There’s good news and bad news when it comes to watching streaming internet video. The good news is that there are now many new legal ways to watch video on your PC (think of web sites like Hulu, YouTube, and even NetFlix with it’s new streaming service). Those sites have an amazing amount of content available and more and more is getting added every day. Hulu lets you watch full episodes of hundreds of TV shows like “The Office” and “The Daily Show” as well as a growing catalog of movies with very few commercial interruptions. NetFlix allows their subscribers to stream over 10,000 movie and television selections (see my previous posts here and here). And YouTube lets you watch just about anything that isn’t copyrighted (and even some content which is).
The bad news with many of these services is that you’re still tethered to the computer when you want to use them. Hulu and YouTube are designed to be viewed from within a browser. NetFlix works the same way, although it does offer the Roku NetFlix Player which can be connected directly to your TV (read about that here).
I’ve talked about various ways to be able to watch that content on your television instead of on your PC but, outside of Roku’s NetFlix Player, most of those solutions get pretty complex. But now there’s a new piece of software out there which may finally allow you to easily watch that web content on your television. It’s from MediaMall Technologies and its name is PlayOn. Let’s take a look.
In a previous article I talked about a way to connect devices in your living room to content on your computer using exciting acronyms like UPnP and DLNA and a PC-based UPnP server called TVersity (you can read that post here). PlayOn works in very much the same way in that it gets installed on your PC as a UPnP server and is able to take an existing video source and convert it into a format that can be displayed on a device which you may already have in your living room.
At the moment PlayOn’s list of supported devices is much smaller than TVersity’s (currently only the Playstation 3, XBox 360, and HP MediaSmart televisions are supported, although the Wii is supposed to be supported by the end of the year). Also, at least in its initial beta release, the list of source material which can be served up by PlayOn is hard-coded and is limited to content from some of the more popular streaming video web sites (Hulu, YouTube, CBS, CNN, and ESPN). The ability to stream video from local sources rather than only from internet web sites is expected in a later release.
On the “plus” side the installation of PlayOn is quite easy and the server is already configured for use with the above-mentioned streaming video sites. TVersity, on the other hand, comes pre-configured with the ability to access YouTube videos but not streams from the other sites. (It’s possible to add additional sources to TVersity but those sources have to present their streams in a format which TVersity can understand. Currently there is no way to use TVersity to stream videos from Hulu, for instance.) Also, the makers of PlayOn say that a future release will allow NetFlix users to watch their streams through PlayOn.
At the moment PlayOn only pulls the SD versions and not the HD versions of streams from its online providers. I’m sure that has to do with the processing power that would be required on the PC side in order to transcode the HD video on-the-fly. Still, I hope that they make the HD streams an option in a future release so that users with beefy systems can use those better feeds.
So, should you install PlayOn or TVersity? That’s easy – you should install both. Although they both act as UPnP servers they have different strengths and weaknesses. TVersity is a full-featured UPnP server which can handle music and photos in addition to video, gives the user much more control over codecs and transcoding quality, and is compatible with just about every type of media file and UPnP-compliant hardware out there. PlayOn is simple to install and configure, has instant integration with Hulu and the other streaming video services, and, at some point, will even be able to stream NetFlix content. Oh, and TVersity is free, while PlayOn will cost you $30 after a 60-day trial period.
If you have a Playstation 3, XBox 360, or you own an HP MediaSmart TV I’d say that you should give PlayOn a good look. It just may change the way you watch TV (and what you watch on it).