Today I'm going to review one of my favorite pieces of software PlayOn. It's a piece of software that runs on a computer which gives you access to Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and other online video sites on your XBox360, PS3 or Wii. While it works with DLNA-compatible devices, the focus has been on consoles. In this review I'm going to focus on the PS3 version, and leave the Wii for another time.
If anyone wants to donate their XBox360 to me so I can review on that platform as well, I'd be more than happy to take it.
Getting back to the review, there are a few sites PlayOn does out of the box, including Amazon VOD, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, ESPN, CBS and now "My Media". "My Media" allows you to add local files, music and pictures to stream to those other devices, so you can have one version of the truth (rather than copies of every picture on every machine).
But let's suppose you wanted to watch video from the ridiculously named "SyFy" website? While the program doesn't support every site out of the box, there's a site with third party plug-ins, including Crackle, SyFy, Cartoon Network and so on.
PlayOn is written in .Net and MediaMall has opened up their APIs to developers so they can make plug ins for any site that's not supported by default.
Great so now we have an idea as to what PlayOn does, how does it work?
Well, like I said, PlayOn runs on your computer. It is important that this computer is hard wired to your internet connection and your console to get proper performance. Additionally the computer has to be reasonably beefy, as here's what happens. The computer plays the video, and in real time re-encodes it into a mpeg stream. It streams that to the PS3, allowing you to watch just like any other video (using the same controls I might add). Since this is a stream FF/Rev don't always work properly and you can have issues where the computer hasn't streamed enough (or the connection to the website is dropped) leading to playback issues. Also, since everything is done on the computer, you don't have to worry about DRM issues on your console.
So on the PS3, PlayOn integrates into the video list. It acts like a folder, letting you browse which service and then the different ways a site has organized their video. While for Netflix I'll stick with the PS3 Disc, it does fairly well on sites such as Hulu and YouTube.
The problem comes in when Hulu or YouTube changes their site. Every time the site changes, there needs to be a new update to your PlayOn software and it may not always work properly. That said, when it does work, you could almost leave cable and other TV services behind for this.
Oh and did I mention, because it is a stream you can at least fly through the Hulu commercials at 1.5x speed? As for picture quality, the HD video is indistinguishable from over the air HD to me. And the audio for HD on Hulu? For now it seems to be stereo, but that could change in the future easily enough.
PlayOn is not free, but you do get a 14 day trial.
Oh and the next review of PlayOn will be through the Wii. It accomplishes this through the web browser.
- Video Quality - Superb
- Audio Quality - OK (Stereo)
- Controls - Great (Just as expected)
- Selection - Wonderful (Almost enough for me to give up cable)
- Streaming Issues - Yes (Streams break, SW Updates)