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iOS8 Day-by-Day :: Day 26 :: AVKit

Posted on 11 Sep 2014 Written by Sam Davies

Updated 9 Apr 2015: This post has been updated to Swift 1.2

This post is part of a daily series of posts introducing the most exciting new parts of iOS8 for developers – #iOS8DayByDay. To see the posts you’ve missed check out the index page, but have a read through the rest of this post first!

To enjoy each of the 39 posts all in one place, you can now also download the iOS8 Day-by-Day eBook free from our website! 


If you want to play a video in iOS then you’ve traditionally been presented with two choices. If you want simple playback with framework provided UI then you could use MPMoviePlayerViewController, or if you require fine-grain control of the underlying AVFoundation pipeline then you could use an AVPlayer, rendered through an AVPlayerLayer. The problem with these approaches is that the former doesn’t give you much control over the playback process, whereas the latter requires that you create your own UI.

AVKit is new to iOS8 and pulls both scenarios into a common pipeline. AVPlayerViewController effectively deprecates MPMovePlayerViewController, and sits on top of AVFoundation. It provides contextual video playback UI that matches that of the OS, and plays any AVPlayer object from AVFoundation.

In today’s post you’ll discover how easy it is to integrate AVKit into your app, and see some of the cool new things you can do. The app which accompanies the article is a simple video player, which uses the Photos framework to find videos in the user’s library, and then plays them using AVKit. You can download the source code from the ShinobiControls github at If you’re using the simulator then you can add some videos to the library by dragging them in from the finder, and then selecting “save” from the sharing menu.

Using AVKit to play a video

AVKit is an incredibly simple framework – consisting of just one class on iOS – AVPlayerViewController. This is a subclass of UIViewController with a few additional properties associated with video playback. The most important of these is the player property, which is of type AVPlayer. This is a class from AVFoundation and represents the control of playback. In the past if you wanted to use AVPlayer, you’d use the AVPlayerLayer subclass of CALayer to visualize the video stream, and create your own UI for video controls. AVPlayerViewController handles both of these things for you, simply by setting the player property to an AVPlayer object.

AVPlayerViewController is fully integrated into Interface Builder – so you can just drag one onto the storyboard from the object library:


In this example, the player is a contained by the VideoDetailViewController, which sets up the player property appropriately.

Note: If you do reference AVKit within the storyboard, then you may well have to manually link against the library yourself – like off’ve the olden days. You can do this from the project settings page, in the Linked Frameworks and Libraries panel.

There are two ways you can create an AVPlayer – either with a URL or a PlayerItem. The URL approach matches the MPMoviePlayerViewController use case – where the location of a video file, either local or remote, is provided. AVFoundation then takes care of grabbing the content, buffering it and then playing it back.

  if let avpVC = self.childViewControllers.first as? AVPlayerViewController {
    dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue()) {
      let url = NSURL(string: "/path/to/my/video")
      avpVC.player = AVPlayer(URL: url)

The player-item approach is a link into the AVFoundation pipeline, and allows you to specify assets and create AVFoundation compositions for playback.

Setting the player property is all that you you need to do to get video playback with fully adaptive and context aware playback controls:

Standard UI Fullscreen UI

Integration with Photos Framework

Back on day 20 we had a quick run-down of the new Photos framework, and how it can make access to the photo library super-easy on iOS8. Well, despite its name, the Photos framework also includes access to all of the videos in the user’s library, and with that comes the ability to use AVKit for easy playback.

If you take a look at the accompanying VCR app, you’ll see it is a master- detail app, which shows a list of all videos, with thumbnails in the master, and then plays the video back when the user taps on a specific cell.

List View

Grabbing all the videos from the library using the Photos framework is simple:

videos = PHAsset.fetchAssetsWithMediaType(.Video, options: nil)

And getting thumbnails for the table cells is similarly easy:

  self.imageManager?.requestImageForAsset(videoAsset, targetSize: CGSize(width: 150, height: 150),
                                          contentMode: .AspectFill, options: nil) {
    image, info in
    self.thumbnailImageView.image = image

The PHImageManager class has several methods for requesting video content – one of which will return a AVPlayerItem – exactly what’s needed to create the AVPlayer needed by AVKit. It’s an asynchronous API, since the PHAsset you’re requesting the AVPlayerItem for might well be remote. Here, the videoAsset is a property of type PHAsset, provided by the master view controller during the segue to the detail:

  imageManager?.requestPlayerItemForVideo(videoAsset, options: nil, resultHandler: {
    playerItem, info in
    self.player = AVPlayer(playerItem: playerItem)

The player property has a didSet closure, which will provide the new AVPlayer to the appropriate child view controller:

var player: AVPlayer? {
  didSet {
    if let avpVC = self.childViewControllers.first as? AVPlayerViewController {
      dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue()) {
        avpVC.player = self.player

Note that since setting the player property on the AVPlayerViewController is going to be performing lots of UI operations, it’s imperative that it is called on the main queue – hence the dispatch_async() call.

You can see this in action in the VCR app which accompanies the project. It has a relatively small amount of code to create a simple video browser and playback tool.

AVFoundation Pipeline

As mentioned at the top of this article, on of the great features of the new AVPlayerViewController is that it sits on top of, and allows access to, the underlying AVFoundation pipeline. This means that you can easily visualize the output of the complex compositing and audio-mixing effects that you apply to your input videos.

As a simple demonstration of this, the VCR app uses AVQueuePlayer to preface the playback of every video in the library with a surprisingly irritating countdown timer.

func configureView() {
  if let videoAsset = videoAsset {
    imageManager?.requestPlayerItemForVideo(videoAsset, options: nil, resultHandler: {
      playerItem, info in
      self.player = self.createPlayerByPrefixingItem(playerItem)

Here, the createPlayerByPrefixingItem() method is used to create an AVPlayer which includes the requested item, and also the file, located within the app’s bundle:

private func createPlayerByPrefixingItem(playerItem: AVPlayerItem) -> AVPlayer {
  let countdown = AVPlayerItem(URL: NSBundle.mainBundle().URLForResource("countdown_new", withExtension: "mov"))
  return AVQueuePlayer(items: [countdown, playerItem])

This means that when the user selects a video for playback, they’ll first have to sit through this delight:


Obviously this is somewhat of a stupid example, but it shows that you have access to the complete AVFoundation pipeline, as well as the convenience of system-provided playback UI.


If you’re using MPMoviePlayerViewController then you don’t need to worry about it being deprecated – it’s still around. However, more than likely, it’ll be a really easy operation to switch to the new AVPlayerViewController – much of the API is replicated (well, from MPMoviePlayerController).

If you’ve had to implement your own UI on top of an AVPlayerLayer then transitioning to AVPlayerViewController is likely to be a little more difficult. However, it does reduce the area of code that you’re responsible for as iOS upgrades in future. It also ensures that a common appearance for playing videos is used across both the system apps and yours.

Combined with the ease of plugging the new Photos framework into AVKit, it’s certainly worth taking a look at. If you’re implementing new video playback functionality in an app then AVKit is definitely the place to start – and will serve you well 90% of the time.

As mentioned in the introduction, the accompanying app demos building a simple video browser and player for all the videos in the user’s library. The source code is available on github at Give me a shout if you have any feedback – either in the comments below, or on Twitter – I’m @iwantmyrealname.


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