Amazon Fire TV Hands On

I’ve had my Fire TV (FTV) for about a week and it sits right next to a Roku 2 XS as I compare and contrast. We cut our ties with Comcast five years ago and are OTA first cable cutters — which is to say we have an antenna and most of our programming comes in via that antenna. We have had a lot of streamers and currently use six Rokus plus this Fire TV. None of these are Roku 3s because using WiFi for streaming audio+video+remote is a really bad idea — especially if you have a half dozen streamers.

The Fire TV streamer is the best streamer available at this time. It combines the most popular features of Apple TV, Roku, and Ouya in a sleek package which is much faster at the same price point. I think it is worth noting that Amazon warrants its streamer for a full year while the others only stand behind theirs for 90 days.

At launch, FTV had nearly 200 apps available including Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, Plex, and YouTube — the most streamed services. Within a few days, people were running XBMC on the Fire TV hardware.

The Fire TV is better hardware than Apple, Roku, or Ouya devices. A faster processor, more memory, usb, wired and wireless ethernet, and optical out all perched on a substantial heat sink ensures cool, smooth operation. During my week of comparison, the Fire TV has not yet hung or rebooted. During this same period, the Roku 2 XS sitting beside it has rebooted three times.

The USB port is a bit of a mystery. I am using it for a wired Xbox controller. Amazon claims it has no current use.

The more time I spend with this streamer, the more I appreciate the user interface. It’s elegant and well thought out. The left margin is a series of topics. As you scroll down the topics, the right side of the screen is filled with subtopics and items. These topics are ordered naturally and default to the logical destination. Press the Home button on your remote and you are taken to the main menu with the Home topic selected revealing your most recent apps and a lot of recommendations. Right click once to return to the last app used, twice to the one before that. Once you settle in with Fire TV what you do will be just a couple clicks away from your favorite apps.

There are a lot of apps for the Fire TV. Many are always free and quite a few were reduced for the launch. Apps purchased for my Kindle Fires are in my Fire TV library even if a different app is required for the FTV.

Fire TV has apps for the most popular services. The Netflix app supports profiles. The Plex app is being revised. It looks great but lacks some recent features like Play All. The YouTube app can be linked to a PC or tablet so that items selected on that device are played on the TV if the app is running. I like this a lot. There are not a lot of news apps, but I like Now This News. NTN plays news clips. On my Roku, there is a black loading screen between clips. On FTV, clips one after another. I guess this is the first application of Amazon’s smart buffering.

Conspicuously absent at launch: a web browser, an email client, social media apps, PlayOn.tv (which works in a browser on my Kindle Fires), Simple.TV DVR app, Tablo DVR app, and the top news and sports apps. I expect these to make their way to FTV as most are already on the Kindle Fire.

The Fire TV is a really decent casual game console. Fire TV launched with 136 games. Thirty of these are free. If you have already purchased an app for your android device, you get the Fire TV version for free.

There are familiar titles (Crazy Taxi, Deus Ex, Minecraft, Prince of Persia, Sonic, Rayman, and Tetris), original titles (Sev Zero), and 47 games that can be played with the included remote control.

I did not purchase a controller for Fire TV. I had hoped PS3 or Xbox controllers would work as I have these in my home. While I was unable to pair a PS3 remote with my Fire TV, I was able to plug in an Xbox USB controller. It was immediately recognized and it is a fine controller for the Fire TV. I will probably get at least one Amazon controller. At $40, it is not overprices and it includes media controls. The $40 price includes Sev Zero and $10 in coins. If you want Sev Zero and/or have your eye on some other paid apps, this will reduce your cost to $23 which is a very good price for a full fledged game controller. The controller takes AA batteries. So, $39.99 for a controller, Sev Zero, Crazy Taxi, and Air Fighters Pro seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Fire TV supports Parental Controls and Amazon’s Freetime will be on Fire TV next month. For $2.99/month, Freetime includes content from Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, PBS Kids, and more. Parents can create custom profiles for up to four kids, choosing the movies, TV shows, apps, and games they can access and limit/restrict certain types of content.

