I have a lot of home videos on my PC in .avi form that I would like to stream to my HDTV downstairs. I have an Apple TV, but I haven’t found a way to use that for my purposes. What is the best way to accomplish this without having to run a long cable through my house? I have wired and wireless capability at the TV. — Ron Minard.
Ron illustrates one of the annoying problems with Apple’s gadgets, specifically the Apple TV, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch — these devices can play only certain types of video files.
Ron has videos on his PC upstairs and he wants to stream them to his HDTV downstairs through his Apple TV, a hockey puck-sized box for your television that can wirelessly stream music and movies to your TV either from a computer or directly from the iTunes Store. All you need besides the Apple TV is a wireless router.
With the Apple TV, you can stream videos from your PC to your TV, but only videos formatted to play in iTunes — in other words, video files with an .m4v, .mp4 or .mov extension.
So, how do you play videos in one format — such as .avi — on a device that cannot play that format?
Here are a few options.
Convert the videos • First, you can convert all your .avi files into .m4v, .mp4 or .mov files. It’s not horribly difficult, and it doesn’t cost money.
There’s a free software video converter called Handbrake that can take those .avi files and transform them into files that are compatible for iTunes. You simply install the program on your PC, launch it, choose the video you want to convert, set up how good you want the video and audio to be, and start the conversion. Depending on how powerful your computer is, it can convert a one-hour TV episode in about 20 minutes. You can also set it up to do a batch of video files one after the other so you don’t have to manually start each video separately.
Then you import the videos into iTunes. Now you can stream those videos to your TV via Apple TV.
AirPlay • The second method requires that you have an iPhone or iPad. Because Ron has an Apple TV, chances are he does.
You can stream the videos from the PC to your iPhone or iPad and then to your Apple TV via an iOS feature called AirPlay. Here’s how:
Get a great iOS application for your iPhone or iPad called Air Video. It’s just $2.99 but there is a free version you can try first to make sure it works. This process also requires you install a small piece of free software on your PC.
The Air Video app streams video of any format, including .avi, from your PC to your iDevice. It does this by converting the file automatically on the fly as it’s being displayed on your iPhone or iPad.
That video stream is then immediately beamed from your iDevice to your Apple TV via AirPlay, a feature in the iPhone/iPad that allows you to stream video from those devices to your TV through Apple TV. So the video travels from the computer to the TV seamlessly and with no lag.
Get a new box • A third solution is to get another set-top box different from the Apple TV that allows you to stream the .avi files from your PC to your TV.
The popular Internet TV device Roku ($49 to $99) can do this but not out of the box. You first need to download a free app for the Roku called Plex to enable that feature. Western Digital makes a media box called WD TV Live ($99) that streams video of different formats to your TV.
If you’re a video game player, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 already have the functionality built into them to stream .avi-formatted videos to your TV.
If there are other ways that don’t cost money or are easier than what I’ve listed, please let me know.
If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he’ll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.