Released a year after its groundbreaking predecessor, the iPad 2 is a little lighter, a lot thinner and considerably faster than the original. It also now has cameras. However, the screen and operating system remain the same, so the overall user experience is not that much different – though if you’ve used the original iPad, then you will notice the speed bump.
So how does the iPad 2 stack up as a home entertainment device? It’s a difficult call, but we venture to say that it’s not quite there yet. As a media player it has its limits. The screen resolution is not as high as we’ve seen in other tablets. The 4:3 screen aspect ratio, while great for browsing the web and reading ebooks, means that if you watch movies on it you’ll likely have black bars at the top and bottom of the display. And it doesn’t come with native HDMI out – you have to buy a special docking adapter for that.
In terms of media playback software, you have iTunes pre-installed which is great for playing videos that you download from the iTunes Store, but struggles with anything else. Videos downloaded from BitTorrent, for example, have to be converted in iTunes on your PC before they can be played on your iPad.
There is third-party software that will play back media better than the built-in player, however. VLC, for example, can be downloaded from the App Store and will play just about anything. Streaming players that can play directly from media servers (obviating the need to copy the media to the iPad) are more rare and we’ve yet to find one that’s really up to snuff. You can try Media:connect or PlugPlayer, but they’re in a very rough state. Thankfully, the awesome XBMC media player is soon to come out on iOS, which may change the platform forever.
The iPad has outstanding support for content creation with iMovie and GarageBand as well a great support for home AV equipment. Being by far the most widely used tablet platform, it has been the first port of call for new apps to remotely manage your home gear. Harman, Philips, Yamaha, Marantz and many others have already released apps (and good ones, too!) that allow you to control your networked-connected receiver and other AV gear from your iPad. If your AV gear has an Ethernet port, it’s worth checking if there’s an iPad control app for it – it’s a solid bet that there is.