Azul Media Player: Is It Indeed the Best?

Discussion in 'iOS Apps' started by Menneisyys2, Mar 5, 2013.

  1. Menneisyys2 macrumors 603

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2011
    #1
    I've never really recommended Azul Media Player (AppStore links: iPhone / iPod touch version ($1.99 regularly; currently it's discounted at $0.99); iPad version ($2.99)) – it has always lagged behind top video players like AVPlayer(HD) or It's Playing.

    As the player has received some awards lately (“The #1 Travel App of 2012 - As featured in Apple's "Staff Favorites"”), I decided to thoroughly test the latest (4.5) version to find out whether anyone should trust recommendations by Apple (or the public in general).

    Unfortunately, as it turns out, being Apple's “staff favorite” doesn't guarantee the player should actually be recommended and is indeed absolutely the best of the bunch, compared to the alternatives. Not in the least (and has never been, given the poor previous versions thorough 2012 regarding its video playback capabilities). While the Web downloader, the video camera recording and effecting functionality of the app are indeed pretty good (albeit in no way flawless - see below), it's quite poor and in no way recommended as a video (multimedia) player.



    [​IMG]
    The AppStore main page (on my iPhone 5). As always, click the image for the original, large-size one.

    Generally, if you read the detailed cons / pros list below, you'll see there are much better video players around. For the current (discounted) price of $0.99 for the iPhone version (the iPad version ($2.99) isn't discounted) it may still be a good buy if (and only if!) you do want to play with the camera effects or need a video downloader app. However, for “plain” video playback, there are much-much better choices: AVPlayer(HD), HD Player Pro, nPlayer, if you need DSP's, It's Playing, if you don't use it for H.264 software decoding, GoodPlayer or, if you're jailbroken, XBMC / RushPlayer+. They all offer, among other things, far-far better format support / compliance, battery life while decoding the same video in software, stability, error-tolerance.

    The detailed Pros / Cons list follows. Note that I've dedicated at least one large article / roundup to almost every single bullet below. Feel free to read my previous articles for background info on all the compliance / efficiency tests I run. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to link to every single related article in every single new review I write (which I do very frequently) – sorry about that.

    Cons

    • No Retina (high-res) support for software-decoded videos – this is by far the biggest problem, particularly on small-screen devices with high resolution (iPhones starting with the iPhone 4 and iPod touch models starting with the 4th gen.)
    • Not Universal (meaning you need to pay for two versions, should you want to use it on both small-screen iDevices and iPads)
    • Not very good H.264 decoder (definitely slower and less-compatible than that of the top players)
    • The player being a completely new product, existing customers of pre-4.0 versions need to purchase it again
    • No DTS / AC3 audio. In addition, users are only warned about the absence of their support when they specifically enable Hybrid Player Plugin in Settings; otherwise, no warnings will be displayed.
    • No embedded simple, textual MKV subtitle support like that of the stanardized Monsters test video. (External SRT's and embedded SSA's are supported)
    • MTS (camera AVCHD container) support is particularly bad – for example, of the floatplanepassing standardized test video, only two(!) frames were shown
    • No gesture-based ffwd / rewind (there are two dedicated ffwd / rewind icons though, both with 30s steps)
    • Crashed pretty frequently while software-decoding my suite of test videos; for example, it always crashed when switching audio tracks in the standardized Harry Potter MKV test video (needless to say, better players do NOT crash when playing back this video (either))
    • The “Hybrid” switch is pretty much different from that of, say, AVPlayer(HD) in that you'll VERY frequently need to disable it – unlike with AVPlayer(HD), which offers a much higher degree of compatibility. Unfortunately, the trips to the Settings menu to do this is rather frequently needed.
    [​IMG]
    The Settings dialog, where I've annotated the two switches you'll (from time to time) enable



    • Defaults to software playback even with iOS-native videos and, unless you do enable the native plug-in, doesn't ask users to select between the two modes, which means unsuspecting users will be presented sub-par quality (stuttering 1080p videos even on the fastest iOS devices (currently, the iPhone 5 and the iPad 4), let alone slower ones)
    • No Apple CC's, not even in hardware-decoded mode
    • Absolutely no Hi10P support (not that it'd be any good if it was supported, given the low efficiency of the H.264 decoder)
    • WMV decoder definitely slower than that of AVPlayer(HD) (WMA Pro audio is supported, though)
    • Limited audio file format support: absolutely no FLAC, APE, OGA, WV or advanced (except for WMA Pro) WMA support. (WAV is supported.)
    • Poor M-JPEG (camera AVI) video support: premature end of video playback, messed up colors
    • No UPnP / FTP / SMB streaming (HTTP streaming is excellent, though)
    While it does support background remuxing of MKV's (which is needed, given the low-quality, slow H.264 video decoder),

