Most Google Android phones and tablets can play videos in a handful of formats using the Gallery application. Common formats including 3gp, H.264, and MP4, but a few devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S can also handle DiVX videos. But what about FLV, Xvid, MKV or other formats? And what if you want advanced features such as slow-motion playback, or video bookmarks?
It turns out there are at least a dozen great apps available in the Android Market which give you more control over video playback and better support for a wide range of video formats. But that wasn’t always the case.
When the first Android phones were launched a few years ago, the Gallery app was your only choice. A year ago I couldn’t have made this list. But today there’s a glut of excellent video players for Android. Hopefully this list will help you find the ones that best suit your needs.
One thing to keep in mind is that while many of these apps can support a wide range of video formats, they tend to rely on software video decoders. That means if you have a device with a relatively slow processor, some files may not play smoothly.
In fact, if your device has a chip designed with support for H.264 HD video playback, it may be able to handle 1080p video files in that format quite easily — but that same device will likely offer choppy playback and audio/video synchronization issues if you try playing a 720p MKV file. This is true even on devices with the latest 1 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core processors, which are some of the fastest chips available for phones and tablets today.
That said, if you have a fairly modern device with an 800 MHz or faster processor and Android 2.1 or up, these XX video players will likely allow you to watch videos in a wide range of formats.
Another thing to keep in mind is that these apps are generally designed to play DRM-free video files. I you’ve purchased videos from an online video store such as iTunes or Amazon, you probably won’t be able to play your video files with these players.
RockPlayer was one of the first media players for Android to support a wide range of video codecs by incorporating the open source FFmpeg software. There’s a free, ad-supported version of RockPlayer available from the Android Market and an ad-free Pro version which is available from RockPlayer.com for $9.99.
The app can handle virtually any video format you can throw at it, including WMV, DiVX, Xvid, MKV, and H.264. RockPlayer also supports subtitles.
Options include the ability to adjust the seek interval (how many seconds at a time you want to skip ahead when fast forwarding), or whether to show the battery indicator or frames per second while playing video.
This video player can handle almost every major file type, as well as popular subtitle file formats for external or embedded subtitles. Like RockPlayer, VPlayer uses FFmpeg code to handle video decoding. The app cal also handle streaming video formats.
ArcMedia is yet-another app that relies on FFmpeg to decode video files, which means that like RockPlayer and VPlayer you’ll be hard-pressed to find a DRM-free video file that ArcMedia can’t play.
Support for Android 3.x Honeycomb tablets is still a work in progress, but if you’re running Android 2.3 or earlier, ArcMedia should work.
In addition to local and streaming videos, ArcMedia can stream files over your home WiFi network.
One of the things that sets MoboPlayer apart from the crowd are touch-based controls that allow you to adjust screen brightness or volume, seek in a video, or play or pause without bringing up any on-screen controls. The app also has an attractive user interface that feels a little more polished than some of its peers.
There are also a huge number of options in the settings. For instance you can choose to show only media file types, display media thumbnails, adjust the seek interval, show the battery indicator, enable or disable screen rotation, change the color scheme, or display subtitles. And those are just a few of the options.
Like many other popular media players, MoboPlayer relies on FFmpeg to do the heavy lifting when it comes to video playback, which means that the app supports a wide range of formats including MKV, MOV, FLV, DiVX, Xvid, H.264, and other formats as well as streaming media files using HTTP and RTSP.
Best of all? MoboPlayer is absolutely free.
5. MX VideoPlayer
Like MoboPlayer, MX VideoPlayer distinguishes itself from the competition with an attractive user interface and a number of configuration options. But the app still supports most common DRM-free video files.
The video player can support hadware accelerated video decoding on some devices, and offers several different software encoding options on phones or tablets that don’t have supported hardware graphics chips.
MX VideoPlayer also offers users control over aspect ratios, screen rotation, subtitle display options, and whether to show the status bar all the time or just when you tap the screen. There’s also support for gesture-based controls that allow you to adjust the volume, screen brightness, or other settings.
You can download MX VideoPlayer for free from the Android Market. The free app will display banner ads when you pause a video.
6. QQ Player
This video player has a reputation for support most video formats including AVI, FLV, MKV, and MOV files as well as popular subtitle formats including SRT and SMI. It can also handle multiple audio tracks.
QQ Player also supports gesture-based controls for seeking specific points in a video or adjusting display or audio settings.
The video player lets you watch multiple videos in a row by enabling a “launch next when finished” option,” and lets you reduce the image quality to offer smoother video playback with some video files on some devices.
I was also impressed that QQ Player found more videos tucked away in subdirectories on my SD card than any other video player I’ve tried.
QQ Player is available as a free download from the Android Market.
