Do you subscribe to multiple streaming services and often find yourself juggling several different streaming apps? If the answer was yes, the creators of the stream recording service PlayOn want to make your life easier. But how well does PlayOn actually work – and is it even legal?
Continue on to learn:
- What PlayOn is and how it works
- Whether or not PlayOn is legal
- Facts you should know about PlayOn before you try it
What is PlayOn?
PlayOn bills itself as an “SVR” (Streaming Video Recorder). It is designed to work with almost any online video stream and allows subscribers to download and store videos from a variety of streaming services.
PlayOn compatible services include Netflix, Hulu, CuriosityStream, YouTube, Amazon, HBO Go and more. Once you grab a stream, you can play it back whenever you want on any device through the PlayOn app.
As a service, PlayOn is designed around helping users gain greater access to the content that they want in a more streamlined fashion. Though PlayOn works with free online video like YouTube, the primary reason why people like PlayOn is the fact that it can download, store and recast digital video from paid streaming services.
PlayOn not only compensates for the general lack of recording services on popular streaming sites, it also lets you access your PlayOn library from almost any device.
The PlayOn app is available on Roku, Chromecast, Android and iOS mobile devices, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and more. There is even a PlayOn add-on for Kodi.
Confusion and Controversy
It’s important to note here that PlayOn is not a streaming service. The company offers no video streaming content of its own. Instead, PlayOn takes videos from other websites and records those videos through a Digital Video Recording (DVR) method that allows you to watch any video offline from almost any device.
Perhaps the confusion around PlayOn is exactly what that all means. What does it mean to be able to access your video streaming services from one source? What method does PlayOn use to “store” digital videos? How am I able to access those videos from any device?
How Does PlayOn Work?
PlayOn has two main features: channels and DVR (Digital Video Recorder) functionality.
PlayOn’s core feature allows you to add your favorite streaming services as “channels” and access them through PlayOn. This allows you to enjoy different streaming services without having to go to those sites or apps individually.
A Look at PlayOn’s Channels
While PlayOn states that you can stream and save videos from any website, the channel lineup is not unlimited. When you first download PlayOn, you’ll have just about a dozen channels to choose from, and you can add in more later.
You can download new channels onto PlayOn from the Plugin Channel Store. For example, I’m currently a Crunchyroll subscriber. Crunchyroll is one of the many streaming services that don’t have an on-demand video downloading service, but that does have a working PlayOn channel.
Technical issues and problems with keeping the PlayOn Desktop server connected kept from me really giving PlayOn channels a fair shake.
Additionally, it’s not immediately evident how to add PlayOn channels to your account. Clicking on “Download Now” installs a file, but PlayOn doesn’t tell you where to save it or how it adds the channel to your channel lineup.
Recording Streams via PlayOn
PlayOn DVR works in two ways: either through a cloud DVR service or a desktop DVR service.
Through PlayOn Cloud, you can record videos to PlayOn’s cloud SVR (Stream Video Recorder). Once you capture a video, you can download it onto any device in MP4 format and watch it offline.
Each PlayOn Cloud download will cost you $0.40. Any video can be downloaded an unlimited number of times during the 30-day period, but after that the video disappears from PlayOn’s media server and must be downloaded again (at cost). Also, you can’t add more than 13 individual channels. Still, PlayOn Cloud includes popular channels such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video and HBO Go.
With PlayOn Desktop, you can automatically download videos from different streaming services to your hard drive.
As with PlayOn Cloud, the PlayOn Desktop client saves your videos in MP4 format. But unlike PlayOn Cloud, PlayOn Desktop lets you keep your recordings forever.
You can also schedule automatic downloads, cast recorded video to your TV or phone and add up to 50 channels – and you don’t have to pay any extra usage charges after you pay your subscription fee.
A monthly subscription to PlayOn Desktop costs $7.99, but you can save money over the long term by buying either a yearly subscription for $18 or a lifetime membership for $69.99.
Is PlayOn Legal?
The burning question regarding PlayOn is whether any of this is legal. How can a company allow you to access paid services and record them? Aren’t individuals getting into trouble for this? After all, the RIAA recently shut down a YouTube to MP3 conversion website.
On the surface, what it looks like PlayOn is engaging in is a form of what’s known as “stream-ripping.”
Given the legal minefield that exists when it comes to stream ripping, PlayOn provides a somewhat brief, although case-law heavy explanation regarding why their service is legal. The company cites several legal cases to prove their main point: because PlayOn is a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) and DVR services have been deemed legal, their service is also fully legal.
PlayOn is similar to TiVo
In their blog, PlayOn compares themselves to the well-known DVR service TiVo. They cite several cases in which recordings of broadcast television made for “personal, non-commercial use” have been rendered legal under the Fair Use doctrine. Additionally, PlayOn notes that “[r]ecording programs for viewing at a more convenient time is permitted by United States copyright law as fair use.”
