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VLC for Apple TV review: Goodbye format woes

Jon L. Jacobi | Jan. 20, 2016
The Apple TV is a great networked media player, but it would be greater still if it supported more file types and played from more locations.

apple tv

The Apple TV is a great networked media player, but it would be greater still if it supported more file types and played from more locations. By locations, I mean over the network from something other than an iTunes server, and—oh, I don’t know—an attached USB drive?

Well, there’s no help for the latter at the moment, despite the USB-C port on the latest model, but there is a viable and completely free alternative for playing a variety of media types over the network: VLC, or the VideoLan Player.

VLC is well known throughout the computing universe. On Windows, it’s just one of several options for playing variegated file types. On the Mac and Linux, the best of very few. On Apple TV it’s a welcome addition that obviates the need to pony up cash for anything on the rather abbreviated list of flawed products (Playable, OnePlayer, 8 Player, etc.) and Plex, which requires an account.

Is VLC for Apple TV (called VLC for Mobile in the App store) perfect? No. Does it work? Yes. Quite well. At least with audio and video. In my hands-on, it didn’t want to display image files, though it did list them and create thumbnails. I’m thinking that’s a bug and expect that it will soon be fixed.

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VLC on Apple TV browsing files on an iPad. Credit: VLC

Excellent format support

Audio support was nothing short of fantastic. In addition to the usual M4A, MP3, and WAV support, VLC also played both Apple Lossless and WMA Lossless, APE, FLAC, OGG, and even Opus. It also played 5.1- and 7.1-channel surround sound. Wow.

Video support was almost as good. VLC for Apple TV understands HEVC and UHD (3840 by 2160, or 2160p), but  successful playback was limited to 1080 and frames per second to 30 for reasons undetermined. When working within those limitations, VLC handled MP4, WMV, FLV, OGG, QuickTime, and just about everything else; even some old Real Media formats. That’s not surprising as all the versions of VLC use internal codecs for just about everything. The one notable fail was MKV files—one 500MB, the other 30GB. Either it took too long to cache, or there was another issue.

But even MKV played fine when I streamed it to VLC using DLNA. My NAS boxes offer DLNA, and so does Windows Media Player. Files from WMP weren’t enumerated perfectly right off the bat, but that might just as easily been WMP as VLC. 

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Thanks to VLC, Apple TV now supports nearly every audio and video file format you can find. For free. And from any network device. Credit: Apple

 

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