Image: Air Video app screenshot
Air Video
Air Video, costs $2.99 for the regular app, or is available in a free version with fewer features.
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updated 5/18/2011 8:50:45 AM ET 2011-05-18T12:50:45

Q. I've got a bunch of videos that I've collected on my computer. They're all in different formats, and I don't want to convert them just to play on my iPad. Is there a way I can stream them?

A. Streaming video to the iPad isn't very hard at all, and as the popular Apple slogan goes, "There's an app for that!"

Air Video
The best software that we've found to do this is called Air Video, an easy-to-use piece of software that takes out all the difficult steps in what can sometimes be a complicated process. In fact, streaming with Air Video is so easy that it doesn't take any specialized knowledge at all. There are only two parts to the process.

Step 1: Installing the server
The first part of the streaming system is installing the Air Video server, a small program that runs on your computer. Don't let the terminology intimidate you; it's a simple program that's easy to install and doesn't require any setup beyond telling it where to find your videos. Of course, there are a lot more options, if you want to tinker, but it works just fine out of the box, even for power users.

The Air Video server only takes a few minutes to download and install. It's completely safe and doesn't present any security risks to your computer. By default, it only allows other computers on your home network to access your videos. Any computer built in the past two years will be able to run the server without your even noticing it's there; on any computer older than that, you might notice some slowness when someone is watching a video and you're using the computer.

Step 2: Running the iPad (or iPhone) app
The second part of the streaming system is the iPad (or iPhone) app that runs on your device. Grab it from the iTunes store and fire it up. You'll be presented with a screen asking you to choose your Air Video server; select the same one you set up in the previous step. From there, you can browse all your videos and play them immediately on your iOS device with "live conversion," meaning there's no need to convert a video to play beforehand. All the conversion is taken care of right as you play your video; if your computer can play the video, now your iPad can, too!

Get Air Video
Air Video is available for $2.99 from the iTunes Store, and it'll work with both your iPhone and iPad. There's also a reduced-feature free version that you can use to test whether or not you want to purchase the full package. (We suggest you do.) You can also download the free server from Air Video's home page.

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