Another feature I haven’t really played with, but may be compelling for some, is a feature called Second Screen. This allows you to mirror a Fire HDX tablet to the TV. Second Screen allows a Fire HD or HDX to display additional information about media playing on the TV. Just pointing this out.

I give this streamer a big thumbs up. Fire TV is a terrific Netflix player that supports profiles. It supports other popular services and is totally integrated with Amazon Prime. FTV plays games with real controllers and plays your media using third party apps like Plex. It’s fun and safe for kids with integrated parental controls. Good job Amazon!

This review on Amazon

Mohu Channels Kickstarter Closing

With 21 hours left in the project, I have decided to withdraw my support. I think it could be a good device for a lot of cord cutters, but not for me. Lack of Simple DVR support is kind of a big deal, but my scrutiny of the project over the last week has eroded my confidence in their ability to deliver what has been promised — never mind what many were hoping for.

I have a Fire TV coming tomorrow and will focus my energies on that for now.

Good luck to those who hang on.  A successful Mohu Channels is good for the cord cutting community.

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, OTT

Fire TV Torches Competition!

After much anticipation and a little delay, Amazon finally released their streamer yesterday.  It’s called Fire TV (FTV).  FTV, at $99, competes with the Roku, Apple TV, and, to a lesser extent, Chromecast and Ouya.  I predict it will kill them all.  Let’s look at the specs (click to enlarge)…

firecomp

For less than $100, FTV has impressive specs.  With a quad core cpu, 2G of memory, optical audio out, and wired/wireless ethernet, FTV is a pretty expensive box.  Amazon is probably not making much money on the hardware and this is going to be a problem for competitors that rely on hardware sales to pay the bills.

Then there’s the software.  FTV streams almost all of the important stuff — Netflix, Amazon Instant, HuluPlus, WatchESPN, ShowTime, Crackle, and YouTube.  Not enough?  Install the Plex app and enjoy hundreds of internet streams via Plex.   Plus it does flash.

And the accessories.  ATV comes with a bluetooth remote and a bluetooth game controller is available.  Chances are pretty good that your PS3 controller or Kindle keyboard will pair with FTV.  It’s also, apparently, pretty easy to side-load apps.

And everything else.  In advance of yesterday’s presser, Amazon quietly reduced the prices for their Kindle Fire products.  These tablets are a great FTV companion.  The Fire can be mirrored to FTV or used as a second screen as Amazon extends X-Ray to television.  Free Time for television lets parents their kids’ use of FTV.  An integrated microphone allows for voice activated media searches.

The Fire TV comes with a one year warranty.  Compare that to the 90 day warranties of the other products.

All of this is wrapped in a beautiful gui and coupled with Amazon free apps and media.  If you have been considering a media streamer, Fire TV looks like a winner.


Reviews/Previews

 

Will Your Next Roku Be A Mohu?

What don’t you like about your Roku?  Lack of live programming?  Lack of games?  Primitive interface?

Relief may be on the way.

I just backed the Mohu Channels Kickstarter project.  The Kickstarter project initially targeted $35,000 and is already over $100,000.  The more money they raise, the more features they promise to add to the streamer.  Here are the stretch goals…

  • $70,000: lifetime subscription to the Mohu Guide
  • $85,000: Side-Loading – Personal Movie Playback
  • $100,000: OTA Time-shifting
  • $115,000: 5.1 Audio PassThrough
  • $125,000: Remote Control App for Android tablets and smartphones


The Kickstarter ends Thursday April 10, 2014 @ 1:02 PM EDT.  As of today, 981 backers have pledged $103,569 to the project.  For a pledge of $89, backers get a Mohu Channels streamer, the motion remote, and an HDMI cable. Mohu Channels is a set top streamer that integrates internet streaming and broadcast television via a traditional grid guide.   Unlike the Roku with its proprietary Brightscript apps, Mohu’s streamer creates channels from broadcast stations, google play apps, and even web pages. The remote features a full keyboard and an ‘air mouse’ that moves the pointer on the screen — kind of a WII-mote with a keyboard. I’ll be reviewing the Mohu Channels on http://thebeersoncomcast.wordpress.com when mine arrives in June.  CNet has taken one for a ride and you can read about Channels on the kickstarter page. If this sounds like fun to you, join the Kickstarter project and help us get 5.1 passthrough audio and an android remote app!

