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PlayOn is, at its most basic, a way for you to organize and consolidate your streaming media. It also offers options for downloading and recording streaming media, although you have to pay for those features. PlayOn purports to offer more flexibility for people who are overwhelmed by the streaming options currently available. It’s not a huge name in the business, so you aren’t alone if you’re asking, “What is PlayOn?” Read on for the Cordcutting.com review of the PlayOn software.
PlayOn is available in two basic forms: PlayOn Desktop and PlayOn Cloud. The desktop app only works with Windows computers, so Mac users are out of luck in this case. I have a Windows laptop, and I found it easy to get to the download page on PlayOn’s website. The cloud app is exclusively for smartphones.
The desktop download is a pretty simple process, although there are constant reminders of what you’re missing out by not upgrading to the paid version. Once the download is complete, you can go to the channels tab and start linking your other streaming accounts to PlayOn’s media player.
You can connect to the big players like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. If you’re a cable subscriber, you’ll probably find your cable company listed under channels as well. HBO Go is also listed, but like pretty much every other channel, you must have an existing HBO GO account before you can start queuing up Game of Thrones. There are some free episodes offered (see the Content section for more), but this mostly a pay-to-play (on) service.
Switching between channels is a smooth process, but then again, it’s also a smooth process on my Roku TV. Even going from Netflix to Hulu on my laptop isn’t exactly complicated. I did find that the PlayOn app did a decent job of transferring my streaming profiles over from other sites. But it looks very much like a transfer rather than something organic. On other streaming sites, the shows are displayed in a more seamless way. PlayOn displays them like folders on your computer’s hard drive.
The video player is mostly fine. I had to wait a few seconds for my show to load, which gave me time to wonder why I wasn’t watching simply Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Hulu instead.
PlayOn has a PlayOn Picks channel that promises “totally free movies.” There are seven of those as of this writing. Some notable titles are Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, and The Hurt Locker. To be fair to PlayOn, the channel updates every month. If you want to try streaming, casting, or recording videos with the free plan, you can only do it with the movies available in PlayOn Picks.
If you’re thinking, “That’s all?” Well, so did I at first. Luckily, it’s not all. By my count, there are also 12 “subscription-free movies” available for free, including titles like the 2010 remake of True Grit and the romantic comedy classic Four Weddings and a Funeral. There’s more free TV available than movies, as the basic desktop version lets you access to the most recent episodes of shows like Riverdale and The Big Bang Theory.
In most cases, you’ll get access to the last five or six episodes, which is about the same number of episodes you can watch for free by going to the CW and CBS websites, respectively. There were some exceptions, though. I noticed a lot of Late Night with Seth Meyers episodes available, for instance. So if you can’t get enough of the “A Closer Look” segments on YouTube, knock yourself out.
The “most recent episodes” model reminds me of the early days of Hulu, back before it was a purely paid service. You won’t be able to binge watch an entire season of The Good Place, but you will be able to catch up on the last few episodes of Season 3, for instance. According to the company, they have content from networks including NBC, ABC, Fox, SpikeTV, Comedy Central, VH1, and MTV.
The FAQs for PlayOn can sometimes sound a bit defensive. There’s a lot of questions like “I already have Netflix and Hulu, so what will PlayOn add?” It mentions recording shows and then skipping ads, but again, you can only do that if you spring for one of the paid versions.
You can also use PlayOn to stream to additional devices, but only with the paid version. If you want to download shows to watch later, then guess what? That’s right; you’re going to have to give PlayOn your credit card info.
The quality on my laptop was fine. It was nothing to write home about. Except for the longish loading times, it seemed roughly comparable to the quality on the streaming sites themselves. But for a company like PlayOn to succeed in the long run, I’m not sure that’s going to cut it.
As mentioned before, the Desktop app only works on Windows laptops. The cloud app is compatible with both Android and Apple mobile devices.
Beyond that, the company says that “PlayOn is designed to work with most streaming devices.” It mentions Roku and Chromecast, but also says it works with consoles like Xbox, Playstation and Wii. I didn’t see a full list of compatible platforms on PlayOn’s website. The company does invite you to email firstname.lastname@example.org if you aren’t sure if your device is compatible.
PlayOn really wants you to pay for either the Cloud or Desktop versions. With the Cloud, you pay on a per-recording basis. In fact, you can pay $29.99 to get 150 cloud recordings. If you really wanted to, you could use PlayOn Cloud to record every episode of Perfect Strangers in existence (if you did not know Perfect Strangers is available for streaming, well, neither did I until about 30 seconds ago).
If you’re looking for unlimited recordings on your desktop, then you’ll want to check out the paid Desktop plan. The normal price is listed as $69.99 for unlimited recordings, but as of this writing, the site is offering it for $29.99. As long as that deal is still around, there’s no reason not to get unlimited recordings if you’re determined to pay for PlayOn’s service. Other desktop recording plans are available through PlayOn, but none as good as that.
The recordings are stored on the cloud for just 7 days. You can buy cloud recording and storage plans if you want to keep those Perfect Stranger episodes on the cloud for longer before transferring them to another device.
On your desktop, recordings won’t expire. PlayOn says that “unlike a traditional DVR, recording capacity isn’t capped.” It is capped, however, by the amount of room available on your computer’s hard drive. They won’t disappear after a set number of days, but at some point, you will have to delete some files if you want to make room for new downloads.
The biggest issue with PlayOn is that its basic plan doesn’t offer much that you can’t get elsewhere, and its paid plans also don’t really distinguish itself. The free version is basically a media player. The paid plan is a decent option only if you have too many shows already recorded on another service’s DVR.
Just about every streaming service lets you record video for offline viewing nowadays. It’s typically part of the monthly subscription plan. PlayOn requires you to pay an additional fee on top of that. If you’re planning on doing a lot of recording, it’s not a bad option, but right now, it feels like a redundant choice for most streamers, myself included.