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.

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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.