Many of you may be familiar with the VLC video player from its Windows version, but they also have a version for Android which also works on Fire TV devices. VLC is a great addition to Fire TV for moderate to advanced users, as it allows you to stream videos from internal storage, from Windows Shares over your local network, or from standard video streaming services. I use it mostly to access videos from Windows/Samba shares on my local network. Unlike other solutions like Plex which require additional software to be installed and index your content, VLC can play a video straight over the network share. Just share a folder to the network, and you can play anything in there without any complications.
Why sideload though? Amazon Appstore has the VLC for Fire app already there. You can just click to install and you’re ready to go. Unfortunately the version in the appstore is old, flaky, and rarely updated. At this writing, the Amazon Appstore has version 2.1.11 of VLC, while the latest available is 3.0.5. With the version from the appstore, I was having frequent problems with hangs, crashes, buffering during playback, and problems playing some files. After sideloading the latest version, all of these problems disappeared.
Sideloading is a bit complex, but it’s not too hard. Even if you’ve never sideloaded before, you can go through this step by step and be running the latest VLC in no time.
There are a couple of things to prepare your Fire TV to sideload VLC:
First, you need to turn on the ability to install sideloaded apps. This may sound a bit scary, but all this does is let you install things that didn’t come directly from Amazon. As long as you are careful to install only apps from reputable sources, you should be fine. On your Fire TV, go to Settings at the top right of the home screen, then click on “Device”, then “Developer options”, then look if it says ON or OFF under “Apps from Unknown Sources”. If it says “ON”, you’re already set. If not, press it and then select “Turn On”.
Second, you’ll need to uninstall VLC if it you’ve already installed it from the appstore. If you don’t do this, it will try to upgrade it during sideloading but fail because the application source was different, so you have to uninstall what you have first. Go to “Settings”, then “Applications”, then “Manage Installed Applications”. Scroll down to VLC and if it is there, click on it, then click on “Uninstall”. When it is done, repeat these steps again to confirm that VLC is no longer listed.
Next you have to get the APK which is the application package installer loaded on your Fire TV. If you’ve ever done sideloading on a phone or tablet you probably just hooked it up via USB to your computer and dragged and dropped the file to the device’s storage. You can’t really do things that easily with Fire TV. Fortunately there’s an app for that. Go to the home screen on your Fire TV device. If you have an Alexa enabled Fire TV device, just hold down the microphone button and say “Downloader” or, go to the main screen’s search feature in the upper left and type in “Downloader”. You should see a big orange button called “Downloader”. Click on that and install it.
Now that “Downloader” is installed, go to the home screen and click on and run “Downloader”. If it isn’t on the apps list on the main screen you may need to search for it in your apps list. It will then prompt you to enter the source you want to download and install from. For VLC, you want to enter “get.videolan.org” and then press the “Go” button. This is the official VLC website. Be careful not to get it from any other source. Next scroll down and click on “vlc-android”. On the next screen select the version you want to install. You’ll usually want the latest version.
On the next screen you’ll see a list of APKs for various platforms. Which one should you choose for Fire TV? If you have a 4K Fire TV device, then you probably want the ARMv8.apk package. If you have a 1080p Fire TV device, you want ARMv7.apk. Click on the appropriate version and a few seconds later the download should start. It may take a few seconds or minutes to download depending on your network speed. Once it does it should prompt you to install. Scroll down and click “Install” and a few seconds later it will say “App installed” if it was successful.
If for some reason it says “App not installed” then something went wrong. If you were trying to install the ARMv8.apk package, go back and try the ARMv7.apk package instead. Otherwise go back to the start of this guide and make sure that unknown sources is turned on, and any existing VLC package is uninstalled.
Once it installs successfully you can go back to the home screen and look for it in your list of apps or search your apps for VLC and run it. Then scroll down to the “Other” menu and make sure “About” shows the correct version number. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
One thing to keep in mind is that since you manually installed VLC, it will not be automatically updated by the appstore. You should periodically upgrade to the latest available version if you want to keep up to date. If you upgrade using the same source then you can install it without needing to uninstall the current version.