There's no denying that the "app" has revolutionized the portable electronics industry, from the media player to the smartphone to the netbook. The A/V enthusiast is certainly one of the beneficiaries of that revolution, as apps provide us with creative ways to discover and enjoy film, television, and music sources without being tethered to our couches. Whatever your personal preference may be regarding content type and delivery method, you can undoubtedly find an app for that.
From a crowded and compelling field, we have boldly narrowed the list to 10 excellent A/V content apps. For our purposes, we used the iTunes App Store as a starting point, so all of the apps listed below are available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and/or iPad. However, many of them are also available on other platforms, such as Blackberry, Android, Palm OS, and Windows Mobile.
Netflix's Watch Instantly video-on-demand service is rapidly becoming ubiquitous on TVs, Blu-ray players, and other CE devices, so a mobile app was inevitable. As with several items on this list, the app itself is free to download, but you must subscribe to one of Netflix's unlimited monthly packages (with prices starting at $8.99/month). You simply download the app, sign in to your Netflix account, and select a title to watch. You can watch content that's already in your queue or browse/search titles. Should you select a title that's not available through the Watch Instantly service, you can add it to your queue for physical disc delivery. The service works over WiFi or 3G, the interface is easy to navigate, and the company continues to beef up its streaming content in both the TV and film genres--making this a tough app to beat in the video-on-demand realm.
Hulu.com is an online streaming service through which you can view free TV and film content, including a number of popular prime-time TV shows like Glee, Modern Family, Grey's Anatomy, Family Guy, and The Office. The company recently launched the premium Hulu Plus service, which provides access to more content, available in high-def for a longer viewing period, for a monthly fee of $9.99. Sadly, there's no app for the free Hulu service, but Hulu Plus subscribers can download a free app and get instant access to all of that premium content, on the go. The service works over WiFi or 3G. At this stage, Hulu's selection of films is less than spectacular, but this service is a compelling choice for the TV lover who wants instant access to current hits and classic faves.
Please also read the article Hulu Announces Pay Membership with Hulu Plus.
On-demand content is great, but sometimes you want to watch live programming on your mobile device. That's where MobiTV comes in. MobiTV is actually responsible for many of the video services offered by the various cellular providers, but the company has also released its own entertainment platform and app. Once again, the app is free, and a limited amount of content is available for viewing without a subscription; however, the good stuff is reserved for those for sign up for the Unlimited MobiTV service. With access to over 35 channels, you can enjoy both live and on-demand content, including: live news from ABC, NBC, or Fox; live sports from ESPN Mobile TV; and full-length shows from the major networks, as well as channels like Comedy Central, Syfy, and Disney. The cost is $9.99/month, or you can get a discount for a multi-month subscription (three months for $24.99, six months for $44.99).
ABC Player for iPad
All four of the major TV networks offer video portals on their websites in which you can watch full-length episodes of their shows, but ABC is the first to transfer that concept to the iPad (and, thus far, only the iPad). Simply download the free app and start enjoying the free programming, with no subscription required and therefore some advertising to endure. The service works over WiFi or 3G. Obviously, the content is limited to ABC programming, but we had to put this app on the list and give props to ABC for taking the logical step of transferring a free online service to a free app service. They may be the first, but we hope they won't be the last.
Check out our iPad 3G review for more information.
If you've got a Slingbox connected to your cable or satellite system, the SlingPlayer Mobile app ($29.99) allows you to watch live and recorded content from your home's set-top box/DVR on your mobile device. Through the mobile app, you can use a virtual remote to change channels, browse your program guide, schedule DVR recordings, and pause/rewind/fast-forward content. This service, which works over WiFi or 3G, is a great way to get access to live programming without paying yet another subscription fee. (FYI: Dish Network subscribers might be interested to learn that the company plans to release its own app that offers similar functionality; you will still need a Slingbox or Dish Network's Slingbox-equipped set-top box, but the app itself will supposedly be free.)
Be sure to read our Slingbox review for more information.