As my avid readership knows, I am fully in the court of having software tools for media playback in various operating systems. While HTPC software allows people control all of their media (discs, video files, audio, files, etc.), it tends to have a dedicated system to function as a server, wired into a home network. A wonderful playback sequence, but what if you wanted something less dedicated or even more portable.
As a disabled individual, sometimes I just want to listen to a few audio files or watch DVD from my wheelchair. I might be in my bedroom, kitchen, or away from home, so I need to use a laptop over my desktop tower. That level of portability means that I will end up using VLC to undertake these tasks, as it is lightweight, free, and handles most formats with ease. The problem that I have run across is that I have to always have to use my mouse/keyboard to control the software. What I have wanted is a way to emulate the couch experience of using a remote control to manage the experience. My wish has come true, in the form of VLC Remote and VLC Streamer.
Hobbyist Software has made a set of companion apps that interface with VideoLan’s VLC Player. VLC Remote and VLC Streamer, come in both a free and paid versions (ad-supported or ad-free), allowing people to control their VLC experience from the palm of their hand. My desire to watch away from the computer drew me to these apps, and I am not disappointed. While they do require some setup on the PC (Wi-Fi configuration and PC Companion applications), once configured, they deliver on their promises, effectively.
First up on the list is the VLC Remote app that I will discuss. As I eluded earlier, you install the app on your smart device (phone, tablet), then install the companion helper software, from the link within the application. Do not worry if you are not close to your computer when you do this or your device does not support direct download links, as you can email the link to your inbox, as an alternative. (Note: I have iDevice hardware (iPhone/iPad) and a Windows PC, so the reviews of these apps will be based upon these families of products).
Once you have the companion software installed, run the Helper, and have it auto-configure VLC to support remote interface, as well as identify the mobile device that will be used for the remote. As you probably already downloaded the app for your device, just make sure that you select the right OS to minimize any hassles that you may have getting it to work. If auto-configure does not work, you have a troubleshooting guide and built-in Help system to iron out any connectivity problems.
After you are setup, just open VLC on your computer, and then open the app on your mobile device. You will see a list of detected computers to connect to that are running VLC. Select the one you are going to use, and the control panel will appear. You have options for Album/Media Cover display, audio/video playback controls, DVD Remote controls, Equalizer, and other panels to explore. The usage is straight forward, and models VLC Controls in a GUI interface that closely resembles a physical remote control. It makes it very easy to sit back and watch/listen to my media from the comfort of a chair or bed; an essential thing for me, as that is what I want in a control scheme.
While you can get an ad-supported free version, the full app price is worth the asking cost. The free version does show ads (as stated above), as well as does not let you browse media files from the remote (you have to go back to the computer to change what you are viewing/hearing). The current price is $4.99 USD for iOS and $2.99 USD for Android/Windows. Buying the full version also contributes to development of new features and tech support; plus gives the developers’ reasons to help facilitate incremental changes to the GPL code base for VLC, itself. Try the free version and you will see what I mean; buy VLC Remote.
Second on the agenda is VLC Streamer, which allows you to play media files in VLC, and stream them to your smart device, with transcoding on-the-fly. This is a great tool that allows you to watch non-native audio/video formats without having to re-encode them, transfer them to the device’s storage, and then play them back. The popularity of HTPC technology, including streaming media to all of your devices, via home network is the wave of the future. This handy little app can do this easily; without dedicated hardware setups for portability/travel.
All you need to do (similar to the remote app) is to download the app to your device, then the VLC Streamer companion software to your computer. Once both have been installed, run the companion app, add your media to stream, set the quality settings, and open the app on your device to start streaming. It is a very simple process, and a fun way to share your media, wherever you are in range of your computer network.
The VLC Streamer comes in two flavors Free (ad-supported) and Standard (no ads). The Standard price is $1.99 USD for iOS/Android/Windows. Again well worth the entry point to help keep these folks going. Knowing that they stand behind what the sell/offer and that their tech support is of a very high standard gives me peace of mind on giving them my business.
What else can I say about Hobbyist Software, except that they make great products that work as advertised, priced competitively, and strongly supported. They make other fine software offerings for remote PC usage monitoring, PC Power Management, and handy Timer apps. Check out theiur offerings, and I am sure that you will find something you like/need. Just tell them I sent you, O.K. Until next time, happy trails to you all!