Over the past few days I’ve been testing Infuse, an iOS media player by FireCore, the team that brought you the aTV Flash Black for your jailbroken Apple TV.
Given their expertise in bringing support for streaming dozens of file formats to Apple’s set-top box, it goes without saying I was very much looking forward to testing Infuse for iPhone and iPad.
The App Store is home to some nice media players, Plex being my personal favorite, but none fully taking the pain out of properly rendering iOS-unfriendly video file types on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices.
In my personal opinion, Infuse addresses the media conundrum in one fell swoop while incorporating possibly the best subtitles support on iDevices to date and taking full advantage of Retina screens and Apple’s newest and most powerful mobile chips…
Infuse supports as much as fourteen different video file types which are common on the web and other platforms. Have a bunch of videos encoded in Microsoft’s AVI format? Not a problem. MP4? Infuse will work fine with these. MKV, you say? That, too.
Built-in support for non-iOS video file types means you can simply throw the clips you’ve amassed over the years at Infuse without having to waste time converting the individual files into H.264 just to play them on your iOS device.
Need more convincing before we delve deeper in the review?
Here, check out the official promo video.
The app understands the following video formats: 3GP, AVI, ASF, DVR-MS, FLV, M4V, MKV, MOV, MP4, OGM, OGV, WebM, WMV and WTV. As for audio tracks, Infuse supports AAC, AC3, FLAC and MP3.
Pretty impressive, no?
Also cool: Infuse has a handy trakt.tv integration which scrobbles everything you watch back to the trakt service, lets you keep track of the clips you’ve seen and get suggestions based on those you’ve liked.
While other apps like AcePlayer and Plex also transcode your media, most do so by way of a desktop application that sits running on your Mac or Windows PC, taking care of transcoding on the fly.
Those that transcode video directly on the device, such as CineXPlayer, crush on me a lot and leave a lot to be desired in terms of comprehensive support for video formats foreign to iOS.
Like many other media jukebox, Infuse supports iTunes File Sharing. Getting your videos over to Infuse is a simple matter of dropping the media files into the Infuse section listed at the bottom of your device’s Apps section in iTunes. Adding media using iTunes File Sharing doesn’t copy the video files to your iTunes library, which is a good thing.
Another benefit to iTunes File Sharing: your media gets transferred to the device immediately upon adding them to Infuse’s file sharing section, without having to synchronize with iTunes.
Infuse also lets you download videos from your Dropbox, add them from email attachments via the ‘Open In’ feature and sync iOS-friendly clips through iTunes.
Upon launch, the app presents you with a skeuomorphic interface that emulates a wooden shelf akin to Apple’s iBooks app. In portrait, the top half of the screen is dedicated to your media artwork and the rest renders the thumbnails of your media files.
Infuse pulls poster art and fanart from the web, using artwork and info from TheMovieDB and TVDB. The app uses both the file name and underlying meta data to figure the best movie thumbnail and it gets the job done with remarkable accuracy – I have yet to found a feature film Infuse would struggle to recognize. You can pull this section down to refresh cover artwork.
Turn the device upside down and the interface morphs into an effective theater-like mode, where most of the screen real estate gets used up by the video’s teaser graphics, with thumbnails lined up alongside the bottom.
So, how does pull to refresh work in this view?
Easy, you just swipe to the right to refresh.
To access options from the artwork interface, tap the bookmark icon in the top right. You can also drag the bookmark down to reveal the settings UI akin to the McTube app.
Here is Infuse’s ticket interface on my iPad 3 in portrait mode.
Tapping the video opens up the gorgeous movie ticket-like interface which shows you key information about the movie, including actors, run time, release year and more, alongside the Play button.
The Infuse media player supports Dolby Digital Plus sound, movie chapters, multiple audio tracks, center channel boost for cleaner dialogue and three zoom options (Normal, Crop and Stretch).
As I mentioned before, Infuse has by far unmatched subtitle support. Infuse can use subtitles you already have. Alternatively – and this is a major selling point – the app can download subtitles from OpenSubtitles.org.
I also like how Infuse allows me to adjust subtitles while a movie is playing with custom font sizes, typeface color, shadow or outline (or both), time offset, encoding and more. To access these, just tap to reveal on-screen options and hit the gear icon in the upper right and up pops a menu with three sets of options.
By far the most useful option is Infuse’s built-in support for automatic downloading of subtitles from OpenSubtitles.org in any supported language. It’s ridiculously easy and effective, up to the point where I no longer have to remember to painstakingly download my subtitles manually and bring them over to Infuse.
And if you thought Infuse’s support for fourteen video and five audio file formats was great enough, check out the following list of supported subtitle formats: SRT, SSA, ASS, DVDsub, PGSsub, XSUB, Timed Text, VobSub and DVB.
Of course if you already have your own subtitles, Infuse can use those as well.
Infuse features an engine optimized for the latest Apple mobile chips. As a rule of thumb, the newer an iOS device, the smoother the playback. For example, my third-generation Retina iPad was able to play most full HD Blu-ray MKV rips without any stuttering.
Large movie files that are optimized for quality would lose frames from time to time, but the iPad 4’s speedier chip should take care of that. Of course, H.264-encoded videos play smoothly because iOS devices feature hardware-assisted H.264 playback.
FireCore claims Infuse on the iPad 2 is able to decode Full HD 1080p H.264/AVC videos at thirty frames per second.
I have a few gripes with the app, the biggest obviously its lack of AirPlay streaming as it vastly reduces Infuse’s usability in home theater setups. More sources for artwork, info and subtitles would also be nice.
And in case I’m too lazy to fire up iTunes on my Mac to transfer some movies, I would very much appreciate a built-in WebDAV capability to wirelessly transfer video files from any machine on my network, using a standard web browser.
Other than that – and apart from the glaring omission of AirPlay media streaming – I have no major complaints about Infuse. Matter of fact, from my vantage point – and given Apple’s discrimination of many popular video file types on iOS devices and the headaches associated with making subtitles work on iOS – Infuse’s flawless subtitle integration alone justifies its asking price.
If you know your way around iOS, are no stranger to iTunes File Sharing and use your iPhone or iPad for media consumption, Infuse is a must-have. Provided FireCore adds native AirPlay support and expands on the feature set with future updates, I see no reason whatsoever to remove Infuse from my Home screen anytime soon.
You can grab it from the App Store at five bucks a pop.
If you need more information, check out the Infuse web site or the introductory blog post.