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Internet TV with Playon

Around Christmas, Playon.tv had a special where you could get a year of Playon service for $19 bucks. I figured it was worth a shot and signed up. Playon is software that runs on your PC and allows you to stream internet video content to your Xbox, PS3, Wii or mobile device (similar to tversity pro). I installed it on my HTPC last month and have been trying it on the Xbox, iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro with XBMC.

Setting up the Playon server software up is straight forward. Simply double-click the installer and follow the instructions – boom done. Getting it to work as advertised, however, is slightly more complicated. First there are the requirements:

  1. Ideally you’d want to install Playon on a PC with a powerful multi core processor and lots of ram.
  2. The Playon server should really be running all the time.
  3. The Playon server needs to be connected to a high speed internet connection.

My DVR seemed to be a pretty good fit. It runs Windows XP, has a dual core 2.8GHz processor, 4Gigs of RAM, and is always turned on/connected to the Internet. My Internet connection isn’t blazingly fast, but I’m supposed to have download speeds of up to 3mbps. I assumed I was good to go and pressed ahead with the installation.

Once the Playon server software was installed, double-clicking the program shortcut just yielded the server settings. This interface allows you to customize/enable available internet video content channels such as Netflix (account required) in addition to starting/stopping the service and some advanced settings for streaming existing content on your PC etc.

The system check tab lets you run some performance tests on your computer and Internet connection to see whether or not your server setup meets the requirements for Playon to work properly. NOTE: It may be a good idea to download the DEMO and install it on your own computer to verify whether or not your own setup meets the requirements before purchasing a license.

With the Playon server installed and running you’re ready to access it using your various network connected devices. According to the instructions, to watch the Comedy Central on a connected Xbox, simply turn it on and navigate to My Xbox->Videos->Computer. There you should see and be able to select the computer that has Playon installed and browse through each available channel to view available content such as the Colbert Report.

In practice, however, I found the process of selecting and watching Playon server shows to be be a slow and somewhat buggy experience. More often than not I found myself staring at 10-30 seconds of loading screen on my Xbox/iPad followed by some sort of playback error.

Navigating back to the available shows list and re-selecting the same show for playback again sometimes fixed the problem, but sometimes yielded a temporary failure in being able to browse any shows at all for a while.

When the system did work as advertised, videos were at times slow and choppy during playback with my 3mbps DSL connection and if you’re watching things on a large HD screen you should realize that the video quality will be subpar.

For the iPhone/iPad, there’s a free Playon App that lets you browse/watch shows as long as you are connected to the same network as your Playon server. Once installed, the App will show you your local Playon server and you can then navigate through the channels and select the show it has available. While the Apps interface is pretty straight forward, lots of useful features such as search are not available. Also some of the same playback issues I found using the Xbox seemed to plague the iPhone/iPad app (i.e. problems with playback).

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In short, if you were planning to channel surf Internet TV using Playon or replace your cable service, it ain’t happening. I’m glad I tried it as an alternative to watching Netflix with an Xbox Live Gold membership, but considering all the issues I experienced so far I will not be renewing my Playon license next year.

For me gold old cable service will have a place in my home for the foreseeable future. I just like to switch on the TV sometimes and have something come on without making a decision or waiting for something to load, re-load, and then stall in the middle of the best part.

If you’re unsure about Internet TV and whether or not it is right for you, I encourage you to watch this Internet TV experiment from Hill Holiday on CruchGear. It does an excellent job at pointing out the problems with Internet Television.

