For a certain type of cable cutter, PlayOn has always been an invaluable tool.
With PlayOn’s desktop software, you can record TV shows from streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, and HBO Max, allowing you to watch them even after your subscription expires or when they switch to a different service. Essentially, it is a DVR for streaming services that do not have their own built-in recording functions.
But earlier this month, PlayOn developer MediaMall quietly made a major change: The company is discontinuing its current desktop software and replacing it with a subscription-based service called PlayOn Home. While PlayOn Desktop still works at the time of writing, its recording capabilities will start to break down over time and the program will not work at all in Windows 11.
While the change may be necessary for the MediaMall business, it traps users who paid for PlayOn licenses for life and further complicates the question of how to record shows for viewing on their own terms.
PlayOn DVR explained
Until earlier this month, PlayOn offered two versions of its DVR service:
PlayOn Desktop is a Windows application that uploads videos to a hidden web browser and silently records them to your computer’s hard drive. It was available with a one-time purchase – officially $ 70, but often at a discount – and allowed for unlimited recordings.
PlayOn Cloud it 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 they are available for download. Each recording costs one “credit” for up to 720p resolution, or three credits for 1080p, priced at approximately $ 0.15 per credit.
In both cases, you end up with .MP4 video files that you can treat however you want. This is useful in several scenarios:
- Continuous access to a movie or show after you leave a streaming service.
- Stock up on movies or shows and then watch them after your subscription expires.
- Save videos for offline viewing without time limit.
- Download videos in advance, to avoid buffering.
- Use a DVR Plex or Channels server to centralize TV viewing in a single application.
Note that live TV streaming services like YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV have their own built-in DVR services. And because other services like Netflix are on-demand in nature, you may not need DVR features to go along with them. .
Still, PlayOn appeals to power users who want more control over their TV experience, and PlayOn Desktop was especially helpful because it incurred no ongoing costs beyond its starting price.
The death of PlayOn Desktop
While PlayOn Cloud will not go away, PlayOn Desktop received its latest software update on October 7 and is no longer available for purchase. Instead there is a new Windows program called PlayOn Home, which requires a subscription of $ 5 per month or $ 40 per year, but is functionally similar to old desktop software.
The reason for the change is partly technical. Tracy Burman, Chief Operating Officer at MediaMall, said by email that Windows 11 introduces a major change in the way it integrates Microsoft’s Edge browser. That, in turn, forced the company to renew its entire capture process.
But the company is also using the revamp to accommodate an unsustainable business model. PlayOn’s recording capabilities can break every time a streaming service makes changes to their websites, so the software requires constant maintenance just to keep running. Last year, MediaMall stopped adding new features to its desktop version and directed users to PlayOn Cloud; problems with Windows 11 seem to have been the last straw for keeping desktop software up and running.
Burman alluded to this in an email, saying that “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 has an incentive to invest in your desktop software again. You just added new content sources, including Discovery + and Acorn, and their ios and Android The apps will soon support streaming video from Windows PC to streaming players. (Just don’t expect 1080p support on the desktop either way; Burman says that hardly any home PC has the necessary processing power given the way PlayOn’s recording system works.)
None of this is much of a comfort to PlayOn customers who purchased “lifetime” licenses. While they can now trade in three-month trials for PlayOn Home, or longer depending on when they bought the software, the old PlayOn desktop software will eventually lose value as its recording capabilities degrade. The news has not gone well in PlayOn page on Reddit, where an ad post now has hundreds of mostly angry comments.
Without knowing the complexities of the PlayOn business, I think MediaMall could have done more to placate those users. You could offer them long-term discounts on PlayOn Home, for example, or a longer support track for PlayOn Desktop.
But the company may also acknowledge that the alternatives are limited. Video downloader programs like AnyStream and StreamFab they are considerably more expensive, with lifetime service at 260 euros and 240 dollars respectively. They also work in a fundamentally different way, downloading videos directly from their home websites instead of recording live video streams. I wonder if those services, which are less than two years old, would stand up to the scrutiny of media companies like PlayOn has during its 13 years of existence.
Instead of leaving PlayOn, users who want to avoid an ongoing subscription will simply have to take advantage of a bad situation. That means recording what they can before PlayOn Desktop crashes, getting cheap PlayOn Cloud recording credits when they go on sale (which, based on promotional emails I get, is fairly frequent), and diving into PlayOn Home for a while. month or two when there is more to record than usual.
And we should all be a little more wary of “lifetime” subscriptions from companies whose costs continue; Sooner or later, the bill is always due.
Sign up for Jared’s Cord Cutter Weekly Newsletter to get this column and other cutting edge news, ideas and offers delivered to your inbox.