How a PC and Air Video HD turned my iPad into the ultimate entertainment device

I have a problem: There just isn't enough room on my iPad to hold all of my beloved video content. Ideally, I'd love to have all of my favorite movies and TV shows -- which are currently stored on a Windows desktop -- available on my tablet at a moment's notice, but for a long time I didn't think this was a reasonable demand. Sure, I know that there are plenty of remote streaming apps out there, but I've always had terrible luck getting them to work. Usually they crash every few minutes, horribly downscale my content or fail to work at all. At some point, I just accepted that I'd never live in a world where I could watch all my PC-stored video anywhere in my home via my iPad.

Today I was determined to find out if things had changed, and it only took a couple of tries to find the app of my dreams in the form of Air Video HD. But before I get into how flawlessly Air Video HD has worked for me, I first want to bring up a different streaming app called Air PlayIt.

There are two components to both Air Video HD and Air PlayIt: a server application that needs to be running on the host computer and an app you download from the App Store to your iOS device. I followed the setup instructions for Air PlayIt to the letter, including opening up ports on my router, and after an initial buffering period, which lasted up to 30 seconds, the most it offered me was 10 or 15 seconds of video playback before it had to stop and buffer once again.

I then began troubleshooting, which led me to investigate both my Windows firewall and a list of ports accessed via the command prompt to ensure my router's ports were functioning as intended (all of which checked out fine). I even halved the resolution of my already not-at-all-HD video in the hopes that it could handle the load, but it was all for naught. It was around this time that I began to feel the jaded "this is all a bunch of crap" attitude that had led me to abandon my search for a streaming solution a year or two ago. But as I was reading a forum topic on Air PlayIt -- which, for the record, has plenty of extremely positive reviews on the App Store, so maybe I'm just cursed -- a user suggested trying Air Video HD.

I'm a big fan of the phrase, "It just works," as a response to those who question why I prefer Apple products over the competition, and the same holds true when it comes to apps. For the entirety of my time with Air PlayIt, I was begging it to just work, but it squashed my hopes at every turn. Air Video HD, on the other hand, just works.

After browsing the Air Video website, I was extremely skeptical, mainly because it claims to offer exactly what Air PlayIt had just failed to provide for me. I decided to give it a try anyway. I downloaded the server, which, upon running, mapped my ports automatically without requiring me to do it myself. I added a couple of my video folders and then launched the Air Video HD app on my iPad. I clicked a video file and it played instantly from start to finish as though it was stored on my iPad itself.

That had to be a fluke, right? It was a 22-minute, non-HD video file, so I grabbed the biggest HD file I had on my computer -- a two-plus hour 1080p movie -- and after two hours and 17 minutes of flawless HD playback, I was a believer. At this point I was giddy, so just for fun I decided to install Air Video HD on my iPhone 5s and play the exact same video file simultaneously, which it handled without issue. Two HD streams (running at different points in the movie, mind you) from the same application to two separate iOS devices. Mind = blown.

In short, Air Video HD has turned my iPad into a device capable of playing all 500-plus movies and TV episodes instantly from anywhere in my home. It also has the ability to stream video over an internet connection, which seems to work fine, though this is obviously entirely dependent on your connection. If your download and upload speeds aren't where they need to be, you'll see a noticeable decline in quality.

However, for less than three bucks -- the server application is free, the app costs US$2.99 -- Air Video HD has completely changed how I can use my iPad around my home, and I'm never looking back.