This video player gives you more control over video playback than the default Android app. It supports subtitles, allows you to mute your phone’s ringer while playing video, or set and remember custom screen brightness options. You can also set bookmarks to remember your place in a video.
What mVideoPlayer won’t do is allow you to play video files that aren’t normally supported by your phone or tablet. If your device supports MP4 and MKV files out of the box you can use mVideoPlayer to view them. If not, you can’t.
8. Act 1 Video Player
Act 1 supports playlists, bookmarks, repeat, and subtitles as well as zoom settings, a battery meter, and the ability to remember the point where you stopped watching each video so that you can pick up where you left off when you start the video again.
On devices with multitouch displays, you can also use two-finger scrolling for seeking.
Unfortunately Act 1 only works with video formats natively supported by your phone. Not only couldn’t it play an Xvid file in my test — it didn’t even know that it was on my SD card. When I fired up the app it scanned my card and reported that there were no playable files at all. Your results may vary.
If you can get the app working, it allows you to view videos by list or folder, hide certain folders, show video thumbnails, or adjust a huge number of options including support for Bluetooth headphones or using a trackball to seek if your phone has one.
This is yet another video player that relies on FFmpeg to decode videos, which means that it can support a wide range of formats including DiVX, WMV, and FLV.
When you tap the screen during video playback, iMPlayer+ gives you the usual controls including a position slider and volume controls. But the app also allows you to adjust screen brightness, subtitle synchronization, or even video playback speed — allowing you to watch in slow motion or in high speed.
There are also a number of options you can adjust to improve picture quality or smooth video playback. You can also adjust the size and color for subtitles or tweak the video seek interval.
You can download iMPlayer+ for free from the Android Market.
Continuing the march of FFmpeg-powered video players, VitalPlayer is a media player that allows you to resume playback of previously viewed files, send video files via email, Twitter, or other sharing apps, or stream video over the internet.
The app can also display color videos in grayscale which is a pretty cool feature — but one I don’t see most people using very often.
VitalPlayer also supports gesture-based controls for volume, brightness, and zoom.
The user interface for the file browser is pretty barebones, but I really like the graphics for the on-screen controls in the video player window.
The basic version of VitalPlayer is available as a free, ad-supported download, with ads showing up when you trigger the on-screen controls. The Pro version costs $3.79 and eliminates advertisements and also offers some additional options.
11. Soul Movie
While Soul Movie can only support the video formats supported by your phone’s hardware, it offers a number of options for adjusting the way your device can handle video playback. For instance, you can reverse the volume key functions, enable auto-resume, display captions, and adjust caption and subtitle formatting.
This video player prides itself on being able to handle a wide range of file formats including WMV, DivX, and MKV files. It can stream videos over a home network using Samba or UPnP, and it can also handle HTTP, FTP, and MMS streaming.
The on-screen controls look a little antiquated, but they get the job done, and the app allows you to adjust media playback speed and zoom levels. There’s also support for playlists and subtitles, and you can change the default language of the app.
13. Dice Player
If you have a Samsung Galaxy S, Nexus S, or HTC Sensation, Dice Player may be one of the best video players around. It includes native support for 720p MKV and AVI files on those devices, which means that you should see smooth video playback with minimal impact on battery life. If you have a Samsung Galaxy S2, the app can even handle some 1080p HD video files.
The app also has support for a wide range of audio and video formats including FLAC, OGG Vorbis, MP4, H.264, and TS. It can also support FLV, RMVB and there’s beta support for HTTP live video streaming.
Dice Player supports subtitles as well.
At 22MB, this app takes up more disk space on my Google Nexus One than any other video player I’ve tested. If you have a phone with an ample amount of disk space this shouldn’t be a problem. But it would be nice if the app could be moved to an SD card.
There’s a fully functional free trial version of Dice Player available in the Android Market, but there’s a notice at the top of the video window suggesting you purchase a license. The full version is available for $4.69.
In early 2010, none of the options listed above existed. At the time, if you wanted to play WMV, Xvid, or FLV files on an Android device, your best bet was an obscure Chinese media player called Wuzhenhua Player. It’s still available for download, but the user interface is pretty primitive, and some versions of the app are only available with Chinese menus, which could make the app difficult to use for Westerners.
In the world of Windows, Mac, and Linux desktop computers, there’s one name that immediately pops to mind when you think about media players that can handle nearly any DRM-free video format: VLC. The cross-platform app is remarkably good at handling a wide range of audio and video formats. It’s also open source, which means that anyone can modify the code or port the application to run on other platforms — and work is underway to bring VLC to Android.
Unfortunately, progress has been pretty slow and VLC for Android isn’t nearly as polished as any of the other apps in this list yet. But it’s a project worth keeping an eye on.