How to Watch MKV & AVI Video on iPad or iPhone Free with VLC

Aug 3, 2014 - 8 Comments

VLC If you’ve ever wanted to watch a high resolution movie like an MKV, MPEG, or AVI file that’s currently on a computer, but on an iPhone or iPad, you know that the default iOS Video app isn’t always going to cut it. Sure Videos.app stores iTunes movie downloads and can play a fair amount of video formats copied over to it, but there are many movie formats not supported by Videos, or that just don’t play that well in the client. Fortunately, there’s VLC, a free video playing staple from the desktop world that is available for iOS. VLC plays just about every movie file format imaginable, plus it has it’s own filesystem of sorts for iOS that lets you easily copy over video files to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, without having to use iTunes.


We’ve discussed VLC for iOS before for it’s versatility, but this time we’re going to walk through using VLC and a web browser to transfer video files from a computer to an iOS device – wirelessly – and then play that HD movie file directly on the iPhone or iPad.

While we’re using an MKV file as an example here, VLC supports just about every video file format, so you can copy over and watch MKV, MPG, MP4, AVI, DIVX, WMV, MOV, and just about anything other movie you may come across. Additionally, VLC can copy or stream video files stored on DropBox and Google Drive, but that’s a topic for another tutorial. Because VLC relies only on a web browser to copy the files to iOS, you can initiate the file transfers from any machine too, whether it’s a Mac, Windows, or Linux computer, and whether or not it’s your own PC or someone else’s also doesn’t matter, the whole process circumvents the traditional iTunes method for copying the video to iOS – it’s that versatile.

1: How to Copy Video Files to iOS with VLC

This works to transfer any movie file to any iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, from any computer. The only requirement is that the computer with the video files and the iOS device are on the same wi-fi network.

1a: Prepare VLC from iOS

  1. Get VLC for free from the App Store on your iOS device
  2. Open VLC app on the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and tap on “Done” to skip the intro (or flip through it and learn a bit more about VLC if you want)
  3. Tap on the Cone icon in the upper corner
  4. Look for the “WiFi Upload” switch and toggle it to the ON position
  5. Enable VLC Wi-Fi Video upload capabilities in iOS

  6. Make note of the IP address that is listed (in this example, http://192.168.1.11)

With the VLC upload server now active, you can transfer video content from a computer easily, that’s what we’ll cover next.

1b: Copying the Movie Files Wirelessly to iOS from Any Computer

  1. From any computer (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, etc) open any web browser
  2. Enter the IP address into the URL bar of the web browser exactly as provided from VLC (example: http://192.168.1.11), this loads the VLC upload client running in iOS into a web browser
  3. Drag and drop movie file(s) you want to copy to the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch into this window, or click the + button to select them in the file system manually
  4. Transfer MKV / m4v, etc video files to iPhone with VLC wirelessly

  5. Let the upload process complete the file transfer from the computer to iOS

Now that you’ve copied a movie or video file over, you can watch it from the iPhone / iPad!

2: Watching the MKV Movie on the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch with VLC

  1. Back on the iOS device, the media library in VLC will update when the movie has finished copying, or you can access the freshly copied MKV, AVI, etc, video file at any time from the Cone icon -> “All Files”
  2. VLC video library on an iPhone

  3. Tap on the video file of choice to start watching it on the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch

VLC video playback controls in iOS for watching movies

VLC plays video content just about flawlessly regardless of the movie format type. Tapping on the video once it’s playing will reveal the familiar video player controls of pausing, reverse, fast forward, a timeline, and audio controls.

Additionally, VLC gives you advanced controls like playback speed (helpful if you want to watch something faster or slower, or if audio is out of sync), and even the ability to adjust what the picture looks like, including brightness, saturation, gamma, hue, and contrast. These picture controls are perfect for when a movie is too bright or too dark, or just looks weird in general. Or, if you feel like converting a color video to black and white for a noire effect, you can do that too.

VLC video playback picture controls

Enjoy your video files on the go! Keep in mind that high resolution video formats like MKV, which is often a BluRay rip, can eat some serious storage capacity on an iOS device, so unless you have a larger capacity iPad or iPhone, you may want to use lower resolution and more compressed video files to begin with. That’s also when the more space-conscious AVI, MPEG, m4v, MP4 can be good video format choices, particularly since the screen size and resolution of smaller iOS devices, even with a retina display, don’t really use the full high definition MKV potential. That makes the MKV files probably best for an iPad, but they certainly work on the iPhone and iPod touch too.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, Tips & Tricks

8 Comments

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  1. Chris Cheng says:

    Cool VLC is great

  2. Denus says:

    VLC was not working correctly anymore for us on the different systems, even with the right codecs installed.
    I have a lot of delays and stuttering: we’re not able to watch a movie from our Time Capsule anymore.
    I replaced VLC with MPlayer X (version from the developers site) and manually assigned the wanted extensions to it.

    All the troubles are now fixed: MPlayer X is always working great without any troubles.

  3. Frank Berman says:

    Brilliant! Thank you!!!

  4. VLC is great. Thanks for posting. I haven’t tried it with MKV videos, but you can use Handbrake to convert AVI to MP4 so that the videos are supported by iOS.

  5. RM says:

    Love VLC, does it all!

  6. Raven says:

    For file transfer between OS X and iOS, I often use DeskConnect. It’s free, and very useful. Check it out!

  7. Grey says:

    An elegant alternative: StreamToMe http://zqueue.com/streamtome/

    The server application is free — the iOS app is $2.99. It is extremely easy to set up.

    StreamToMe will decode ANY container / filetype — and with a static IP or DynDNS hostname on your router (or home computer), you can access your video / music files from your iPhone / iPad / iPod from anywhere, and it works over 3G / 4G as well…if you’ve got the bandwidth & data-allowance to support it.

    Not only can you access your iTunes Library (or multiple iTunes Libraries — you can stream video / music from ANY connected volume on your home computer (the machine that runs the server application). Video & music stream-quality can be tweaked in the client app to conserve bandwidth. You specify (from within the server GUI) what volumes / directories are available for streaming. I can’t say enough good about this company, its products, and its excellent support. And no, I have no affiliation with them. Try it — you will be amazed.

  8. jenrobinfer says:

    VLC is is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.

    But sometimes we will encounter some issue when play MKV, MP4, etc on VLC. In this case, we should convert MKV, MP4, etc to VLC more compatible formats with Faasoft MKV to VLC Converter.

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