License software

PlayOn, the best streaming DVR, just got a lot more expensive

For a certain type of cord trimmer, PlayOn has always been a valuable tool.

With PlayOn’s desktop software, you can record TV shows from streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, and HBO Max, allowing you to watch them even after your subscription expires or when your subscription has expired. ‘they move on to another service. It is basically a DVR for streaming services that do not have their own built-in recording functions.

But earlier this month, the developer of PlayOn MediaMall quietly made a major change: The company is ditching its current desktop software and replacing it with a subscription service called PlayOn Home. While PlayOn Desktop is still running at the time of this writing, its recording capabilities will start to crumble over time and the program will not work at all in Windows 11.

While the change may be necessary for MediaMall’s business, it blocks users who have paid for Lifetime PlayOn licenses, and this further complicates the question of how to record shows to watch on your own terms.

PlayOn DVR explained

Until the beginning of the month, PlayOn offered two versions of its DVR service:

Play on the desktop is a Windows application that loads videos into a hidden web browser, silently saving them to your computer’s hard drive. It was available with a one-time purchase – officially $ 70, but often at a reduced price – and allowed unlimited recordings.

Play on the cloud is an online version of the service that does not require a Windows PC. Users queue recordings from their phone or computer, and PlayOn records them through its own servers before making them available for download. Each recording costs one ‘credit’ for up to 720p resolution, or three credits for 1080p resolution, at a cost of approximately $ 0.15 per credit.

Either way, you end up with .MP4 video files that you can process as you see fit. This is useful in several scenarios:

  • Continuous access to a movie or show after leaving a streaming service.
  • Stock up on movies or shows, then watch them after your subscription expires.
  • Record videos for offline viewing without any time limit.
  • Download videos in advance, to avoid buffering.
  • Using a Plex or Channels DVR server to centralize TV viewing in a single application.
play recording Jared Newman / IDG

PlayOn’s software allows you to schedule recordings during off-peak hours, when bandwidth is less scarce.

Keep in mind that live TV streaming services like YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV have their own built-in DVR services. And since other services like Netflix are on-demand by nature, you might not need DVR features to go along with them. .

Still, PlayOn is aimed at power users who want more control over their TV experience, and PlayOn Desktop has been particularly helpful as it hasn’t come with any ongoing costs beyond its initial price.

The death of PlayOn Desktop

While PlayOn Cloud is not going away, PlayOn Desktop received its last software update on October 7 and is no longer available for purchase. In its place is a new Windows program called Play at home, which requires a subscription of $ 5 per month or $ 40 per year but is functionally similar to the old Desktop software.

The reason for the change is partly technical. MediaMall chief operating officer Tracy Burman said via email that Windows 11 introduces a major change in the way it integrates Microsoft’s Edge browser. This in turn forced the company to revamp their entire capture process.

But the company is also using the redesign to account for an unsustainable business model. PlayOn’s recording capabilities can shut down whenever a streaming service makes changes to their websites, so the software requires constant maintenance to stay functional. Last year, MediaMall stopped adding new features to its desktop version and directed users to PlayOn Cloud; the problems with Windows 11 seem to have been the last straw in keeping the desktop software up and running.

playonmobile Jared Newman / IDG

In recent years, PlayOn has been pushing users towards its cloud version, which allows you to schedule recordings from a phone and download them to other devices.

Burman alluded to it in an email, saying “it was not possible to develop and maintain this new and improved version of PlayOn without continued investment from our customers.”

The result is that MediaMall is prompted to invest again in its desktop software. It just added new content sources, including Discovery + and Acorn, and its ios and Android Apps will soon support streaming videos from Windows PCs to streaming players. (Don’t expect 1080p support on the desktop anyway; Burman says hardly any home PC has the processing power required given how PlayOn’s recording system works.)

Limited alternatives

None of this comes as much of a comfort to PlayOn customers who have purchased “lifetime” licenses. While they can now trade in three-month trials for PlayOn Home, or longer, depending on when they purchased the software, the older PlayOn desktop software will eventually become worthless as its recording capabilities grow. will degrade. The news did not go well The PlayOn Reddit page, where an announcement post now contains hundreds of mostly angry comments.

Without knowing the intricacies of PlayOn’s business, I think MediaMall could have done more to appease these users. It could offer them long-term discounts on PlayOn Home, for example, or a longer support track for PlayOn Desktop.

But the company might also recognize that the alternatives are limited. Video downloader programs such as AnyStream and StreamFab are considerably more expensive, with lifetime service at 260 euros and $ 240 respectively. They also work in a fundamentally different way, by downloading videos directly from their source websites instead of recording live video streams. I wonder if these services, which are less than two years old, would withstand the scrutiny of media companies like PlayOn has in its 13 year history.

Instead of quitting PlayOn, users who want to avoid an ongoing subscription will simply have to make the most of a bad situation. This means recording what they can before PlayOn Desktop breaks, grabbing some cheap PlayOn Cloud recording credits when they’re on sale (which according to the promotional emails I get is quite often ) and dive into PlayOn Home for a month or two when there’s more to record than usual.

And we should all be a little more wary of “lifetime” subscriptions from companies with constant costs; sooner or later the bill always comes due.

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