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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Everything You Need To Know And More About iPhone Video

In 2005, Apple introduced their first portable device that could play video - the 5th generation iPod, which came equipped with a 320x240 color screen. Immediately after the release of the device, Apple began offering video content in their iTunes store, which prior to that only sold music. Apple dove deeper into the video realm by releasing Apple TV, and then later creating a device, which on top of being a touch screen cell phone, was the first to have wide screen video. The iPhone, with its 480x320 screen, is a spectacular gadget for watching videos on-the-go. This article will cover absolutely everything there is to know about video on the iPhone - where to get it, formats, converting, video apps, video hacks, video accessories, and more.


The iPhone plays video in the following formats: MPEG-4 and H.264 codec. Most video available on the internet (like the stuff you download) is most commonly in DivX, WMV, or QuickTime formats. Commercial DVDs are all in MPEG-2 format, while most video cameras are in uncompressed digital video format (DV) or MPEG-2. All the videos on iTunes are in H.264 format exclusively. While H.264 takes longer to encode than MPEG-4, it provides a better quality video (for an equally sized file).

Why MPEG-4/H.264 Codecs?

Some people may be under the impression that Apple chose these formats just to make life harder, forcing us to use converters and such to get video on the iPhone. Others think that it's a ploy to drive more people to purchasing video from iTunes (since it's the easiest and quickest way). However, that is completely wrong. Apple chose MPEG-4 and H.264 (which is just like an improved version of MPEG-4) for very good reasons:

It's an open and established standard
It has a high quality to size ratio (better quality, less space occupied)
It maximizes battery life (other formats...such as DivX...would drain the battery)
Background Info


As you probably know, most video that you deal with is not in iPod/iPhone format. Downloaded video, TV recordings, DVD recorders, video cameras, and everything else, produces video that needs to be converted in order to be compatible wit the iPhone and iPod Touch.

There are a ton of options out there when it comes to converting video. First of all, you need just a bit of background knowledge and a minor terminology lesson so you can understand what's going on when you're converting video.

Some common terms...

Resolution: The dimensions of the screen image, measured in the number of pixels. The iPhone's resolution is 480x320.

Bit Rate: The amount of data encoded to make one second of video playback, measured in kbps (kilobits per second) or mbps (megabits per second). A higher resolution and bit rate result in what we call "high quality video".

Frame Rate: A measure of how many frames (or distinct images, like photographs) pass per second in a video. This is simple to visualize since a video is nothing more than a collection of photographs passing by in a really fast slide show. Frame rate is measured in FPS (frames per second). All digital video (everything that is broadcast on TV and commonly referred to as NTSC) is in 30 fps, while all the filmed movies (what you see in a movie theater) are in 24fps.

Interestingly enough, the reason that we can now shrink down video file sizes is thanks to some geniuses that figured out that not every single frame needs to be encoded. Rather, there are reference frames, and only differences to the reference frame are "written in code". For example, if you're watching a video of a person running down the beach, not that much is changing in the background. The initial image is taken as the reference frame, and then only the pixel changes of the man's motion appear in code.

Aspect Ratio: The ratio of an images width to its height, such as 4:3 or 16:9. Note that the aspect ratio is closely related to the resolution. A 640x480 video is 4:3, because 640/480 = 1.33, which is the same as 4:3. If a video's aspect ratio doesn't match the resolution, black bars are often added around the video.

All of these terms will be seen in every video converting tool, so it's good to know what they mean. Don't worry, while you can customize these settings, most times the programs will have everything preset for you.

Video Converting Tools:

Handbrake can convert your DVDs to a digital, iPhone friendly MPEG-4 format. It's free, and works with both Mac and Windows. It's the most commonly used application for converting DVDs to MP4.


iSquint can convert any file to MPEG-4 format and automatically add the resulting file to your iTunes library. It's free, and is available for Mac OS X only. While the developers discontinued iSquint, it can still be downloaded.


Any Video Converter
Any Video Converter can convert virtually all file formats to MPEG-4. It's free, and is available for Windows only.


Videora is a set of applications, each tailored for a specific handheld device, that convert video to the appropriate file format. It's free, and for Windows only.


ConvertTube allows you to download YouTube videos directly to the computer, iPod, iPhone, or PSP. Simply enter the YouTube URL, select your device, and wait.


MPEG Streamclip
MPEG Streamclip is great for converting standard video formats to MP4. It's free and available for Mac only.


For recording TV shows and converting them to various file formats, check out...

EyeTVTiVo Decode Manager
MyTV To Go
Hauppauge Wing
To convert home videos (recorded on your own camcorder), use the basic...
iMovie (Mac)
Windows Movie Maker (Windows)

Other DVD decryptors include...

Roxio Crunch
Where To Get Video:

The easiest place to get videos for your iPhone is, of course, iTunes. Although you'll be paying money, you'll be saving hassle. Since the internet people almost always (read: absolutely always) prefer to get things free, you'll have to be creative. There is a excellent site called OVGuide, the Online Video Guide, which can guide you to great places to download videos. You can also use your favorite torrent site...there's a bunch out there.

iPhone Video Apps:, a CBS app, offers a whole lot of clips and media. But what anyone really cares about is full episodes of TV shows, and it has lots of them.

