iPad Guide: How To Show Video on the iPad in the Enterprise
One of the iPad's great strengths as a consumer product is that it does a superb job of showing videos.
Users can stream from the Internet or their local networks, or synch video from a computer over a USB cable to the iPad and watch using the built-in video app or one of several third-party apps. (See below for more on available apps.)
With the iPad's bright, sharp 9.7-inch LED-backlit screen (1024x768 pixels at 132 pixels per inch), the image quality is very impressive, equivalent at its best to 720p HD. The audio sounds pretty good too, not surprisingly given the product's iPod heritage.
Mobile management may balk at equipping mobile office workers with iPads exactly because of these strengths, worrying that users will be tempted to fritter away work time watching YouTube videos and old sitcoms on Netflix.
Embracing business video
But the iPad's video capabilities could as easily be turned into a strength for enterprise users.
Sales and marketing people can use the iPad to show videos to customers. On-site technicians could use it to stream on-demand how-to videos from a company archive over the mobile network. And any employee could use it to view video-based training or other internal communications.
Video is increasingly important in business. Many organizations now understand that, given the workplace demographic shift to a younger generation habituated to consuming information via video, communicating this way is no longer a frill.
Besides the product's noted playback strengths, it's highly mobile, and also much less obtrusive than a laptop in one-on-one sales situations. Laptops were never designed for sharing video with a client sitting across the desk. With an iPad you can start the video and pass it to your customer.
And just the fact that you're using an iPad may send a subtle and positive message that you and your company are leading edge and cool - or it might do until everybody else has an iPad too.
Apple TV for the enterprise
In a boardroom setting, it's possible to send video stored on an iPad to a TV, using a direct cable connection, or using iOS's AirPlay functionality along with Apple TV ($99), a wireless streaming device that connects to a TV via an HDMI cable.
Plug an Apple TV into a monitor in your boardroom, connect the Apple TV to your local Wi-Fi network, and employees will be able to bring presentations into the room on their iPads and show them on the big screen without having to plug anything in. They simply select AirPlay from the playback menu in the iPad Videos app.
With the release of iOS 4.3, Apple will begin approving AirPlay-compatible third-party video apps. Matt Gallagher's StreamToMe, a popular local video streaming app, has already been approved, in fact.
We've tested Apple TV and AirPlay, and it works well with the iPad. Video quality was excellent over Wi-Fi when playing stored HD content. AirPlay can handle most video formats that iOS devices can, although we have heard reports that some formats won't play.
The pocket presentation kit
In larger rooms, presenters can show iPad video - or slide presentations - on a much larger screen, using MicroVision Inc.'s SHOWWX+ PicoP portable projector ($450 at the MicroVision site.)
We haven't tested the SHOWWX+, and note in the company's literature that the product does not work with all video apps on the iPad. It does work with iPod videos, however.
When coupled with an iPad (SHOWWX+ also works with iPhone and other portable video playback devices), it makes a very convenient mobile presentation kit. The projector fits in a pocket and weighs less than 5 oz., yet is capable of projecting up to an 848x480-pixel image on screens up to 100 inches diagonally.
The iPad is not 100 percent perfect for business video, it must be said. The fact that it famously cannot play Flash videos may limit its utility in organizations that have heavily committed to Flash for inserting ads or archiving internal or customer-facing videos at their websites.
But there are ways to convert Flash video to HTML5, the open source rich media playback format being pushed by Apple and others as an alternative to Flash, including using Adobe Flash itself or products such as Smokescreen from RevShock, which promises to add iPad compatibility to Flash-enabled pages with virtually no re-coding.
So what mobile apps are available for playing video on - and from - the iPad? We look at four, all primarily intended for consumers, but readily adaptable for business uses.
The native video app that comes pre-loaded on the iPad is competent - video looks terrific - but limited. It can play files stored in a few formats only: H.264 at up to 720p, MPEG-4 at up to 2.5 Mbps (640 by 480 pixels) or Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) at up to 35 Mbps (1280 by 720 pixels).
To play existing video files in other formats, you'll have to convert them to a supported format, and then synch them to the iPad using iTunes. A number of conversion programs have appeared, some free, some paid (in the $25-to-$50 range). None is very fast and at least one we tried (Hamster Free Video Converter) produced an output file that it said was iPad-compatible but was not. You get what you pay for.
The iPad Videos app may nevertheless be perfectly adequate for some organizations and it's a safe bet. But there are alternatives.
StreamToMe ($2.99), developed by Matt Gallagher at Projects With Love and currently at version 3.5, is one of a handful of iOS apps that stream video from a PC or Mac to an iPad, either over a local network or the Internet.
We have tested this app with MPEG2 video ripped from a DVD and it streamed perfectly over a local Wi-Fi network with a good connection.
So when hosting clients in your own boardroom, you can stream any video stored on a local server. With a good enough Wi-Fi connection, it will play video up to the equivalent of 720p HD.
It's also possible to stream over a public Wi-Fi connection or 3G network, although quality will degrade. We were not able to test remote access with StreamToMe.
The best part is that the app can play a long list of different video formats, including many that are not playable in the native iPad Videos app. StreamToMe converts from the original video format to one that iOS can support on the fly as it streams from the host computer.
This is quite a trick. It means you don't have to convert video files stored in other formats to be able to view them on an iPad.
The PC or Mac ServeToMe server software is a free download. It installed without any problems on our test PC, immediately found folders containing media files (it can stream audio and images as well) and was able to play HD quality video without hiccups or pauses.
StreamToMe also supports the Apple Composite AV Cable and Apple Component AV Cable products ($39), which means you could plug the iPad into a TV and view streamed video on a bigger screen.
Air-Video, from InMethod, works almost identically to StreamToMe - the same client-server architecture, the same transcoding on the fly or converting for later synching to the iPad, and a similarly long list of file formats supported (though unspecified, a forum post claims "almost everything").
It worked as well as StreamToMe in similar testing, and the best part is that Air-Video is free. One possible drawback: it does not support the Apple TV out cable products that StreamToMe does.
ZumoCast works the same way as the other two, and about as well in similar testing. But it adds one potentially important feature: it lets you download media files to the iPad over the local or wide area network as well.
Road warriors preparing for a client meeting could even log in to the corporate video archive - connecting over the Internet is transparent: once set up, the app looks after dynamic DNS issues - and download short videos they forgot to synch to their iPad.
It doesn't download files very quickly. When we connected over the Internet to a PC in our home office, it took almost 30 minutes to download a 1GB video file. This was over a distance of a few thousand miles, however.
Still, for iTunes haters (and there are a few of us), ZumoCast provides another option for getting video onto the iPad. And it does the file conversion for you as it downloads.
The catch with ZumoCast is that it is currently zombie ware. You can no longer purchase or download either the app from the iPad App Store or the server from the company's website. The website says this is temporary while it enhances the product. It provides a field for entering your e-mail address so the company can notify you when downloads return.
Bottom line on iPad as video tool in the enterprise
If companies are going to use iPads, perhaps they should play to its strengths, and video playback is definitely one of the product's strengths. The video capability may not be enough on its own to make the iPad a smart choice for a corporate mobile device, but for many enterprise users, it will help.