Supported apps list…

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, OTT

PlayOn Testing Chromecast Support

from PlayOn’s forums

We have some exciting news: support for the Chromecast and a completely redesigned PlayOn browser extension are almost ready to be released! We know many of you are anxious to try it sooner rather than later, so we’re making this new version available as a beta release.

Should you use the beta?

Sure! Just know that betas are unstable and may not always work as expected, so go into this expecting a few hiccups.

What do I do with it?

Well, this version is essentially the same as the version you use right now, so just use PlayOn and PlayLater as you normally would. The only difference is you’ll see your Chromecast devices appear in the device list for PlayCast and the browser extension will look very different (and very cool).

How can I get started?

To make it easy to install the new browser extension, uninstall PlayOn and PlayLater. Then download the new versions of PlayOn and PlayLater from the links below. Even if you only use one or the other, you still need to download both installers.

http://www.playon.tv/downloads/beta/PlayOnSetup.3.9.0.exe

http://www.playon.tv/downloads/beta/PlayLaterSetup.1.5.0.exe

Once you have both installers downloaded, install PlayOn first and then install PlayLater.

What if something is really busted?

Please send email with any feedback, questions, or problems you might have to support@playon.tv.

Simple TV for Dummies

After playing with the Simple TV DVR for a couple months, I have a couple tips to share.

  1. Simple TV DVR Disk List (disks I have tested)
  2. simple-tv-api (script to copy files from USB disk to MP4)
  3. STV Download GUI (utility to copy files from disk USB to MP4)
  4. A new blog for you!

Here is a link to my Simple TV DVR review and a link to the Simple TV DVR user forums.

By Len Mullen Posted in OTA, Tip

Channel Master DVR+

The thing my family missed the most when we cut the cable was our DVR.  We did not record a lot of shows, but we did pause, rewind, fast forward, and slow down programming.  After toying with a Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC), we decided to go with a dedicated DVR.  Once we decided on a DVR, there were only really two choices — TiVo or DTVPal.  While the TiVo has some compelling features, the monthly fee was not consistent with my cord cutting goals, so we took a chance on the EchoStar DTVPal.  Flash forward four years and very little has changed.  HTPCs are still more hassle than they are worth, TiVo is still too expensive, and EchoStar still makes the best standalone DVR that isn’t a TiVo.  This time the EchoStar DVR is called DVR+ and it’s being sold by Channel Master for $250 — $300 with 80 hours of HD storage.

The DVR+ is small.  It’s about 8″ deep x 10.5″ wide x 1/2″ tall.  Except for the blue LED on the front, you might confuse it with a mouse pad.  The back is a neatly organized array of connectors — antenna, digital (optical) audio, HDMI out, ethernet, two usb ports, power, and a jack for an IR extender.  With the IR extender, you can store the DVR out of sight.  The remote is comfortable with most common controls organized around a D-pad type controller.  I wish the remote used more common batteries, but CR2032 batteries are readily available on ebay for $0.30.

Setup was intuitive: select language and country, plug in coax and TV plus optional network and disk, scan for channels, and set zip code/time zone/time mode (automatic vs manual).  If an external disk is detected, you are prompted to use it and, if necessary, the disk is initialized.

The DVR+ stores programs on an internal 16g flash or an external USB disk.  You can use the DVR+ with no usb disk, but storage is limited to two hours.  With no usb disk, the DVR+ includes a channel guide, allows you to pause and rewind programming, and provides access to internet services like Vudu.  You must add a usb disk to store recorded programs.  At this time, maximum supported disk size is 3t.   Storage is about 160 hours of HD video per one terabyte of disk.  The first drive I plugged in was an ancient Maxtor 500g OneTouch 4 usb disk.  It was immediately recognized and I was guided through the initialization process.

The DVR+ includes a network adapter.  Wired ethernet is built in and wireless is available via an optional usb network adapter.  Network access is not required.  The DVR+ is completely autonomous.  It includes a PSIP guide and can accept updates via a usb device.  Connecting  to the internet facilitates updates, provides access to an enhanced Rovi powered guide, and allows use of internet apps.

