(Credit: VideoLAN)

VLC Media Player is the de facto desktop app for watching locally stored videos, but it's faced stiff competition on iOS and Android. Perhaps to gain some leverage, the company has just updated the iOS version to add support for 360-degree videos and the Google Chromecast streaming device.

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Analyzing Chromecast support for iOS

On desktop computers, Chromecast support isn't the must-have feature that it used to be, because the Google Chrome web browser can connect to a Chromecast on the local network, and you can use Chrome to play locally stored video and audio files. However, the mobile version of Chrome doesn't do this yet, which has led to a cottage industry of other apps that promise to fill in the gap -- with wildly varying degrees of success.

If local media streaming ends up working well for the iOS version of VLC, then it may quickly sweep away the other middlemen, who generally don't have VLC's brand recognition, and some of whom also charge a fee to download their app. VLC is available for free on all compatible platforms, and its gained a reputation for reliability and visual polish.

Are 360-degree videos that important?

The support for 360-degree video gets VLC into the mobile VR (virtual reality) game, which continues despite the added cost of a head-mounted VR display. For example, there's the Samsung Gear VR released in 2015. While it only works with the company's own phones, that represents a large percentage of the mobile device market. According to IDC, Samsung held on to a roughly 20 percent slice in 2017, shipping about 75 million phones worldwide in Q4. That sounds like a large enough potential audience to justify adding 360 video to a mobile app.

Google also makes the Daydream VR headset, which is compatible with a couple dozen phone, including the company's own Pixel line, several models of the Samsung Galaxy, and the Motorola Moto Z series. VR requires a lot of horsepower from your device, so the compatibility list isn't long. Apple, meanwhile, has been focusing on AR, or augmented reality, but you can find some third-party VR goggles if you shop around.

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360 videos are recorded with multiple cameras at once, and the footage is stitched together to make the viewer feel like they are at the location where the filming occurred. You can look in pretty much any direction as the video plays back, rather than being restricted to the standard rectangular image produced by a single camera. Facebook and YouTube can even stream this type of video live, potentially elevating the experience of a concert or a news story.

While VLC has been around since 2001, its non-profit creator VideoLAN didn't produce a 1.0 version for Android until December 2014, and an iOS release came along shortly afterward. The mobile version arguably lacked a competitive feature set until version 2.1 or 2.2, but it's caught up quickly, and Chromecast support in version 3.1.0 is a big step forward.

The takeaways

  1. The latest version of the VLC media player for iOS has added support for 360-degree videos and the Google Chromecast streaming device.
  2. VLC is completely free to use, and known for stability and overall polish, so it's a credible replacement for what you've been using before to stream locally stored media from your phone.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.