PlayOn emphasizes the fact that its business is essentially “place-shifting.” Place-shifting the process of accessing content you have a right to access from another device or another location.
Because you have to secure the legal right to content before you download it with PlayOn, PlayOn is technically not a stream-ripper. Although it does allow users to record the shows, PlayOn embeds user information into the downloaded MP4 files to help keep the user honest and to help easily identify videos a user might try to reshare illegally.
PlayOn is not like Aereo
To round off its legal argument, PlayOn brings up Aereo as an example of what it is not. Aereo was a re-broadcaster or live TV that also had a cloud DVR service, much like PlayOn. Where Aereo got into trouble, however, was when it decided to sell live cable broadcasts to its users without paying for the right to do so.
PlayOn does not offer live video or content of any kind. Additionally, you can’t access any paid streaming services via PlayOn without paying for them first. PlayOn limits you to downloading and recast videos either from sites that offer those videos freely on their own sites or from subscription services that you’ve already paid to use.
Is PlayOn’s AdSkip service legal?
PlayOn also offers an ad-skipping service for paid subscribers to their PlayOn Desktop. While this service is fully legal, it may not make streaming services very happy. Both Hulu and CBS All Access have ads. PlayOn allows users to skip these ads.
The courts concluded that ad skipping services are legal back in 2013, when ABC lost a bid to stop Dish Network from deploying the ad-skipping service that the company uses for its DVR service.
Final Thoughts About PlayOn
From the general looks of things, PlayOn seems both useful and legitimate.
PlayOn makes a compelling case for its legality on its blog. It is true that well-known DVR services like TiVo offer similar services compared to PlayOn. Plus, “place-shifting” has been ruled legal for some time now. Although PlayOn lets users skip advertisements, ad-skipping is considered legal as well and does not infringe on any copyrights or other laws currently on the books.
Please note that Flixed.io is not qualified to serve legal advice and our opinions should not be interpreted as such. If you have any questions regarding the legality of PlayOn, we recommend speaking to a legal professional.
PlayOn is far from perfect
The service might seem like the best media server/DVR around, but it’s still a bit wonky. For example, when trying to load up PlayOn Desktop to run some additional tests, I was consistently greeted with this screen:
A message telling me that the app “Can’t connect to PlayOn server” is probably the last thing anyone wants. PlayOn support’s suggested treatment for this was to hit the “start server” button. That didn’t actually solve the problem.
It took a bit of finagling around with the settings to get things up and running, and even then I had to start a separate session of the program to reach my server.
Every time PlayOn connected, as soon as I started trying to browse through channels the media server would go down again. To say this was frustrating would be a bit of an understatement, particularly given I did not have this problem the first time I took PlayOn for a test drive.
Unfortunately, PlayOn’s online troubleshooting guide didn’t actually solve my issue. The section labeled “My device can’t find the PlayOn server / PlayOn cannot find my casting device” didn’t actually offer any advice to solve my issue.
Upgrading to a paid PlayOn account didn’t clear up my connection issues, either. The service still had random disconnects and reconnects when attempting to browse the PlayOn Desktop application.
On the other hand…
Random errors like server load issues aside, PlayOn offers a unique streaming service. Although similar services exist, none work on as many devices or connect to as many different streaming services as PlayOn.
Few other services allow you to download almost any streaming content you can find online. PlayOn even works with streaming sites that typically don’t offer on-demand downloading.
Although I had my fair share of technical issues with PlayOn Desktop, I was able to get it working when I first tried it out. PlayOn Cloud is potentially useful as well, particularly for those who primarily use their mobile devices to stream.
Admittedly, the idea of having to pay money to download videos is not exactly a popular one at this point in time. Still, the fact that PlayOn lets you keep your video recordings and replay them whenever you’d like on any device is an attractive reason to use PlayOn.
PlayOn Cloud is better than PlayOn Desktop
If you’re curious about PlayOn, you may want to look into PlayOn Cloud first. Despite having fewer channel options, PlayOn Cloud is a far more consistent service. From my testing, I found PlayOn Cloud to be far easier to use. There are more limitations on the Cloud service, but it does offer downloading and streaming with far fewer headaches.
More services like PlayOn may be on the horizon
Major streaming services are now trying to compete with PlayOn by allowing downloads and offline playback. Netflix began offering offline viewing in 2016, for example. Amazon, Vudu and Hulu also offer this feature. However, PlayOn is more flexible because it makes downloading and recasting videos easier. The service lets you house all of your recordings in one convenient location.
PlayOn vs. Plex
In many ways, PlayOn shares some similarities to Plex. However, PlayOn is different because it allows you to download and playback media from anywhere online. Plex only allows you to cast your own files.