How to play avi files on the iPad

As good as the iPad is, there are some missing basic features that causes owners a lot of frustration. Although touted as a media consumption device, the iPad’s inability to play anything but h.264 encoded mp4 videos is among the tablet’s most obvious shortfalls. It’s certainly not a hardware limitation as there are many paid apps that will do just that. But the idea of paying for an app to perform such a basic function is not too appealing. For those looking for a free alternative, flex:player is the answer. This simple player will play AVI, DivX, Xvid, VOB, MP4, MOV (plus many more). It will play up to HD quality (1280 x 720 pixels) for QuickTime media files (mp4, mov, m4v)and up to DV quality (720 x 576 pixels) for other media files (avi, divx, xvid, vob, …).

It is compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later. No video conversion required! Just drag and drop your video into the app document folder in iTunes and away you go. You don’t even have to sync the device. It does a direct copy of the file.

In testing, the app played a variety of xvid encoded avi files easily but stuttered on some x.264 encoded 720 mkv  files. These files are not officially supported but it would be a nice addition since more and more HD content is being encoded in this format and container. The same problem occurred when trying to play 720 x.264 files in an avi container as well as 720 content in the wmv format. With these limitation, this app is essentially a player for xvid encloded avi movies which still accounts for the majority of standard definition content.

Adding a movie is a multistep process requiring a connection to a computer. The app does not support playing media downloaded from the web or emailed to your ipad. The process is as follows:

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. Go to the iPad on the left under devices.
  3. Go to the Apps tab.
  4. Scroll down and click the FlexPlayer app.
  5. Add the files by either dragging or clicking the add button.

A really nice addition would be the ability to have a Windows Explorer integrated function where you can just right click on a file and choose to send it to FlexPlayer but that’s just a wish list item. If you’re struggling with avi movie playback on the iPad, iPhone, or iTouch, this app may do the trick.