How to get home movies onto the iPad

It should be easy to get videos from your digital camera onto your iPad. It isn't. Here's how to fix that.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read
Your home movies won't show up in your iPad photo albums unless you convert them first. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

The iPad makes a great photo album or "brag book" to pass around to friends and family.

Its big screen is far superior to a smartphone for showing off snapshots and home movies. Getting photos onto the device isn't too hard. But getting your home movies onto the iPad so you can share them is not nearly as easy, especially if you're syncing the tablet to a Windows machine.

I've been poking around with different ways to get the videos I take with my Canon S90 compact camera and different Flip video cameras onto the iPad. Unusually for an Apple product, there is no easy way to perform this task. But there are a few workarounds that involve varying degrees of frustration. Here are some of them.

There are two problems in getting videos onto the iPad. The first is that few digital cameras create video files that will play directly on the iPad. So you've got to convert your clips first into iPad-friendly files. Apple does not provide a Windows-compatible tool for doing this. You might think iTunes would do the job, since it will play almost any video on your PC. But it won't. You need conversion software from somewhere else.

Let's start with that. There are several apps for converting videos to a format the iPad can digest. I'm currently using Aleesoft Free iPad Video Converter. It's free and it works, but its got some user interface warts and it's incredibly slow, converting at less than 1-to-1 speed on my quad-core CPU running 64-bit Windows 7. And unlike some tools, it doesn't seem to use the video card's processor either. But it does batch operations--a whole directory of files at once--and you can't beat the price. (If you've got a better idea for a free iPad video converter for Windows, share your opinion in the comments.)

Aleesoft makes a workable and free iPad video converter.

Once you've got the files converted, there's the issue of getting them onto your iPad. Most people I've talked to put their videos in a special folder and use the "Add file [or folder] to library" function in iTunes to get these files into the "Movies" section of the app. I prefer to put videos in the same directories as photos. Then, if you have your Tunes configuration for your iPad set to monitor these photo directories, it'll pick up properly encoded videos and display them in your photo viewer on the iPad (and not in the "Videos" app).

Too much work? There are also ways you can stream your videos into the iPad, either from your PC itself or over the Web.

Use the excellent Air Video application to give your iPad access to every single video stored on your PC. The PC-side "server" part of this app does the conversion for you as necessary. Videos can be streamed over your local network or the Internet. The iPad Air Video app is $2.99 (a free version only gives you access to a small number of files per directory but is otherwise fully functional). It works on the iPhone as well. The server-side software, for either PC or Mac, is completely free. You do have to leave on your PC to view your videos, though.

Plug in your iPad and make sure "Include videos" is selected. Also make sure your converted videos are getting stored in watched folders. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

If you have a current (Wi-Fi-only) iPad, Air Video requires that you're connected to a local Wi-Fi router to work, so you cannot rely on using this app in houses that don't have wireless, or where you don't know the router's password.

Air Video lets you stream all your videos to your iPad. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Finally, the easiest, cheapest, and slowest way to get videos from your PC to your iPad: use YouTube. Upload the videos you like and set them to private. Then configure the YouTube app on your iPad with your account info. You'll be able to play your vids wherever you have a connection. Having to upload all the videos you might want to watch later requires foresight (and uploading can be slow), so I don't see this as a solution for making hours of videos available to your iPad. But it's a simple and straightforward solution, until Apple decides to live up to its "it just works" message and make getting home videos onto an iPad as easy as we expect it to be.

My solution right now: I'll use the converter software if I know I'm visiting a relative who will want to see the latest home movies of my son. Otherwise, I'm relying on Air Video because it doesn't require any advance planning.