Price: Free

SlingPlayer Mobile
SlingPlayer Mobile lets you watch the TV shows and movies on your SlingBox from your iPhone, no matter where you are. In other words, if you own a Slingbox, you can watch anything from your TV on your iPhone or iPod Touch. You can even control the DVR. While the app required WiFi, there's a hack to get it running on 3G.

Price: $29.99
Sling At Bat 2009
While the application offers a ton of baseball stuff, one feature makes it worth the $10: You can watch live baseball games on your iPhone or iPod Touch. If you're a baseball fan...enough said.

Price: $9.99


The famous celebrity gossip site's iPhone app is pretty much a one stop shop for all the dirt. While they've got photos and stories, the videos are by far the best. It's like watching TMZ without hearing their annoying intros.

Price: Free


How To Videos from
Whenever you're confused about how to go about getting a seemingly simple task done, this app can help. Whether you need some visual cues on how to tie a tie, or you're just curious how to pick a lock, video manuals can be found on Howcast.

Price: Free


iVideo Cocktails: Watch it! Shake it! Drink it!
When you're trying to serve drinks at a party, there's nothing cool about having to go to the computer and print out a recipe, only to stand there looking like you're the complete opposite of suave. With this app, you can choose a drink, watch a quick video, and shake it up. With a huge library of drinks, it's worth 2 bucks.

Price: $1.99


This app offers WiFi streaming from over 200 live channels coming from all over the world. Sometimes it works great, other times there are connection issues...but we had success with it. A lot of new channels work only on the iPhone 3GS. Unfortunately, WiFi is required.

Price: $2.99


Television allows users to stream pre-recorded video from: CNN, CBS, FOX, AP, NBC, HBO, ESPN, CNBC, Comedy Central, VH1, Onion Network, College Humor TV, Digg.TV, Rocketboom, Make, YouTube, Movie trailers, G4, Slate, CNET, National Geographic, SKY, Reuters, and more. It's a great app.

Price: $2.99


Orb Live
If you have an Orb compatible TV Tuner for your PC, then you can stream any video (or media in general) from your computer to your iPhone or iPod Touch. No syncing necessary, it's all wireless. Find out more about Orb here.

Price: $9.99 (and free lite version)


Although obviously everyone already knows of YouTube, it wouldn't be fair not to mention it. YouTube is by far the best video application for the Apple iPhone. The library of videos is so vast that you could probably watch it for the next 100 while all these extra applications are great, keep YouTube in mind. Nothing can trump it.

Online Streaming:

Simply open up your iPhone's mobile Safari browser, and go to The site streams video live from NASA TV, FoxBusiness, USA Today, NPR, Discovery Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, NBC, and more. Learn more here.


Hollywood Pocket
Hollywood Pocket is great if you're into classic movies. The app streams full (old) movies right to your iPhone. Learn more here.


iPhone Video Hacks and Apps for Jailbroken iPhones:

To use these applications you will first need to jailbreak your iPhone. Go here for a simple guide to jailbreaking your phone.

MX Tube is a simple (and awesome) application that allows users to save YouTube videos to their iPhone's library for offline viewing. The app works flawlessly and is extremely popular in the jailbroken iPhone community.


iTransmogrify allows iPhone users to watch embedded Flash video content. Watch it in action:

Hulu has a native iPhone app.


Qik is an entirely different type of application - it allows you to broadcast video to the internet live from your iPhone. You don't even need an iPhone 3GS. It's quite amazing...go here to find out more, including how it works and how to get it.


MyVu allow you to watch video from your iPhone or iPod inside their patented MyVu "sunglasses". The prices are all in the ballpark of $300. Find out more here.

Joby's Gorilla Mobile
This accessory allows you to prop up your iPhone on your table, or around any fixture you want. Not exactly necessary, but nevertheless, it's very cool. Find out more here, and get it here.

Factron iPhone Case
This is a bit ridiculous, but for the photographers out there who love their iPhones...this will make your mouth water. The case includes wide angle, closeup, and fisheye lenses that screw onto the back. This thing runs $200. Buy it here (no surprise, it's Japanese).

SEG Clip
This USB Antenna allows iPhoners in Japan to stream television live on their iPhones. Users simply plug the thing into their computers, download a companion app on their phones, and stream away. It's basically like TiVo for your iPhone...all for $68. Of course, it's only available in Japan.

iCooly iPhone Stand
There are tons of iPhone "video stands" out there, that prop your iPhone up on the table in a very feng shui kind of way. While stands like this one may cost you a few bucks, there are also lots of DIY iPhone stands made out of things paper clips, business cards, and even a dollar bill.


The iPhone, although it only has a 3.5 inch screen, is probably the #3 most commonly used device for watching video, following the television and the computer. So while it's not your primary source of video, it's still a very frequently used one...and when you're on the go, it's the only option. With the information provided above, you'll be able to get the most out of your iPhone as a portable video player.

Please recommend some other iPhone video apps, hacks, accessories, or conversion tools that we failed to mention in the comments. Thanks!


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