The thing you do most with a DVR is watch television so a good DVR has to have a good tuner and a good program guide.  The DVR+ has two excellent tuners and a terrific guide.  My DVR+ picked up 47 channels — more than either my television or simple.tv DVR.  The guide is a grid of two hours of five channels that covers the bottom half of the television screen.  The Rovi guide is good for about two weeks of programming and the PSIP guide is good for as much as 24 hours of programming.  I find the PSIP guide more reliable and complete than the PSIP guide on my DTVPal DVRs.  Navigation is quick.  Pressing the OK button in the grid pops up a record dialog.  You can choose to Watch this program, Record program, or Create manual recording.  If you select to Record program, you then choose between Record just this program and Record all programs with this name.  If you select Create manual recording, you choose channel, start time, end time, and whether you want to record that time block one time (none), Weekly, Mon-Fri, or Daily.  I love this as  I record a block of sitcoms on WSBK Mon-Fri from 3:00pm to 8:00pm.  You can record programs via the guide, by name, or by time and channel.  The only recording option I don’t see if start/stop Manual (press record to start recording and press stop to stop recording) which I like this for sporting events.  Fortunately, you can accomplish this by setting a manual recording for a very long time then manually stopping it.

Watching the DVR+ is very intuitive.  The DVR button takes you to a list of recordings, the Record button starts recording a program, and the Guide button calls up the guide.  Pressing the Info button in the Guide calls up a program description on the tuned channel.  Programming is automatically cached, so if there is a great play, or you missed the weather report, or you want a closer look at a costume failure, the DVR+ is ready.  The remote has jog buttons so you can skip forward or back ten seconds at a time.  Hit the rewind button to rewind at 2x.  Hit it again and again for 8x, 32x, and 64x.  Hit pause then forward for 1/8x slow motion.  Hit forward again and again for 1/4x, 1/2x, then full speed.  When you rewind and fast forward, the video is visible so you can see when you get to what you are looking for.

Saved programs are sorted by date recorded with the newest recordings at the top of the list.  If multiple programs have the same name, they are stored in a folder.  When you click on a folder, you are prompted to browse to the folder contents or delete the folder.  Within the folder, all the programs have the same name, but can be renamed.  Once you rename a recorded program, it pops out of the folder since it no longer shares a name with another program.  You can protect recordings and can toggle the New Status which indicates whether the show has been recorded.

I like the fact that the DVR+ has a 0/4/5/6 hour sleep timer.  My plasma tv notices when the DVR shuts down and shuts itself down.  Parental controls provide pin protection to channels and content with user selectable ratings.  You can also block unrated events.

The DVR+ is an excellent DVR and I highly recommend it.

Simply Awesome!

I had hoped to post a follow-up to my initial review of the Simple DVR within a few weeks, but, frankly, after two weeks my enthusiasm for the device was on the wane.  This morning, I awoke to a Roku channel update, a device update, and, finally, support for multiple DVRs on the same account.  The Simple V1 is far from perfect, but, once again, I am wildly enthusiastic about this whole house DVR.  And once again, you can Woot! this DVR plus a lifetime subscription to their Premier service for less than $100.  I recommend you get three!

The Simple.TV DVR is a whole house Tuner/DVR for broadcast television.  According to the manufacturer, “Simple.TV is the first personal DVR that streams live and recorded TV to your favorite devices, wherever you are. Get all your broadcast TV favorites on your iPad, PC, Mac or Roku box.”  It plugs in to your antenna, ethernet, and usb drive, but not your television.  To watch the Simple DVR on your television, you need a Roku.  Up to five devices can access live or recorded programming concurrently, but there is only one tuner, so all people watching live programming must watch the same channel.

wholehouse_wide

What Does This Do?  In the most common configuration, you attach the DVR to your antenna and LAN and use a Roku to access the DVR from your television.  You can use the tuner to watch live television from your antenna or play files already stored on the DVR.  You can pause, rewind, or fast forward the programming, delete files from the DVR, and schedule recordings (one episode or all episodes) with the Roku.  If you have more than one DVR (I have four), you can switch from one DVR to another.

