In the past we would have recommended making DVDs, but with today's smartphones and tablets in use by seemingly everyone, these new smart devices have become the most convenient method to share your video. But how would you go about transferring your captured video to formats that are compatible with Android-based smartphones or tablets, or the iPhones and iPads from Apple?
We tested out a wide variety of smart devices, including the latest iPad (third generation) and iPhone 4, as well as several popular Android-based smartphones, and various other Android-based tablets. Our transfer tips for you are highlighted in three-step processes.
Step 1: Getting Your Files Converted into Compatible Video Formats
HD camcorders and DSLRs shoot video in the AVCHD (MPEG4/H.264) format. While the AVCHD video file is high definition, it requires video conversion and compression to be playable on the smart devices. There are several software compression programs available. Some of the popular ones for Windows OS we've used are Arcsoft's MediaConverter 7.5 ($40) and Sorenson Media's Squeeze Lite ($299). A third application, HandBrake, is free and cross-platform. There are many presets in these applications, each one designed for a specific smart device category. In general, the end result will be in the MPEG4 file format.
We like MediaConverter 7.5 for Windows, because its visual interface is easy to use. You start by selecting the video source (the clapboard icon), and then select your output device. There are numerous output devices symbolically available: iPad, iPod Touch, and various Android-based phones or tablets. Once the output device is selected, you choose the settings button to affect the video and audio quality of the conversion. While many quality settings are available, we use Smart Fit, and keep the aspect ratio because that will give you good quality the first run through. Better quality videos can be encoded at 4MB/s/720p, but that creates a greater file size. Once you can see your video in the interface screen, simply click on start to begin the process. The conversion process is single pass, for the fastest processing time. Format conversion is a very computer intensive process, so it could take some time, depending on the speed and power of your computer. Multi-core processors are highly recommended.
Sorenson Media's Squeeze Lite for Windows is a powerful application that allows even more control on your video conversion parameters. When selecting Android or iPad compatible devices, you have a choice of different conversion quality settings. The trade-off is quality vs. file size. Squeeze Lite also offers a two-pass conversion process, which will yield better quality in the converted video, especially if there is motion in the scene. Other conversion applications are generally single-pass. Two-pass conversions take more time. The converted output is in the MPEG4 file format, which is compatible with both Apple and Android devices.
For example, using a 44-second 48MB original MTS video clip from a Sony HD camcorder, and selecting 720p output resolution, and a low 2.5MB/s bit conversion rate, the converted file was compressed down to 1/6 its original size- about 8.5MB. At 3.5Mb/s the quality was a bit better on all devices, but at a larger 16MB file size. At a higher bit rate of 10MB/s, our Android tablet and phones couldn't keep up and skipped video frames.
HandBrake is a very popular open source, cross-platform conversion application that works on Windows PC, Mac OS, or Linux-based computers, and happily, it's free! Once downloaded, HandBrake can be installed. The user interface is very straightforward. Simply select the source for your video file. It supports a wide variety of file types. Next, select the encoding quality, which can be either constant or variable bit rate (variable bit rate adjusts itself with motion detected in a scene to give a smoother result). Finally, select the output device from several listed (iPad/iPhone/Android). The output file formats are in MPEG4.
Step 2a: Android Solution: Transferring Converted Files to a Compatible Memory Card
Once your video has been converted into a compatible format, you've got to transfer it to a compatible memory card for your Android smart device. You will need an SD/SDHC, or microSD/microSDHC memory card. We've seen some 32GB microSDHC (PNY 32GB Hi-Speed microSDHC Class 10, retail, $70) cards for much less than $40. The one to use is a microSD card which comes with an SD card adapter. This allows you to insert the tiny microSD chip into the adapter for use when transferring files on your computer. Android smartphones generally use the microSDHC memory card, and the slot for the memory card is either on the side of the phone, or inside the back cover. However, it might be inconveniently located below the battery compartment. Android tablets generally have side slots, and use either microSD or full size SD cards, depending on the model. A Sony Tablet S uses the full size SD/SDHC card.
The easiest way to transfer the converted video file to the card is to insert the adapter with microSD card into a USB memory card reader, then simply transfer the converted video file into the card.
Step 2b: Apple iPhone/iPad Solution: Transferring Converted Files
Connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer with the USB cable. You must use iTunes for the transfer/syncing process, and it's a good idea to have the latest version running, 10.6 in our case, especially since we wanted to transfer videos to the new iPad (third generation). From the iTunes menu, select Movies, and then from the File Menu, select Add File to Library. Select the compatible MPEG4 file you want to transfer, and then click SYNC. After a short while, a video icon will appear in the Movies Folder of the iPad, indicating that the transfer is complete.
Step 3: Playing Back Video
Most Android devices have a built-in application called the Gallery media player. Select the Gallery icon, and click on external SD card icon. This will display the video clip icons located on the SD card. Click on an icon to play it. Note that because of some differences in playback capability from one Android phone or tablet to another, it's possible to have some video files that will play on one device, but not on the other. It may take some additional work to find the right conversion that works for your Android device. You can also download another media player app from the Android Store, VLC Direct, which works with a variety of file formats.
With Apple i-devices, your transferred video files are played back from the Movie folder. From the main interface of your i-device, select the Video icon to access the Movie folder. At 720p resolution, the videos looked outstanding on an iPad with its higher resolution Retina display.
The Streaming Alternative
Since video files take up a huge amount of precious memory on your iPhone or iPad device, you might want to consider using an external streaming solution. This is great because you stream video to your iPhone or iPad, but don't load it on the device, which would eat up internal memory.
The most elegant streaming solution for your iPhone or iPad is from Kingston with its Wi-Drive. It's both wireless storage and a cross-platform file sharing device. And it's conveniently small, about the footprint of a small smartphone, and just as thin. First you install the Wi-Drive application on your iPhone or iPad, which is free from the Apple App Store. Then you run the application and set up streaming between the Wi-Drive and your iPhone or iPad. Next, using a provided USB cable, transfer compatible video files to the Wi-Drive. Once the files are on the Wi-Drive, go to your iPhone or iPad and locate and select the Wi-Drive, within your wireless networks. Once the Wi-Drive is streaming to your iPhone or iPad, you select whichever video you want to play. And you aren't taking up any memory on your iPhone or iPad. The Kingston Wi-Drive comes in a couple of capacities, 32GB ($164) and 64GB ($228).
While the Wi-Drive solution is great for iPhone or iPad devices, it often falls short on Android-based phones and tablets. The problem comes from the fact that there are issues with many different manufacturers of Android phones and tablets, and it's not as standardized as the Apple universe for iPhones or iPads. Kingston has come up with a work-around for this incompatibility with an update to the firmware for the Wi-Drive. With the update, it now allows you to access or stream the contents from the Wi-Drive directly to your Android phone or tablet using the Web browser feature. To download the update, go to www.kingston.com/support/wi-drive .
Everyone probably knows that uploading to YouTube is the "everyman" solution for getting video on your smart device. It's easy to use, but you can achieve higher quality results with the tips we've given you here. Now you just need to learn tips for shooting for the small screen - an art unto itself!
With all these new incredible iPhone, iPad, Android-based devices at our disposal, there's no reason you shouldn't be sharing the "best moments" of your archive of video shot with an HD camcorder, or older. With these apps discussed here, it's fun and easy!
Tony Gomez is a veteran producer, editor, videographer, digital photographer, and reviewer of consumer and professional digital imaging and video products, with more than 30 years experience.