple’s technical specifications, the iPad can cope with:

Audio playback

  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
  • Audio formats supported: HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3 and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV
  • User-configurable maximum volume limit

TV and video

  • Support for 1024 by 768 pixels with Dock Connector to VGA Adapter; 576p and 480p with Apple Component AV Cable; 576i and 480i with Apple Composite AV Cable
  • H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats; Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to install additional codecs on the iPad (at least not on a non-jailbroken one), so the video needed to be converted to something that the iPad could handle.  To do this, I installed the DivX and XviD codecs on my Mac (although I should have just used Perian), and used Apple QuickTime Pro to export the video as an MP4… except it took ages and converted it to 4:3 ratio at a lower resolution and higher frame rate – not really the result I was after…

Then I remembered Handbrake.  Handbrake doesn’t have any iPad presets yet but Carson McDonald has created some and they worked brilliantly to create a suitable H.264/MP4 file (there’s also a thread on iPad encoding in the Handbrake Forums).

When it cames to getting the video onto the iPad, I had two options: drag the the video to iTunes and sync (it then appears in the iPad’s built in Videos app); or upload the file to Dropbox and access it that way (by marking the file as a favourite, Dropbox will cache it for offline access). Now I can catch up on my TV viewing whilst I’m disconnected.

I’m still waiting for BBC, Channel 4, et al to step up the mark with their apps though!

3 thoughts on “Playing with video on the iPad


  1. A couple of things….if I remember correctly the Linux (Mint/Ubuntu) version of Handbrake does come with an iPad preset. Not sure why the Windows version doesn’t. It’s easy to export/import them though, so a buddy could have exported it for you to import.

    Also, there’s a free player called CineXPlayer for the iPad that supposedly supports XVid. I haven’t tried it, but the last time I looked, the reviews looked pretty good.


  2. @Bill – thanks for those tips (I have to admit that I didn’t check out the options for Handbrake on Linux – I was using a Mac but I did check the handbrake website first!)

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