Media playback on Android devices is pretty good on the whole. Certainly, out of the box, most phones and tablets will playback a wider range of video than Apple devices. But that’s not universally true, and sometimes the built-in support needs to be augmented slightly.
VLC is a very popular app for desktop computers, and with good reason. It’s the king of streaming, video and even hassle free music. In fact, for listening to things, it reminds us very much of the old school Winamp, which used to be a fabulous, simple way to play music before AOL bought it and turned it into a disaster.
So what makes VLC for Android so special? The first thing we’re very keen on is the three playback options. You can listen to music, watch video or stream from web-based servers in the same way you can on VLC on your computer.
Video playback looks very good to us, and the app seems adept at finding media without any major hassle. Some files we stored on our SD card were detected easily. We played HD video at 720p, with Dolby Digital sound with no problem, and 1080p also worked, even with DTS audio. That’s impressive, and it’s quite rare to find players that can handle that. Our hardware seemed to have some problems with the 1080p, but we’re talking about a few judders here, annoying, but not fatal.
The music player, strangely, is one of the simplest but most likeable we’ve seen. There are the usual swipe gestures to move between artist, album, songs and genres and there’s a speed to the app that makes it more of a pleasure to use than most. It’s swish, without being slow and playback works a treat with cover art and looks terrific.
Music streaming is possible too. Hook it up with a URL from a site like Digitally Imported, or any other online radio station, and you’ll be streaming audio to your phone with no problems at all. It’s arguably easier to use a dedicated internet radio app to do that, but some stations aren’t listed in these, so it can be frustrating. Plus, there’s the possibility here to stream video too, from a local or remote server. Handy stuff.
There are some dire warnings about VLC being a beta. Obviously, you shouldn’t rely on it for anything major, but as Moon landings and nuclear power stations don’t really need streaming audio casts from internet radio stations, we suspect the actual damage will be minimal. But as always, back up your files.