Video you can touch
Every app store has its bleak and early days, when quality apps are rare, buried in heaps of throw-it-against-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks, fart apps, poorly coded abominations, and general dreck. The iTunes App Store had them. The Play Store—formerly Android Market—had them. The Window Store, well, it's dredged in those early days right now—but video apps are a shining star amongst the quagmire.
The modern UI beating at the heart of all Windows 8 and Windows RT apps ensures a similar experience across all of the apps you'll find in the Windows Store, making them simple and clean and designed to run full-screen. For many types of content, this isn’t ideal. For video, it’s perfect.
Here are seven Windows 8 video apps that don't suck. Your mileage shouldn't vary.
A platform without a Netflix app is like a fish without a fishcycle. Fear not, Netflix is available in the Windows Store, and it’s a pretty decent implementation. You can play content in HD where available, and cast and crew names, genre, et cetera are all clickable to find other content with those actors or in those genres. The “Home” screen keeps track of your recently-watched shows so you can resume any of them right where you left off.
Unlike much of the Metro interface, you can’t just start typing to search in the Netflix app. You have to open the Charms bard and select “Search”. You can, however, use the type-to-search feature from the Start screen if you select “Netflix” from the search bar at right.
A Netflix streaming subscription is required, and costs $7.99 per month.
Hulu Plus is another popular streaming video service that requires a monthly subscription. Like Netflix, it’s $7.99 per month. In my opinion, the big draw of Hulu Plus is its partnership with the Criterion Collection, giving it a huge catalog of great cinema. However, it also offers many big-name TV shows, frequently putting up new episodes the day after the show airs.
Hulu Plus isn't perfect, though. Its video quality tops out at 720p, the service runs frequent ads, and some of Hulu's content isn’t available in the Windows 8 app. Instead, trying to watch some shows—the Simpsons, for example—launches Hulu in a desktop browser window. (Assuming, of course, that you’re on Windows 8 instead of Windows RT.)
The Video app
The Video app that Microsoft ships with Windows 8 is pretty limited, and its primary function seems to be to try to get you to rent or buy videos and movies. In fact, when you launch it, the phrase “Xbox Video” is the first thing you see.
If you scroll left, you’ll see “My videos.” Your local video files will show up there if you show the app where to look, but there’s no organization and the app displays files even if it can't play them.
On the positive side, it’s dead easy to stream content from this app to your Xbox 360, though playback controls are limited if you’re not playing content you bought from Microsoft.
If you’re looking for a free, simple way to watch YouTube videos in the modern UI (other than, you know, the browser), look no further than YouWatch. YouWatch lets you change video resolution all the way up to 1080p (were available) and supports type-to-search.
Unfortunately, YouWatch doesn’t offer channel support or playlists, and it doesn’t let you sign in to your YouTube account. On the bright side, it doesn’t show comments, either. You’re alright, YouWatch.
On the other end of the features spectrum is YouTube+ (and its competitor, YouTube RT). YouTube+ costs $2.99, but its feature set is enormous. Not only can you log in to your YouTube account, but you can browse and modify your playlists and subscriptions, change resolutions, view and write comments (sigh), and best of all, download videos to watch later. The app also utilizes the media control keys on many keyboards.
YouTube+'s clean, intuitive interface is a breeze to use. It’s one of the few Windows 8 video apps that’s preferable to the browser version.
Videosnacker is not a fully featured YouTube browser, but rather a curated collection of channels, in sections like Business, Comedy, Education, Gaming, Lifestyle, Music, and News. There are no quality options, but playing a video fullscreen increases the resolution. The app isn’t searchable, alas, but works well in snapped mode.
VideoSnacker is best used for, well, snacking. If you just want to turn on a curated channel and relax, it’s a great experience, but people looking for customizable playlists or searches should look elsewhere.
Multimedia 8 plays music as well as video, and so comes closer to truly being a media app than most apps in the Windows Store. Multimedia 8 supports local playback and can connect to network shares, making it a useful quasi-replacement for Windows Media Center, which itself is now a $10 premium upgrade for Windows 8 Pro users only.
The UI is Metro-like but not particularly pretty, and search can be slow, but it can play in the background and uses Windows media controls. It’s no match for a decent desktop player like VLC, but it’s better than nothing and the best jack-of-all-trades media player the Windows Store currently has on offer.
If you’re using Windows RT, the Windows Store is the only place you can find video playing apps, and we’ve yet to find one that isn’t half-baked, missing features, or compromised in some way. But if you're running Windows 8 proper, there’s one place you can find every great video app: the traditional Windows desktop.
Yep, that familiar old legacy desktop solves every complaint we have with Metro video apps. The web version of Hulu Plus doesn’t have content restrictions, while desktop apps like VLC Player play tons of video formats—and you can install optional codec packs that offer support for scads more.
The desktop also allows you to install software for DVD and Blu-ray playback. The modern UI, not so much. Given the anemic app selection of the modern UI, truly serious video watching will be confined—or should we say liberated?—to the desktop for years to come.