    1. the remuxing algorithm is definitely inferior to that of the, in this regard, top players (AVPlayer(HD), nPlayer, HD Player Pro etc.): some videos aren't at all shown, some others (for example, my standard AAC MKV speed tester) visibly stutter now and then.
    2. MKV's with both DTS / AC3 and AAC (the former two are, as has already been stated, not supported by the player; the latter, of course, are supported) audio tracks will be completely(!!) refused to be played back. (An example is HERE – another one in the standard video playback compliance test suite created by me.) More recommended players not supporting AC3 but with MKV remuxing support are better in this regard (too): for example, HD Player Pro has no problems with the same file – it nicely defaults to the AAC track and plays it back. (And has no stuttering problem, either.)
    3. while it does provide Retina (high-resolution) support when remuxing MKV files, there still isn't. Two screenshots:

    [​IMG]
    this with the default non-enabled Hybrid mode, where it explictly states it'd have high-resolution rendering after enabling Hybrid decoding mode
    [​IMG]
    and this is after enabling it. As you can see, there resolution is still the same (low, non-Retina).
    This means you absolutely will want to avoid using this player if you plan to play back MKV files on an iDevice with a Retina screen.

    Regarding the video recording (which is absolutely unique among generic video players),

    1. videos are recorded at VGA (640*480) resolution only, even if you don't plan to apply any filters on them. This is a MAJOR problem, meaning you in no way can use the app to record videos if you want higher-resolution footage. Then, it's better to record the video with, say, the stock Camera app (which, as opposed to Azul, supports touch-to-focus (see next bullet) and, along with the jailbreak-only CameraTweak and/or my video camera enhancer tools, can become VERY powerful) and adding effects on the desktop. (Even the inexpensive iMovie app is capable of doing this.)
    2. No touch-to-focus during video recording, only automatic one – this is a MAJOR flaw, given that this function would be essential in many cases and is fairly easy to implement (there are even Apple-published example projects showing how this is done - feel free to ask me for more info. I'll even publish a "Programming the camera" type of article on implementing it some time.)
    3. resolution / bitrate changing isn't possible and there are no separate focus and exposure carets either. These too are all supported by most decent third-party video recorders (e.g., FiLMiC Pro) in the AppStore – or, for that matter, the absolutely essential “CameraTweak” app for jailbroken iPhones / iPod touch models. (CameraTweak only lacks bitrate fine-tuning which, on the other hand, is easily done by my Camera app tweaks.)
    4. It doesn't keep the device on while recording videos, which means recording will stop when the device times out, all this based on the global timeout setting set in the system-level Settings

    Pros

    • Regarding the video camera / effecting mode (along with downloading, the most important and (only referring to the camera effecting) unique feature),

    1. runtime DSP effects can not only be applied to videos you record but also any third-party ones, including a videos you import from the Camera Roll
    2. torch and front/back camera swapping is supported (albeit also see the video recording-specific cons list above)

    • Can extract audio tracks from movie files (albeit you'll still want to prefer desktop-based tools like MP4Tools for this for speed / stability / compatibility)
    • Very good HTTP (Web) download capabilities with support to many popular video Web pages
    • HTTP download manager
    • Bookmarks (while no frame thumbnails are shown (as opposed to the, in this regard, far superior iMPlayer), you can give each thumbnail a name. Thumbnails are accessible globally (via the red flag on the extreme right), not only during the playback of the video you're added them to.
    • Some SSA subtitle support (at least they're correctly positioned – but still not animated. HD Player Pro's and XBMC's SSA support is far superior.)
    • Access to the iPod library and the Camera Roll
    • Good DVB TS support (supports dynamic aspect ratio changes, scrubbing (albeit very often crashes when you do scrub), multiple audio and subtitles. However, there's no multiple subtitle track selection support and interlaced content is presented with the wrong field order, resulting in a wave / “wobbling” effect.)
    • Playback speed change
    • Playlist support
    • Background audio support (must be explicitly enabled in Settings)
     
  2. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2002
    Location:
    Location Location Location
    #2
    I just signed in to say that you give an amazing review!

    Very informative. I ended up buying AV Player HD a few minutes ago due to the number of mentions you've made regarding this particular software..

    I had AcePlayer, but it didn't play the sound from an MKV. I could only watch the video! I'm not an expert, but maybe the sound inside the file (?) is in ac3 format.


    Anyway, thanks again. ;)
     
  3. avezunchik, Jul 1, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2013

    avezunchik macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2012
    #3
    Cannot see subtitles anymore

    I am using Azul for about 2 years already. It was great. But recently I realized
    that I cannot see the subtitles anymore. I tried mkv and avi files with additional subtitles files or embedded into video - no success. I was able to ready subtitles without any problem just few months ago. What is happened?
    I have this problem on both iphone 5 and ipad.

    PS: Sorry the problem is solved. That was stupid. Sorry for bothering
     

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