Kodi screen shot

Software reviews: video apps

The ability to capture video on a phone is great, but there’s a lot more you can do with the recording besides simply playing it back on the same device.

XBMC Foundation


Free on Android

If you are determined to play your media on the mobile device, then it’s worth getting a decent player app. There are many options which offer advantages over the apps bundled with phones and tablets, whether that’s playing videos in windows, accepting additional file formats such as MKV or FLV, downloading and playing subtitles, or the ability to zoom in on a video.

However, users with Android tablets and larger phones should give Kodi a spin. It’s an Android port of the popular open-source and cross-platform XBMC media centre, so if you’ve been running that on a PC or a Raspberry Pi you will recognise its clean user interface straight away.

Its advantage is that it is a full entertainment hub, so as well as playing locally stored content you can stream it from elsewhere on your own network - from a NAS box, say - or install add-ons to pull TV shows, videos, podcasts and other content from a huge range of online sources or from your cloud storage.

It can also be used with a remote-control app running on another device - several XBMC remote-controls are available - and of course is an ideal app for an Android TV. On the downside, a few of the Kodi add-ons don’t yet work with the Android version, and you really don’t want to try using it on a smaller phone - but it is an excellent media centre app for use on screens where you will be viewing at least at arm’s length, and preferably further away.


Magisto Video Editor

Free on Android, iOS

There are not quite so many video editing apps as players, but there are plenty to choose from. Video editing is a complex job - and profession - though, and if all you want is to make something decent of your phone videos that won’t bore your friends too much, going the full whack with trims, crops and filters is probably overkill.

Magisto’s job then is to automate the basics. You feed it a selection of photos and/or video clips, or use it to record some video, choose an editing style, choose a soundtrack, and then let it get on with automatically editing them into a short movie, complete with fades and cuts. It adds a degree of image stabilisation and uses facial recognition to zoom in on faces.

The finished movie is stored online and can be downloaded or shared with others; there’s also a community element, with lots more videos to watch. The audio and visual overlays definitely turn dull footage into something more watchable. Sure, they are rather artsy and while some will love them, others will hate them. Fortunately, there is a ‘none’ option in both cases.

The video processing takes place on Magisto’s own servers; the downside of this is that it must upload the video clips, which can take a while when even a modest phone camera requires almost 1MB per second of video.

One interesting side-effect of the automated process is that instead of worrying about the technical elements - the edits and cuts - you instead have to think a bit more about your original video, as it does need usable video clips to work with.
The basic version of Magisto is free on Apple and Android, and provides 5GB of storage for your created videos. Various premium upgrades at £12 to £20 a year let you upload more elements per movie, create longer movies, store more online, and so on.

Sunny Evening


Free with in-app upgrades

There is more to visual media than actual video of course. You can also create a powerful impression with text fonts, colours and movement, and that is exactly the aim of Ultratext. A simple-to-use messaging app for iPhone and Android, it animates each word as you type it to create graphic text messages.

The basic free app gives you multi-coloured flashing words. You can then either send the message directly using MMS or email (or iMessage on an iPhone), or via one of a variety of social networks or messenger apps - though not Facebook Messenger, which needs a separate Ultratext app. You can also save it to your photo folder or cloud storage as an animated GIF - the latter is a useful image format that can also be embedded on web pages and the like.

With the iPhone app, you can also change the text colour, alignment and positioning, add photos or smilies and other icons, and save messages for later. The Android version is much more limited its editing capabilities - very weak, in fact, unless you buy in-app upgrades. These add more fonts or extra emojis, or remove the watermark on texts, and cost 79p each.

Of course, while some users will love Ultratext, others will find it lurid and silly; there are as yet no themes available to make it a little more safe-for-work.


Hyperlapse Mobile

Free on Android, Windows Phone

If you ever feel the need to fast-forward when watching a long first-person video, then Hyperlapse could be for you. This clever app creates time-lapse videos, either capturing them directly or from existing footage. Microsoft’s new-found openness means that it is available for both Windows phones and Android devices; there are also versions of the technology for desktop Windows, and hosted for the web on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service.

Key to Hyperlapse is its ability to understand, align and stabilise images. Microsoft says this is based on 20 years of laboratory research into computational photography. It means that if you video an activity - yourself skiing, say, or someone else moving about - the app will try to keep the subject reasonably stable within the time-lapsed or speeded-up version.

You can choose what multiple you want to speed your video up by, doubling the speed each time from 2x up to 32x, you can even time-lapse the same video at different speeds. The one caveat is that, not too surprisingly, its battery consumption is fairly heavy.

The results are intriguing. Because the time-lapse element is fractions of seconds rather than minutes or hours, you get a video that appears speeded up yet which still makes sense to view. At low speeds it is like the speeded-up chases in old comedy shows, but those needed a stable camera platform - only with the addition of image alignment and stabilisation can you use both a hand-held camera and a 32x speed increase without giving your viewers either a headache, motion sickness, or both.

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