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The iPad can play various video formats without any additional apps or tools, and the bundled video app is more than enough to play a variety of common movie files, including mp4, m4v, mov and mkv. If you have such a movie on a computer that you want to watch on the iPad, you have to follow a fairly simple process to copy it, but it is not always that easy for users who are new to the platform.
Before you start, if the movie you want to copy is offered through an Internet streaming service, through Apple’s video services, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, or even YouTube, you may want to consider those options first, the reason being that video files are quite large and will up plenty of space on the relatively limited capacity of the most common iPad 16GB and 32GB models. On the other hand, if you are traveling and don’t have a 3G / LTE iPad, you don’t subscribe to streaming services, or if the video you want to watch is just not available through streaming services, then copy it to the local iPad storage an excellent solution.
- Mac or PC with iTunes
- Any compatible video file: mp4, mov, m4v, etc.
- USB cable
- Free space on the iPad
The USB cable is technically optional as you can use Wi-Fi sync, but for any large movie or video file it is much faster to connect the iPad to the computer with a USB cable.
We assume you already have a video or movie stored on a Mac or Windows PC that you just want to copy to the iPad so you can watch it on the go. We will not go into things like ripping your own video. DVDs or BluRays for mobile access, as rights related to digital video possession will vary widely by film and video and their respective agreements.
How to Copy movies to the iPad
Have a video ready to copy? Great, otherwise, if you’re just looking for one for walkthrough purposes, get a sample video from NASA (they’re pretty neat anyway).
- Locate the movie stored on the computer’s hard drive through the file system and make sure it is easily viewable
- Open iTunes and show the sidebar if it’s not already visible (Command + Option + S)
- Drag the video file to the iPad displayed in the sidebar to start the copy process
You will see a pop-up as the videos are ready to copy, and finally the iTunes player status is updated to show the copy progress. This can take from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the size of the videos being copied and whether you are using USB or Wi-Fi Sync for the transfer itself. It is highly recommended to use a USB cable for copying large files simply because it is much faster to transfer over USB 2.0 than to copy files wirelessly, despite the obvious convenience of the last.
Bypassing error messages when playing movies
If you get an error that a particular movie cannot be copied this way, it is usually because the video format is not compatible. If so, you have two options; view the video file as an MKV or AVI in iOS with VLC, or take the time to convert the video to iOS format with free tools such as QuickTime, Handbrake or VLC using computer. With the last solution, the speed of the computer depends on how long that conversion process takes, but once it is done, you can transfer the video to iPad and watch it there.
Note that some MKV files in particular may have issues, and if you are having trouble playing MKV video on iPad, you can almost always successfully play MKV video with VLC on iPad or iPhone, or again, take the time to convert the mkv video to m4v format. It’s easy to do and the conversion feature is built right into OS X, or you can use our easy guide on how to convert movies to an iPad compatible format using the free QuickTime app also included with every version of Mac OS X.
Open and watch movies on the iPad
Now that one or two videos have been transferred to iPad, it’s really easy to watch them:
- Find and open the “Videos” app
- Tap the movie name you want to watch to start playing
You will find the ability to play and pause the video, as well as a simple scrubber to scroll through the video itself while it is playing, and a zoom function features that tries to remove the letterbox on widescreen videos.
If you can’t find the Video app, just go to Spotlight and type in ‘videos’ to launch it right from there, but usually it will be on your home screen unless you moved it to a folder.
Optional: Disable movie syncing for better file management
There is also a sync feature which tries to manage movie transfers for you, but it’s primarily for movies you recorded on the iOS device itself, not movies you want to copy to the device. Therefore, if you want to copy your own movies to the iPad, it really doesn’t work as you might expect, and it’s generally better to keep videos consistent on your iPad and a home computer using iTunes. If you are going to copy a lot of movies back and forth from iPad to computer yourself, you probably want to turn off syncing of individual movies. feature so that you can manage them directly yourself.
- With the iPad connected to the computer, select the device in iTunes and click the “Movies” tab
- Uncheck the ‘Sync Movies’ box to manage your own video transfers
This advice also applies to transferring videos from iPad and bringing them back to your computer as it is often just easier to handle a movie file yourself if you want to edit it in another application like Premier or Final Cut it, as having it imported into a management app or something like iMovie isn’t always ideal.
One more thing, consider deleting the videos after watching
One last recommendation, once you’re done watching a video on iPad, consider deleting it afterwards. This prevents you from wasting valuable storage space on the device as movie files are some of the largest media formats out there and are often one of the most important things needed up space that can be easily cleared up just by removing. You can see how much space they take up up and delete the videos via Settings:
- Open Settings, choose ‘General’ and go to ‘Usage’
- Tap the “Video” app to delete video directly
You can also delete movies directly through the Video app, although that app doesn’t tell you the size of the individual files and so you don’t know exactly how much space you will free up. up by deleting the files.
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