Remote access is excellent.  Image quality and buffer management are good enough to enjoy live and recorded programming via public wireless networks.  My mother can use my antenna to watch broadcast television via a Roku at her home which has poor reception.  There are iOS and Android apps for the Simple DVR.  I cannot speak for the iOS app, but the Android app is amazing.  I was able to side load it to a Fire HD and a Fire HDX and enjoy television on those tablets.

What Doesn’t This Do?  With the current software, you cannot watch the video as you rewind and fast forward and there is no slow motion or frame by frame review.  You cannot do time based recordings (record channel 38 from 3pm to 8pm weeknights).  I’d really like to see a ‘Play All’ and/or Play List option for recordings and it would be great if the Premier software managed all DVRs as one — choosing the next available tuner, showing all programs in a single browse window, etc.  Finally, and this is a big deal for me, it doesn’t work at all when you have no internet connection.  It will record scheduled shows, but you cannot watch live tv or your recordings.

This is NOT for cable TV.  While it tunes clear QAM, the cable companies are in the process of encrypting all channels.  Unless you have or plan to cut the cable, this is not the DVR for you.

A Poor Man’s TiVo  This isn’t a TiVo.  The TiVo provides more sophisticated search capability, a better rewind/fast forward experience, plus internet apps.  A lot of people are going to be very happy to buy a TiVo Premier, pay for the lifetime service, and watch television.  A two tuner Premier with 75 hours of storage will set you back $550.  If you want to share the two tuners with another room, you can buy a Tivo Mini ($250 with lifetime) and if you want to watch your Tivo away from home, you can add a Tivo Stream for $130.  So, living room, bedroom, remote use, with 75 hours of storage for $930.

Alternatively, one could purchase a pair of Simple DVRs ($185), a pair of usb disks ($200), and two Roku 1′s ($100) for $485.  This would give you two tuners, 800 hours of storage, remote access, plus thousands of streaming media channels for 1/2 the cost of a basic TiVo installation.

For the $930 you did not spend on a TiVo, you could purchase four Simple DVRs, four Rokus, a Channel Master DVR+ for the living room, and two years subscription to Netflix.

Support I have been very disappointed with Simple support.  The documentation is sparse, the support site is inaccurate, and email support is sporadic.  Worse, they don’t seem to know any more about the product than I do.  The best help has come from the user community.  I hope this changes.  It’s easy to see how nontechnical users could become frustrated.

Installation The setup process is very frustrating and almost counter intuitive.  You have to use specific browsers to configure the device.  I have used Chrome and Firefox.  Internet Explorer does not work.  It seems that security software can interfere with the process as well.  A lot of USB disks do not work with this DVR.    The documentation states that ‘virtually any’ USB disk will work, but that is not true.  Firmware only supports disks to 2t at this time.  Larger disks may format, but only to just over 2t.  Some disks will stop working after a couple days.  Attache these to a computer and they work fine.  Some disks won’t format at all.  Don’t count on the installation disk to let you know your disk is not compatible.  If the installation process detects an incompatible disk, it simply says there is no disk present.  Also, when you attach a compatible disk, it may not format unless you run the installation process from scratch.  Here is a list of disks I know to work with this DVR…

  • Iomega 1t (ldhd-up): formatted and performed perfectly. No issues to date.
  • Seagate 1t (9zc2ag-501): formatted and performed perfectly. No issues to date.
  • Western Digital 500g (WD5000H1U-00): formatted and performed perfectly. No issues to date.
  • Western Digital 2t (WDBFJK0020HBK-04): formatted and performed perfectly. No issues to date.

That 2t WD drive is routinely available at Staples for less than $100 and I recommend you go with that.  Mine has been working for more than a month and has recorded more than 200 programs.

