The PlayOn media server software for PCs does more than simply find the photos, music and movies on your computer and make them available to network media players, media streamers, and networked TVs and components. PlayOn also accesses online video streaming sites — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Comedy Central, ESPN, MLB — and makes those services available to network media players that otherwise don't have those services available.
Each network media-player manufacturer makes deals with online media streaming sites in order to include access to streaming Netflix, Hulu, Nickelodeon, CBS, NBC, ABC, Comedy Central or a host of others. However, any network media player — as long as it can connect to a computer running the PlayOn software — can have access to all the media streaming sites that are available on PlayOn.
Even though your WDTV Live Hub has yet to get a Hulu app, if it can access the PlayOn server running on your PC, you can play Hulu TV shows and movies to watch on your big-screen TV.
PlayOn Is a DLNA Media Server
PlayOn extends the capabilities of most DLNA-compliant network media players, networked TVs or components, as well as video game consoles. PlayOn is listed in your player's menu, among the media servers on your home network. It is best to access the PlayOn DLNA media server through your player's video menu. Once accessed, the experience is more similar to streaming a video from your computer than it is similar to the typical Netflix, Hulu or other online streaming app experience.
Once you choose the PlayOn media server from your home network's media sources, the different online streaming services will show up as folders. Choose from the Comedy Central folder, ESPN or Hulu, and more folders appear. These folders may be a list of TV shows on Comedy Central or it could be folders for "Popular Episodes," "Recently Added TV Shows," and other categories found in Hulu.
How PlayOn Is Allowed to Place-Shift Programming
If network media player manufacturers must make deals with the various online streaming services in order to include them on their device, how can PlayOn stream these services to other devices? PlayOn has a component that works as a media server, but at its core, it is really a web browser. When the PlayOn software 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 the computer to other devices.
PlayOn Can Add Hulu and Other Streaming Capabilities to Google TV and Roku
Even though Google TV uses a web browser, several online streaming content providers — CBS, ABC, NBC, Hulu and more — have blocked Google TV from streaming from their sites. However, with the PlayOn server software, those streaming sites become available on a Google TV. Simply type in "g.playon.tv" in the address line of the Google Chrome web browser app, and a page will appear to access the PlayOn online streaming services to watch on your TV.
The Logitech Revue Google TV and the Roku box are two network media streamers that have not been successful at streaming media from home computers. Again, PlayOn fixes the problem. Using the "my media" portion of PlayOn, the photos, music and movies can stream flawlessly to your Google TV or Roku box. To use PlayOn on the Roku box, you must download a private channel called "myPlayOn." This will allow you to access all of the PlayOn video streams including music, photos and videos from the PC's media libraries.
Note: In the PlayOn software preferences, you must specify the folders where your media are saved. Also, be sure that you have turned on the sharing options for the folders — pictures folder, music folder, movie folder — where you have your media stored. You can also turn on media sharing in Windows Media Player.
Plug-ins Add to the List of Online Streaming Sites
PlayOn has a number of streaming websites available. The list continues to grow, thanks to a PlayOn community that develops plugins for PlayOn. PlayOn users can download plugs-ins from sites like the unofficial forum “playonplugins.info” and the easier-to-use “playonscripts.com.” These plugins make it possible to stream even more content from the web — NBC, live Disney streams, live ESPN streams and many others.
Free PlayOn vs. Paying for a PlayOn License
PlayOn offers two versions of its software — PlayOn Lite and PlayOn Premium. PlayOn Lite is the free version of the software. With PlayOn Lite you can stream your media, YouTube and Pandora to a network media player, networked TV or other device. To stream media from the full list of websites requires PlayOn Premium.
There are three pricing options to buy PlayOn Premium:
Monthly option — $4.99 per month
Annual option — $39.99 for the first year, $19.99 each year thereafter
One-time payment — For $79.99 you can own PlayOn and never have to pay again.
PlayOn offers a 14-day free trial that does not require a credit card. After the 14 days, you will need a license key to continue to stream to your network media players or devices.
PlayOn has opened up a beta for its PlayLater software to go with PlayOn. PlayLater works as a DVR to record video streamed from PlayOn.