One drawback of Roku devices is the limited content. Sure you can get Netflix along with numerous other channels. Yet there’s still a big world outside of Roku’s walls. Even current network shows are hard to come by on Roku without a Hulu Plus subscription. NokNok is one way to do it, but it’s clunky and not ready for primetime. But MediaMall Technologies’ Playon software blows through Roku’s barriers.
What is Playon?
Playon streams major network (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) programs, Hulu, including the free ad-supported service, YouTube, ESPN sports (live and on-demand), and other content through your Roku box. Veteran cord-cutters are already familiar with Playon. The software has been around since 2008 for video game systems like Playstation and Xbox as well as other devices. Playon was released for Roku in 2010.
How it works
Google TV and Boxee set out to bring web content to the TV only to be blocked by Hulu and the major networks. So how does Playon do it? The software works as a browser, and it turns your PC into a media server. In other words, Playon, working in the background, pulls up content such as Hulu on the PC (not a set-top box or other device that would be blocked), then streams it from the PC to DLNA compliant devices like Roku boxes.
Since Playon processes and streams video from your PC, you’ll need some muscle. I’m not going to run through all of the minimum requirements, but here are the basics: You’ll need a Windows operating system (Sorry Mac users, PCs only), preferably a dual core or higher processor, and a broadband connection. The more power you have, the better Playon will work. Also keep in mind that you will have to make sure that the PC’s hibernation mode is turned off. If not, Playon will shut off every time your computer goes to sleep.
Downloading and installing Playon is simple and straight forward. Once the software is setup on the PC, sign into your Roku account, click on “my account,” go to “add channel,” type “Playon,” and you’re ready to roll.
What You’ll Get
Let’s get right to Playon’s killer feature, Hulu. Sure an official Hulu Plus channel is already offered on Roku for $7.99 per month. But Playon brings the free ad-supported Hulu library, which only streams directly to PCs, to your Roku box. This alone will take your on-demand video experience to a whole new level of goodness. With free Hulu, you’ll get on-demand content from all the major networks (except CBS) including current episodes along with its huge catalog of other shows and movies. Playon doesn’t stop there. On-demand programs from CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Spike, Food Network, HGTV, SYFY, and other popular channels are represented as well. You can also stream on-demand and live sports programming through ESPN and ESPN 3. Some services that are already available as Roku channels, such as Netflix and Pandora, stream through Playon too. But in these instances, I recommend using the Roku channels.
Playon does provide YouTube which isn’t officially available for Roku devices. YouTube works, but you can’t simply search for individual videos. You have to type specific usernames and channels into the Playon YouTube settings on your PC. From there, you can only select videos from those usernames and channels as well as from preloaded categories such as “Top Rated,” “Most Viewed,” and “Most Popular.”
You can make Playon even more powerful by taking advantage of “plugins.” Plugins are additional channels created by third-party developers. For example, I added TV Land, History Channel, and WB plugins. Now I can watch on-demand shows from these cable channels as well. So Playon is more than software, it’s a platform.
Although Playon currently does not stream in HD, the picture quality is generally smooth and clear. But the video on some shows can be a little jerky. Also, early on I had some audio distortion during streaming. In fact, it was so annoying, I was about to write Playon off altogether. I contacted tech support. Within about 15 minutes they emailed me a response. I followed the instructions, and the problem was resolved. I can still occasionally hear some audio distortion, but it’s very slight and audio quickly returns to normal. In short, Playon’s overall performance is quite good.
When Playon was launched for Roku devices, a subscription cost $34.99 for the first year and $19.99 for each following year. I didn’t like that pricing scheme, so I took a pass. Playon now offers subscriptions for $4.99 per month and $39.99 per year. You can also buy a lifetime license. The one-time lifetime fee recently jumped from $59.99 to $89.99. I got in on a $49.99 lifetime license deal that Playon offered last month. As you can see, Playon pricing is all over the place. But before purchasing, I highly recommend taking advantage of Playon’s 14 day trial. Make sure it works with your setup before dropping $49.99, $89.99, or whatever Playon is charging at the time.
But if you’re a serious penny pincher looking to dump cable, you could buy the lowest priced Roku box for $59.99 and a lifetime Playon license for $89.99. Basically you’ll shell out about $150 and have enough TV to turn your brain to mush with no monthly fees.
What Playon Got Right:
· Free Ad-Supported Hulu
· Major Network (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) Programs And Tons Of Other Content
· Live and On-Demand Sports Through ESPN & ESPN 3
· Playon Plugins
· Good Streaming Quality
. Excellent Tech Support
· 2 Week Free Trial
What’s Not So Good:
· Inconsistent Pricing – Playon Needs To Set One Price For Each Subscription Option And Stick With It.
· YouTube Needs Some Work
· No HD
· Not Available For Macs – Windows PCs Only
Overall, Playon is an impressive product that has exceeded my expectations. Adding this software to your cord-cutting arsenal is like putting your Roku box on steroids. It’s one step closer to bringing any video that’s available online to a set-top box. So whether you’re a new cord-cutter or an old pro, Playon can take your Roku box to the next level.
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