You Will Love the Simple DVR If…

  • Your home is situated such that television signals come from multiple directions.  Instead of using a rotor or combiner, you can install one or more DVRs for each market and access the antennas via a Roku.
  • Your home is not pre-wired with coax.  Run coax from the antenna to your router and install the Simple DVR(s) next to the router.
  • You have to have a television where no one thought to install coax.  A Roku brings live tv to your remote television.
  • You want to watch tv by the pool or on the deck.  Simple can stream to a laptop, a tablet, or a wireless Roku by the pool.
  • Your remote vacation home does not have television but does have internet access.
  • You travel a lot and hate infomercials.
  • All your favorite shows air when you are at work.

Mailbag: 11/16/2013

The email address for this blog is thebeersoncomcast@gmail.com.  If you found the blog, but no answer, feel free to drop me a line.  Here are some responses to visitors’ questions…

Q: Can I attach an antenna to a Roku?

A: No.  Not yet at least.  Audiovox is supposed to release an antenna with a Roku Stick this quarter, but there has been no buzz about this since January.  I like the Simple.TV whole house DVR for this.  It has a single tuner that can be used by the DVR or up to five televisions tuned to watch a single channel of programming.  You can add as many DVRs as you like.  The new v2 DVRs are made by SiliconDust and include two tuners in the box.

Q: Can I get continuous programming on my Roku?

A: Yes.  Sort of.  The B/W channel is true Linear Programming.  Linear Programming means that someone plans 24 hours worth of programming and you watch whatever is on when you tune  in the channel.  If you just want to have something play continuously, there are a lot of channels that let you ‘Play all’ clips.

Q: Can I get Live TV without cable/satellite?

A: Sure.  Visit TVFool.com to see what channels you can expect to receive with an antenna and visit TitanTV.com to see what is on those channels.  No reception in your location?  Check out Aereo and Skitter.

Q: Is it illegal to ‘format shift’ DVDs I have purchased and stream them from a media server in my home.

A: Maybe.  I am not a lawyer.  You can read about Fair Use here.  The Copyright Office of the US concedes that, “The doctrine of fair use has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years,” and that, “[the] distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined.”  Even as I key this, courts are conflicted as to what Fair Use is.  If you are making your digital copies available to others, then you are probably going to have a problem.  If you download digital copies made available by others, you are probably going to have a problem.  If you are making copies of copyrighted materials you legally purchased and are taking reasonable measures to prevent others from using the copies illegally, you are probably not on anyone’s radar, because you are not “[diminishing] the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.”  That said, you are on your own if the courts disagree.

Q: Is PlayOn/PlayLater legal?

A: No one is suing MediaMall.  Just the same, whether you are using a Roku, Plex, or PlayOn, beware of third party scripts.  It’s almost never OK to download copyrighted materials without compensating the copyright holder.

Q: Is there a YouTube channel for Roku?

A: Yes.  Quite a few.  What’s On (enter asecret as your zip code and restart to reveal YT content); VideoBuzz (must be side-loaded); Plex and PlayOn both have Roku channels that include YouTube scripts.

Q: What’s the best DVR for cable cutters?

A: Tivo — if money is no object.  Simple.TV is a whole house DVR that is smart like Tivo but less capable and less expensive.  SiliconDust and Simple are collaborating on a two tuner Simple.TV DVR.  If you just want to record shows off the air and pause/rewind/fast forward televisions, it’s tough to beat EchoStar’s DTVPal.  The DTVPal is out of production, but EchoStar and ChannelMaster are working on a new DVR that combines OTA recording with OTT features.  If you want to record web videos and Netflix streamed programming, check out PlayOn/PlayLater by MediaMall.

Play*

I didn’t want to love Play*, but I can’t help it.  All they do it make it very easy for me to watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it.  It’s only 480p, but 480p looks surprisingly good on my 43″ 720p plasma and amazing on my Kindle Fire.  For $70, Netflix, Hulu, Food Network, and the History Channel are always on for me.

So, what is Play*?  Play* is my nickname for MediaMall’s suite of streaming media programs.  The suite consists of PlayOn, PlayLater, and PlayCast.  PlayOn is software that streams files from web servers to your television.  Channels, scripts, and plugins format files from web servers for your television.  The files include episodes from many cable programs.  For cable cutters, PlayOn is a lifeline to the Food Network, the History Channel, and other compelling programming.  PlayLater is a DVR for this programming.  PlayLater lets you store programming you would watch with PlayOn for viewing at a later time.  The stored programs are saved as MP4 files that can be viewed with any software on any platform that supports the MP4 format.  PlayCast is a browser plugin that streams whatever is playing in your browser window to a PlayOn client.

