Mobile devices typically lack one crucial feature: storage. As a result, big media files like video get saved on big hard drives, typically attached to laptops and desktops. Yet mobile devices make excellent content consuming devices. The solution to this conundrum? Stream content from your computer to your iOS device. The following are several ways you can stream video from your server to iOS devices.
VLC has an excellent iOS companion app built on the same open-source technology that powers desktop VLC.
Using USB Connectivity
Using USB isn’t streaming, true. But it is the most flexible way to ensure you have your content with it. You can still keep a content catalogue on your larger devices while selectively loading media on to your iOS device for consumption. If you’re planning on taking a long trip and want some videos for the road, you can upload videos through iTunes.
1. Open iTunes and click the iPhone icon to connect to your device. If you don’t see the icon, make sure your device is connected to your computer’s USB port.
2. Click “File Sharing” in the left-side menu.
3. Select “VLC” from the list of apps.
4. Click the “Add …” button to select content from Finder.
5. Wait for the content to sync with your device.
6. Open the content in the VLC app on your phone.
Streaming Over Wi-Fi
Of course, the real money is on the Wi-Fi streaming functionality. Both your iOS device and your computer will need to be on the same Wi-Fi network for this to work.
1. Open the VLC app on your iOS device. Make sure your server is on and connected to your local Wi-Fi network.
2. Tap the orange cone in the corner of the VLC app on iOS.
3. Choose “Local Network” from the menu.
4. Select your server from the list and tap it.
If you don’t see your server, make sure your server’s sharing settings are properly configured. Alternatively, you can click “Connect to Server” to manually type in the IP address of a local server.
This could also allow you to connect to a server outside your immediate Wi-Fi network, but issues with network settings requiring testing and configuration would need to be dealt with beforehand. While Plex servers appear in this list, we were not able to make them connect in our testing.
5. Enter any additional details required to connect to your server, then tap “Connect.”
If you don’t have a username or password set, simply leave those blank. The default setting of “WORKGROUP” should stay the same.
6. Select your file and enjoy!
Downloading to Device over Wi-Fi
You can also load videos to your device over Wi-Fi then play the videos back locally. This might improve performance on slower connections.
1. Tap the cone.
2. In that menu toggle on “Sharing via Wi-Fi.”
3. You’ll notice a URL appear underneath that icon.
4. On another device type that URL into your browser’s address bar. If one doesn’t work, try the other.
5. Load content on to the device or download from the device using the web interface.
Content loaded on this device will appear in the “All Files” section of the iOS app, which is also the Home section.
Streaming from Links
If you have an HTTP or FTP link directly to a video file (ending in “.mp4” or similar) you can stream that inside the same app.
1. As before, tap the orange cone to open the menu.
2. Select “Network Stream” from the list.
3. Type or paste the link into the URL field at the top.
4. Tap the “Open Network Stream” button directly under the URL field.
5. The video will begin playing.
When you exit the video, you’ll see it listed in recent streams at the bottom of the previous screen. If you don’t want the video to be saved in the “recently watched” list because it’s about a surprise gift perhaps, tap the “Private Playback” toggle to disable this saving behavior.
The “Scan For Subtitles” toggle will check for an associated subtitle file in the video’s directory. The video will play even if the scan is not successful.
Using Plex Media Server
While the VLC app is impressively full-featured, it requires that you treat each video as a separate process. Plex Media Server is a more robust solution for large libraries or frequent streamers. Streaming video from your server to iOS devices using Plex does require a one-time payment of $5. But once you’ve paid that fee, any device associated with your Apple ID can stream content from a Plex server without restrictions.
To learn more about setting up Plex on your server, visit one of our guides on the topic.
When you’re ready with that, download the Plex app on your iOS device and install it.
Using the Plex App on iOS
1. When the Plex app is opened, tap the user avatar in the upper-right.
2. Tap the avatar at the top to log on to your Plex account and locate your associated server.
3. Once you’re signed in, your server will automatically populate.
VLC or Plex?
Both VLC and Plex have their place. VLC is free, but its reach is short. Plex costs $5, but it can stream from anywhere on Earth, provided you’ve set up your server properly. Using Plex is far and away the better experience as well. So if you stream video from your server to iOS devices more than occasionally, you’ll want Plex.