PlayOn From A Cord Cutters Perspective (A Review After A Year Of Use)
When I first was considering cutting the cord, I did a lot of research. I wanted to be able to get rid of the bloat of cable but still be able to watch certain shows. I was definitely of the mindset that I didn’t want to give up ANYTHING.
My research led me to PlayOn. PlayOn is a piece of software that you load on a computer. Using it, you can stream content from different streaming service websites to other devices (Roku, AppleTV, X-Box, PlayStation, phones, tablets, etc). We already had a Roku so by using the roku PlayOn app, we could browse through the different channels that PlayOn had available for the various websites. They have channels for NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, CW, Hulu (so you could get regular Hulu content), TBS, TNT, HGTV, USA, MTV, and so many more (including Amazon Prime and Netflix, but roku already had native apps for that). They also had a piece of software called PlayLater that allowed you to record content from any of these channels and save it on your local machine for future use.
The software cost a 1 time fee of $70 for both PlayOn and PlayLater. I was already planning on buying a new computer anyway for some games I wanted to play so I thought it’d be a good investment.
One thing that PlayOn would help us do was watch certain CBS shows that aren’t available on Hulu but CBS makes available on their site. (This was before CBS All Access came out). It also allowed us to watch a lot of content from these other networks that are usually only available by viewing on computer only. PlayOn works by actually streaming and playing the video on the computer and then sending the feed to the computer. It’s sort of like ChromeCast except you can control it all from your Roku or other connected device and it’s hidden on the computer (you don’t actually see it playing on your computer).
Well, shortly after I cut the cord, the landscape of these websites started making a major change. A lot of these sites (TBS and TNT in particular) you could watch their content online without having to log in with a cable provider, now almost every cable network requires this except the stations you can typically get over the air.
Of course, if you’re a cord cutter, you don’t have a cable subscriptions. All of those channels became useless. Plus, PlayOn has never successfully gotten those websites to work with the television provider logons anyway. They are extremely buggy.
In addition to this the PlayOn interface is very generic and stark. It’s difficult to navigate, difficult to search, and just unappealing all around. It’s constantly updating, as well. It never feels very stable. But it still worked for getting CBS content, even after CBS came out with “All Access” so I kept it around if only for that.
Well, much more recently I loaded Plex on the same computer. And Plex, is free. I never knew what it was capable of, always thought it was just for people with digital movie/tv libraries on a home network… and it is… but it does so much more. When I first started using it, I discovered how clean and amazing the interface was on Roku, and I used it to watch the library of PlayLater videos because it was so hard to sort them and really enjoy them watching through the PlayOn interface.
However I have learned that Plex has channels as well. In the same way, you can watch content directly from the CBS, CW, ABC, NBC, etc websites. The interface is so much better. I was overjoyed. I really wish I’d found this first. The only cost was a $5 one time fee for the Roku App so I could watch the content on my connected device.
After discovering this, I’ve basically packed PlayOn away. It’s only real use is when I want to record something with PlayLater, but honestly it’s a pain. You can’t set it like a DVR, you have to go in and record manually everything you want. Also you can’t always do that through the roku interface. The option is there, but not always (guess it depends on what happened in the most recent upgrade.) So this typically means once a week I go to the computer and open PlayLater at night and setup a bunch of downloads. It’s not a big deal but again, it really wasn’t worth the money.
All and all, PlayOn wasn’t really worth the investment. I never used it as often as I thought I would in the beginning and there are just other better more polished options out there for Cord cutters I think.