How does Play* work?  PlayOn and PlayLater are software packages that can be purchased from MediaMall and must be installed on a Windows PC running Internet Explorer.  The programs read files from your media server and/or web servers and streams the files to a device on your network that can interpret the stream and output it in a format compatible with your television.  PlayCast is a browser extension that streams files from your web browser to your PlayOn compatible device — Chromecast for *every* streaming media platform.

Why you will love Play*!  First, there is a one time charge of $70.  For this fee, you get a lifetime subscription to PlayOn plus the PlayLater DRV, and PlayCast.  You can watch content aggregated and formatted for viewing from the couch.  That’s a pretty good deal.  You can also timeshift or placeshift this content.  The shifted contented is saved as MP4 formatted files which are suitable for playing on a tablet of phone, so you can enjoy your media even when there is no internet at all or where access to the internet is restricted.  For instance…

  • Last week, I was traveling on business.  Before I left, I dragged some files from my PlayLater folder to my laptop for the plane ride.
  • When I got the the hotel, I plugged a Roku 2 XS into the television.  I had installed the Nowhere USB channel and was able to enjoy a USB drive of PlayLater content without internet access/authentication.
  • We lose our power frequently and for days at a time.  I have a generator and a tv antenna, but internet access is limited to cell phones.  PlayLater provides entertainment absent internet access.
  • We will use these files with the TV and Roku we take camping
  • When a web site removes or rotates content, I can still play it off my DVR

Why you might NOT like Play*!  For starters, it is only 480p.  I played some PlayLater recordings on a 55″ set and, with glasses from six feet, it looked fine, but it’s 480p.  A lot of recordings fail.  Sometimes you can restart and enjoy success, but some simply do not record.

Let’s get started!  Installing and using Play* is pretty straight forward, but here are the steps…

  1. Before committing to Play* consult the compatibility list and forums to make sure you have the hardware to support the software and check the channel list to make sure you will watch what PlayOn serves.
  2. Buy, download, and install PlayOn.  Hint: if, during installation, you are prompted to close a browser which is not apparently open, open task manager, look for browser processes, and close them.  For me, Chrome was running in the background.
  3. Enable PlayCast for your browser.  Open up PlayOn Settings and click on the Browsers tab. Click on the checkboxes to enable PlayOn for your favorite browsers then click the Apply button.
  4. (You may need to enable the PlayOn helper app in your browser)
  5. Open your browser to a media page and click the PlayOn icon and a window will open and play the media.  Once the video begins playing in this window, click the Next button.  Click the Record To or PlayCast To button, select your target device, and enjoy!

Remote Access  For me, accessing Playon from a cell phone was a lot like having sex for the first time. I thought I knew what I was doing, everything was a little different than I expected. In the end, I was extremely satisfied, but wasn’t sure what had happened.

First base: The auto configuration failed, so I tried to manually configure my router. Once I was in the port forwarding area I returned to Playon to read the helpful hint provided upon failure. The hint was gone, so I selected automatic and hit apply and it worked. My guess is that it would have worked had I not changed the userid and password on my router. Having logged on, it was able to do the rest.

Second base: I installed the app from the app store on the S3 phone. No problems at all.

Third base: Had no problem locating my server via WiFi and we were quickly streaming. I’m still not sure what ‘additional configuration’ is required for 3g/4g only access.

Home: Turned off WiFi and streamed some PlayLater recordings to the phone.

It does work and performance was very good. One thing you notice when browsing the Android app is that once you are presented with a PlayTo menu that allows you to play to ‘this device’ or any of your Rokus, so you can PlayTo without running back to the PC — just use your android device to manage the service from your easy chair.

Epilog  That’s all I’ve got.  I think PlayOn, PlayLater, and PlayCast are a delightful addition to to any entertainment ecosystem.  Give Play* a try.  If you don’t like it, MediaMall will refund your $70.