I’ve been on the lookout for a decent free app that will allow access to my music and video collection at home, with minimum fuss. Air Playit HD is just that app. It’s stable, fully featured and supports streaming not just over Wi-Fi, but crucially over 3G and 4G networks also.
The setup is simple, requiring a small server program to be installed on a PC at home, and once you tweak a few settings in the app you’re away! In this article, I’ll review the features, but also give you a brief how-to to get you up and running quick as a flash.
Free Your Music — For Free!
If you are unsure about taking the dive into iTunes match, yet you still want access to your music (and video) library without having to selectively synchronize small sections of it, Air Playit HD provides a really good solution. What’s more, it’s free, so give this little gem a try just for the fun of it — you’ll be impressed, I’m sure.
Firstly, download the Air Playit HD helper application for your PC or Mac and install. When the helper app is up and running, install the iPad app and start it. You should immediately be able to see your home PC listed in the Local Server section at the top of the app.
Now, before adding this local server, quickly open up your Air Playit HD helper app on the PC, tap Shared folders and add a source folder with a meaningful share name. Source folders don’t have to be on the local machine — anything that your host PC can see can be added. This is ideal for setting up links to NAS devices, or USB hard drives on your host PC. Now on your iPad, press the + button in the top left corner and add your local server, it should just appear. Then you can tap on your server and you should be able to browse to the content shared in the first step.
If you have been wondering about signing up for the iTunes match service to get access to the 25,000 songs in your home iTunes library, the music player in Air Playit HD might be another alternative. The audio playback begins instantly from your library, although it lacks any cover art. There are start/stop/pause controls, a volume slider and a repeat all/repeat one toggle, which is reasonably good for a built-in player.
So, lets look at what the app has to offer in terms of functionality — you’ve got video playback here for many different video formats (MKV, M2TS, MP4, WMV, AVI), offline conversion, local download options and variable bit rate streaming. There’s high speed scrubbing when in full screen, and the ability to resume from playback point if you stop and restart a video. During playback, you can skip back 30 secs, and toggle between full screen and windowed mode. Refreshing the screen after adding a new share ensures it appears instantly. Similarly, refreshing the contents of a share updates it for any new media recently added.
All video conversions happen on the host PC — just fire and forget, then download them later.
Music playback controls stay on screen when you return to the home menu, which is a nice touch. If you lose them, simply touch the playback icon in the top left corner and they reappear. Tap on the music track to play (stream), or tap on the left (Download) to pull this down to the iPad. You can play the same track on multiple devices at the same time, with only a little extra CPU overhead on your host PC.
Once music is playing on your Air Playit HDapp, simply press home and get on with other things as the music plays seamlessly in the background. You can adjust the volume of the background music with the hardware volume controls, although the application didn’t seem to respond to the hardware mute button. One for the developers, there.
Out and About
You will need to change your router settings to get the 3G streaming to work. Login to your router, and navigate to your “port forwarding” settings. Add/enable a new port to 37218, select protocol TCP. The port should be set to forward to your Air Playit HD host PC’s local area network IP address. If you’re struggling with this, add a comment and we’ll try and help get you up and running. Not all routers will support this configuration, so it might be worth checking that you can forward a port on your router config before embarking on the whole setup process.
Once complete, you simply add your remote IP address as a connection in Air Playit HD and voila! You get the same access to files and folders as you had in the purely Wi-Fi setup.
One thing to note, of course, is that if you need to restart your router, and you don’t have a fixed IP address, the configuration will need updating. You can, of course, set up an Internet alias name service that will keep track of your changing IP address, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
So, there we have it — all of your video and music shares available to you anywhere while you are out and about in a 3G or Wi-Fi enabled area. The usual warnings about 3G data plans and mobile Internet data use apply here. Take it for a spin — its free to try (and with a little help if needed), we should be able to get you up and running in no time at all.