Recently, I looked over (but declined to review) a US$9.99 dictionary application. Despite one particularly lovely visual effect, I found it hard to define an audience for the product and thought the price tag hovered on the high side for an awkward app that didn't really do anything useful. In light of that almost-review, I'd venture to say that It's Playing, at $3.99 on iTunes, seems vastly under-priced.
I've used quite a number of media player apps over the past few years but none of them feels as tightly put together and with as much consideration for the user as It's Playing. This is a well-featured app that can play most every format you can throw at it and offers hardware decoding for MP4 and MKV files.
Hardware decoding means that playback is super fast and very strong. The same MKV files that my VLC app complains about (saying my iPad is too underpowered to play them) presented flawlessly in It's Playing.
And that's just where the feature set gets going. It's Playing spares you from having to connect to iTunes every time you want to update your onboard media collection. You can download and stream files directly from your local network using Windows SMB sharing. (Enable this on your Mac in System Preferences > Sharing > File Sharing > Options > Share files and folders using SMB.) Just sign in with a local account and you can browse and view on demand.
FLV files that I placed in Dropbox were correctly opened and managed in It's Playing as well. VLC users might recall how poorly that app handled external open requests, although I should point out that most other modern video player apps also handle this without issue -- it's really an archaic bug that never got fixed because VLC was pulled so soon from the store.
The GUI shows a lot of design consideration. Take the file browsing menu for example. A lot of thought places that menu directly in reach for browsing your video collections, while allowing it to flip up to a "popover" presentation with a single tap on the app's full-screen button.
On-screen controls appear with a simple tap, allowing adjustments to brightness, contrast, playback rate, and so forth. A series of gestures let you skip back and forward. For example, a single left swipe goes back 10 seconds, and a double goes 1 minute. I would like to see an integrated volume control here, which I was unable to track down, as well as user settings to control how far the jumps take you in time, e.g. 15 seconds back and 30 seconds forward.
A feature that's sure to find an audience among hearing-impaired users is the new "Fetch subtitles from internet" option. Just tap on the info button of any playing video, and the app attempts to automatically download srt files matching that video. Other options on the video info screen allow users to select the playback quality levels and choose between hardware and software decoding.
It's Playing worked beautifully with connected AirPlay destinations, providing excellent external playback. Combined with the network feature, this let me play pretty much any video I had on my computer (including AVI and MKV formats) to my Apple TV using the iPad as an intermediary.
As you'd expect, It's Playing isn't perfect. I experienced a few crashes during testing (not many) and the TUAW back channel agreed fairly unanimously that we hated its icon. Aside from that, I thought the app was well worth its US$3.99 price tag and that it provides a worthy replacement for the VLC app I've been holding onto on my iPad for so long. B'bye VLC! I've found something better now.