February 20, 2011

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5 comments found

Comments for: Internet TV with Playon

  1. Kurt Heebeck

    The line above that says “In short, if you were planning to channel surf Internet TV using PlayOn or replace your cable service, it ain’t happening.” This is the most absurd thing I have ever heard. I’ve had a Roku with a PlayOn plugin for about a year now and there are a thousand plugins and scripts for Roku and PlayOn. With this there is easily a thousand times more programming out there than you could possibly imagine. Anything, and I mean ANYTHING, you want to watch is at your fingertips 24/7. It’s a big mistake to try to discourage this. It’s a big world out there and video IP streaming is a still a ground floor opportunity and there is room for Roku, PlayOn, Internet TV, and another thousand competitors to become giant companies. The only thing you could do to fail is waste your time knocking the competition. Keep your eye on the ball that you have in play and if you are unable or unwilling to learn how to navigate in this new environment, then grab a pole and just go fishing while everyone else moves forward into the 21st century. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that nobody has a clue how big this is going to become. BTW, if you are still running XP on your computer then the best advice I could give you is get out of the way because the rest of the world is going to scream past you at warp speed. The Dark Ages used to be 1000 – 2000 years ago but the today the Dark Age was yesterday. A very good friend of ran the best bulletin board in the area 15 years ago and shut it down to start the first internet provider in our city and he became the joke of the time. Well, everyone knew back then the internet would never survive; it was just too slow and would always be text driven with no possibility of displaying pictures of any kind+. He was just wasting his time and his money. He is, of course, worth millions today. He never thought of his competitors in a negative way. The more competition, the more interested everyone became in this new industry and so it will be with internet streaming TV. Advertisers are already putting a big share of their advertising budget into this new industry. Every successful business looks at their competition to learn not to criticize.

    1. Post author: 
      David Vielmetter

      Kurt,

      I respect your opinion and if Playon works for you, that’s great. By the line you referenced, I am simply referring to the fact that Internet TV is not an instant on content provider. Yes, I agree that there are thousands of programs you can view on a roku. The point I was trying to make is that if you’re just looking to switch on the TV and enjoy a soap half way through or watch CNN without making any further decisions, then the Roku or Internet TV for that matter aren’t what you want.

      It’s a fundamental difference in philosophy and granted my view on this may be a bit dated. I like to turn on the TV and be able to flip through channels of instant-on contet without an idea of what I want to watch. When something catches my eye, I’ll keep watching for an extended period of time. You simply cannot do this with any Internet TV product I know of. With the Roku or any other ITV delivery device, you must make a decision on what to watch before you can watch it. Then when you’re watching it and don’t like what you see, you have to have something else you want to watch in mind before you can switch to that.

      This is simply the point I was trying to make. I like making very little decisions when I get home from a long day of work, and ITV does not allow me to do this.

      Thanks for posting your opinion though…I hope it helps make up someone’s mind and it’s always good to have multiple points of view on any subject matter.

      Cheers,
      David Vielmetter

  2. Eric M

    David,

    Thanks for your excellent review of PlayOn. My family would agree with your assessment.

    I’ve installed various combinations of internet tv in my house using Appletv 3, Roku2, PC, WDTVlive and game consoles and serving up PlayOn as well as Plex, Twonky, XBMC, Netflix, Hulu, Crackle and a personal collection of media files including usenet/torrent SMB automation for new content.

    All this with the goal of severing ties with the cable company.

    The fact is that with all that, people still want to channel surf in real-time. I haven’t found any technology yet that will let me do that.

    I also agree that the quality and lag are subpar. Again, my family has no tolerance for that when they can watch cable in HD with no waiting.

    Options like PlayOn are a step closer to media utopia in the living room as they can help reduce the amount of premium content we pay the cable company for and gives some of the search&select capabilities that can replace PVRs.

    I had high hopes that googleTV or iTV would be the answer that would marry these into one solution but I think the networks will resist this as long as they can.

    Eric

    1. Post author: 
      David Vielmetter

      Eric,

      Thanks for taking the time to chime in. I agree wholeheartedly and also had high hopes for Google TV. Bought a Sony GoogleTV when they came out only to find it buggy and somewhat abandoned by Google as a technolgy. I now have FIOS TV Service and have in fact severed by ties to the Cable Company. That said I’m paying the same amount for FIOS that I was paying to the Cable company so as far as cost is concerned, there’s not a big difference.

      Cheers,
      David

  3. don

    I have playon by the month I love the recording feature and now they updating it I don’t have cable now cost way to much. I love playon where I can go to a internet tv streaming and record it put it in playon to watch later or cast it to the tv.

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