VideoLAN, the developers behind the popular free and open source media player VLC have crafted an Android version that has recently reached beta status. For everyone not in North America, you can grab the free VLC application from the Google Play Store. The restriction is reportedly a result of the developers not having access to American versions of the smartphones in question. If you are in North America and would still like to test out the app, you will need to grab it from either the VideoLAN nightly build server or the Jenkins server which both compile and store the latest builds on a daily basis. Once you’ve downloaded that app, navigate to it on your Android phone and choose to open it with the Package Installer.
The build is a bit rough around the edges, and performance leaves a lot to be desired, but it is still early in the development cycle. Especially if you are running an older single core phone (or even one that has no NEON hardware acceleration), VLC will struggle with even 720p content. The team is asking everyone to run a few tests for them and to report back using this form to help them gather needed performance data and to identify bugs.
As far as what phones will be compatible, Jenkins has complied daily builds that will work with phones using hardware as old as ARMv5 and as new as ARMv7 with NEON. VLC for Android is also compatible with Tegra 2 and Tegra 3 SoCs using the nightly builds. ExtremeTech notes that the chips with the NEON SIMD hardware includes Qualcomm Snapdragon S2/3/4, Samsung Exynos, TI OMAP 4/5, and Tegra 3 processors. If your phone does not have one of those SoCs, you should download one of the non-NEON nightly builds depending on which version of ARM it is based on. VideoLAN recommends using gsmarena.com as a reference for which chipset your phone uses but I did not have success if using it to track down the specific chipset in my Samsung Infuse. I had to turn to the search engines for help there. If you aren’t able to find the information, feel free to tell us your phone model in the comments and I’ll try to help you figure out the SoC it uses.
Below you will find a video showing off the latest VLC for Android build as we install it and test it with a variety of video and audio files. From my testing, the performance has gotten slightly better with the latest nightly build (#123), but the video and audio drift out of sync very quickly and the video frame rate is nowhere near as smooth as the built in Videos application. The performance /should/ improve as the app gets closer to final release, however. I’m hoping that VLC for Android will become an even better, and free, alternative to the paid-for VPlayer application that I also have on my phone for the files that the Videos app struggles with.
VLC for Android playing back a DVD of Live Free or Die Hard (480p, H.264 MP4)
Anyway, without further adieu, let’s take a look at the latest Android VLC app.
As a reminder, here are some useful links to getting the VLC app and assisting with the development process:
- VideoLAN Forums
- VideoLAN for Android Homepage
Download VLC for Android
Right now, the VLC for Android application is approximately a 7.6 MB download that expands to just under 20.4 MB when installed. The user interface is a bit spartan right now, but it works well. At the top are two tabs, one for videos and another for audio. At startup, VLC scans the root folder of your SD card for media files. You can alternatively point it to a more specific folder using the Directories option in the menu. Strangely, the only way to get back to the main screen from the directory listing is to either choose a folder or go back into the menu again (the back button on my phone just exited the app) – not the most intuitive way to navigate. The program has basic controls for audio and video playback and scrubbing including back, foward, play, stop, and pause.
Speaking of playback; for the video testing, I tried the VLC for Android application with a 720p video recorded using the Samsung Infuse 4G's own camera as well as a DVD rip of the movie Live Free or Die Hard. The DVD rip was encoded using the H.264 codec in an MP4 container with a bitrate of about 1500 kbps. After enabling hardware acceleration, the VLC app was able to play back the DVD rip acceptably (there were a few artifacts and audio issues but it was watchable). On the other hand, while it was able to playback the HD (720p) video, the audio dropped out of sync quite a bit. Framerate also was not consistent (it froze briefly a few times).
The VLC for Android app's disclaimer.
The built-in Videos application on my Samsung Infuse 4G managed to play back both of the videos without issue. I would expect that it should, considering I used the smartphones own camera to record the HD sample. The VLC for Android app, on the other hand, was not up to the task. I've reported my findings to the VLC team via their test reporting form, and I hope to see performance improve as it gets closer to final release. I'm hopeful that it will bring a better free alternative to the paid-for third party video apps on the Google Play Store for videos that the default Videos app can't play. I use VLC almost exclusively on my desktop, so I welcome it to my Android phone assuming they can improve performance. This is definitely an app that I'm going to keep an eye on.
Have you tried the VLC for Android app yet?
Dialogs and Menu Options
- From left to right: Directories, Preferences, About, About > License.
- From left to right: Video tab, Audio tab.
- From left to right: video playback, audio notification, and audio playback.
- From left to right: VLC app permissions, disclaimer, file details
Have a question or a feature of the application that you'd like to see tested? Let us know in the comments below.