What Is PlayOn?

Manage your streaming and digital media content with PlayOn

Official PlayOn Logo and Channel Table
Official PlayOn Logo and Channel Table. Images provided by PlayOn

PlayOn is a media server App for PCs (referred to as PlayOn Desktop). At its most basic, PlayOn Desktop organizes media content so that compatible devices can find and play photos, music, and movies already stored on your PC.

However, PlayOn also enables users to access and organize many online video streaming sites, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Comedy Central, ESPN, MLB, and a lot more (over 100 in total).

In addition to viewing it all on your PC, users can also stream the content to a compatible playback device, such as a media streamer like a Roku Box, Amazon Fire TV, or Chromecast, Smart TV, Network Blu-ray Disc player, or network-connected Game Console.

This means that even if your media streamer doesn't provide access to a specific service that PlayOn has access to, you can still watch it via the PlayOn app. In addition to the services listed, you can find more via the PlayOn browser. As long as your media streamer can access your PC running the PlayOn App you can access all the media streaming sites and services that are available via PlayOn App.

PlayOn Desktop Is a DLNA Media Server

PlayOn Desktop extends the capabilities of most DLNA-compliant media streamers, and other compatible devices (some Smart TVs, Blu-ray Disc players, and video game consoles). If installed on a network-connected PC, PlayOn is listed in your player's menu.

It is best to access the PlayOn DLNA media server through your player's video menu. Once accessed, the experience is similar to streaming a video from your computer.

Once you choose the PlayOn App from your home network's media sources, the different online streaming services will show up on the PlayOn Channel Table, signified by that channel's official logo.

Click on any of the Logos and you have access to its program offerings.

How PlayOn Is Able To Place-Shift Programming

Since Media streamer manufacturers must make deals with the various online streaming services in order to include them on their device, sometimes the service you want is not available on your device. However, with PlayOn, you can stream other services to your device that may not be already included, by "place shifting".

This is possible because PlayOn has a component that works as a media server, but at its core, it is really a web browser. When the PlayOn App streams from a streaming video website, the website sees it as just another computer's web browser.  The magic happens when the streaming video can be sent on from your PC to other devices.

PlayOn Desktop

There are two versions of PlayOn Desktop. The free version allows you play and stream content from several streaming services as well as your personal content on your desktop PC. You can also stream your personal content other compatible devices.

The upgraded version allows you to not only play and stream online and personal content on your PC, but you will be able to record and stream online content to another device.

PlayOn Desktop is free, but the Upgrade requires an extra fee (more on that below).

Also, although the PlayOn App can be downloaded for free, there may be added subscription or pay-per-view fees for some channels, such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and others.

The PlayOn Desktop Upgrade

The PlayOn Desktop upgrade lets you record and save videos from any of their accessible channels. Once recorded, the saved videos can be streamed to media servers and other devices compatible with the PlayOn App.

The Desktop Upgrade works like a DVR for online content. Since it is recording online streaming content PlayOn refers to this feature as an SVR (Streaming Video Recorder).

In a nutshell, click on any of the streaming media channels available on the PlayOn Channel Page, and choose a video to stream. PlayOn will record the video to your computer's hard drive to be viewed or streamed to another device at a later date. PlayOn records the selected video as it streams to your computer. Like a DVR, the recording happens in real time. An hour TV show will take the full hour to record.

You can set-up Play-On Desktop to record not only single programs but an entire TV series for later single episode viewing or binge-watching later. According to PlayOn, you can record anything that is available via its app, from Netflix to HBOGo.

However, if you are watching a video that includes ads (such as Crackle), it will record the ads as well. Although Ads are recorded, one of the benefits of the PlayOn Desktop upgrade is that you can skip the Ads during playback.

Recording live sporting events may have some restrictions, such as companion cable service subscription authentication.

For more specifics on additional steps that may be required to record content from specific channels, refer to PlayOn's Recording How-To Guides.

Why Record Online Streaming Media?

Why would you record online video when it is readily available whenever you want to watch it? Although it may seem that media can be streamed from online on-demand whenever you want it, there are times when it can be preferable to have a video saved to your hard drive instead of streaming from online.

There are advantages to recording online videos and saving them to your computer or device:

  • Movies and TV shows may only be available on a specific streaming service for a limited time. Only a certain number of episodes of a TV show may be available. You may want to record a TV show or movie while it is available, then watch the video when it is more convenient.
  • Subway riders, business travelers, and vacationers can save videos to watch during their commute or travels when there is limited or no internet access.  
  • Internet access may be slow and inadequate to stream video when you are away from home on vacation, business or visiting friends. You can take the TV shows and movies with you to watch at your leisure.
  • Broadband internet speeds may slow during peak hours, so you may not want to slow down your home network when others are streaming video, playing online games or working in your home. You can set PlayOn to record in off-peak hours so you don't interfere with other streaming bandwidth needs.

The PlayOn Desktop Upgrade will cost you $7.99 (month), $29.99 (year), $69.99 (lifetime). PlayOn reserves the right to change its pricing structure at any time for promotional or other purposes.

PlayOn Cloud

Another service that PlayOn offers is PlayOn Cloud. This service allows Android and iPhone users to record streaming content and save it to the Cloud. Once saved, the recordings can be view on an Android or iPhone/iPad. The files are recorded in MP4, so that they are easily playable anywhere or anytime, even offline. It costs $0.20 to $0.40 cents for each recording you make.

PlayOn Cloud also allows for AdSkipping, as well as Auto-Downloading via Wifi.

Unfortunately, the recordings aren't permanent but will remain playable for up to 30 days. However, during that time period, you can download the records to as many compatible devices as you want (as long as they are yours).

The Bottom Line

PlayOn is definitely an option that can add some extra flexibility to your internet streaming experience, such as being able to record streaming content. However, with the exception of PlayOn Cloud, you do need to have a PC and Home Network in the mix.

Also, content access through the PlayOn app is limited, when compared to what is available directly on some media streaming devices, such as the Roku Box, Google Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV, and it must also be pointed out that content access through PlayOn is limited to 720p resolution. For those that desire 1080p or 4K streaming capability, PlayOn may not be your solution.

On the other hand, if you take advantage the PlayOn Desktop Upgrade and/or PlayOn Cloud options, you do gain a lot of flexibility in terms being able to record, and then access your favorite streaming content whenever, or wherever, you want, on compatible devices (30-day limitation on PlayOn Cloud Recordings).

PlayOn Desktop and PlayOn Cloud features and services may change over time - For the most current information, check out their official homepage and complete FAQs.

Disclaimer: The core content of this article was originally written by Barb Gonzalez, but has been edited, reformatted, and updated by Robert Silva.