News Article

Hands On: PlayOn

Posted by Zach Kaplan

Because there's no Hulu streaming disc

We recently had the opportunity to try out the video-streaming application PlayOn from MediaMall Technologies, which acts as a conduit between your Wii and the countless number of videos locked away on the Internet. It turns out there's a lot more than YouTube out there, and while the program's appeal clearly once was built on providing access to Netflix before the service produced its own instant streaming disc, there's still a lot of content that you'd otherwise have to watch on your computer rather than your television set.

You access the software by visiting a website on your Wii Internet Browser, so there's no way to get rid of that pesky "i" in the corner, though after awhile it feels like any other logo that you'd see when viewing a normal television channel. It's all incredibly basic, which is definitely a plus – even when a website works on the Wii, you'd normally have to get past more flashy webpage designs than are worth the effort. You're first presented with a simple menu of the channels that you've enabled against a blue background, and the menus never become much more complicated than that.

One of the biggest drawbacks to Netflix Instant has always been its organisation; you have to view either your Instant Queue in its preset order or traverse its archives by genre or by looking at a list of new arrivals. Here, however, you can look through each by alphabetical order – in fact, it's the only way to view the genres and new arrivals, while you can still elect to view your queue in its normal progression – but you can't simply look at it as one consecutive list, instead viewing it as split up by letter or by groups of letters.

This isn't the same with each programme, some of them having better or worse organisational setups, and the non-uniformity can be a bit jarring, especially as you're required to pay a subscription fee; more on this later. Some programmes don't hide the fact that you're simply accessing website archives through a back-door whatsoever, a fact that's exacerbated by the inability to use any means of navigation besides that of the PlayOn software: YouTube clips end by suggesting unclickable related clips, for example. Another program that's definitely made worse by its non-interactivity is Pandora; normally you can skip a track, but you're unable to press the thumbs down button with PlayOn. It also can be a bit annoying to point at the screen and press the pop-up pause, fast-forward or rewind button instead of just having a simple remote control handy, and there's never any status bar, so skipping to a select spot can be a minor hassle.

Another drawback is the inability to type. This means that in YouTube, you can only see what's in your favourites list or view the entire library by accessing such basically useless lists as those of the most popular or most recently added videos. This is not the way in which we like to navigate YouTube.

One thing that will appeal to many is the ability to access Hulu, with its sprawling collection of full television programs and clips. While still a very cool addition, however, make sure that you search their library before you get excited. Hulu talks a big game, but after searching for four or five TV shows that we enjoy (a task that would have gone a lot faster with the ability to type), we eventually had to settle for an episode of H.R. Pufnstuf – definitely not our first choice. However, we were able to find some entertaining stuff later on, so even if you don't find what you're looking for specifically, if you're open to discovery then you will more than likely find something to entertain you.

You're also able to access a few sports networks, which can really come in handy if you've got a good enough Internet connection. It's a lot less embarrassing to invite your friends over to watch the game on your television than on your computer monitor; ESPN.com, ESPN3, MLB.com and NHL.com all come pre-packaged with PlayOn, so you'll usually be able to stream your team live as well as the games of just about any other team, depending on the sport.

Another feature that's still in beta testing is My Media, which accesses files on your computer to play through your Wii. It's still got some kinks, so whereas we were impressively able to view almost automatically our 65.6GB music library when organised by artist, it froze when we chose to see all the tracks at once, and some of them just wouldn't play. There's also no way to play a series of songs one after the next, and it can be a hassle to select each individually.

There are a number of other channels that come with PlayOn, such as Comedy Central, which lets you view full episodes of such programs as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, as well as the music video library Vevo (though YouTube has quite a few music videos in its archives), TV.com, Amazon Video On Demand, The Ultimate Fighter, CNN, PBS, Fox News, SpikeTV, and MTV.

None of these libraries are perfect or will appeal to everyone, but there are countless easy-to-install user-made plugins that give you access to just about everything that PlayOn automatically does not, such as [adult swim], the Game Show Network, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon as well as channels like Creepy Flicks, with its archive of public domain horror and science fiction movies. Since these aren't professionally compiled you'll hit a few dead links, but depending on your taste this library might make a decent alternative to possibly more expensive cable television. You can't view most of this content through the Wii's Internet Browser, but you can through your computer's (except in particular situations that occur on an individual basis), so it all comes down to how much you think it's worth it to watch it on your television screen and through PlayOn's easily navigable interface.

Whether PlayOn is worth getting will largely come down to a person-to-person basis. It's got its flaws, but it's by no means a bad programme. Obviously without fast Internet access you won't get the best picture quality, though whether or not you're picky about this will come into play as well. This also affects load times, and if you have a slow connection you might have to pause and wait for your video to catch up. And, of course, whether the available programs have the content that you want will play a huge part in your selection.

The main detriment, however, is the subscription fee – $39.99 the first year and $19.99 a year from then on, or a one-time fee of $79.99. Compare this to the price and programming available on cable or satellite television in your area, however, and this could be a bargain. You might not even have access to what you would have with PlayOn where you live, and in such a case, this programme could really come in handy. It all depends, of course, on how important it is to you to watch television on a traditional set instead of your computer; we certainly find it more comfortable, but $39.99 a year comfortable? Perhaps not. PlayOn is also a complete waste if you're able to link your computer to your television as you would to a monitor, a feature that comes standard on many sets nowadays.

If you're on the fence, you can head to the PlayOn website for a 14-day free trial.

Note: While PlayOn is available worldwide – unless your country bans use of the PlayOn website – only content already available in your region will be available through the service. If you can't normally access Hulu or another programme, you won't be able to through PlayOn. Also, PlayOn will not affect the quality of your video streaming, so, for example, YouTube videos will still play at the same quality through PlayOn as they would if you accessed them through the Wii Internet Browser.

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User Comments (22)

WhiteTrashGuy

#2

WhiteTrashGuy said:

Sounds awesome. Will it be available in the U.S. ? We watch Netflix on our Wii more than actual TV!!

PlayOn

#3

PlayOn said:

Hi. Thanks for the great article. You more or less nailed it. PlayOn is not perfect and we are aware of that, but most of our customers really love what we are doing. While $39 for your first year may seem steep at first glance, it really is not. A very high percentage of our customers cancel their cable subscriptions as they are able to get all of their favorite programming through PlayOn. So for just over $3 month, many customers can get rid of a cable bill that averages well over $60/month.

But I have some more great news! We have a promo on now. From now till September 30th, 2010 you can get PlayOn for only $29.99 for your first year. Just follow this link http://www.playon.tv/lp/buy/offerZ1201009?prmcd=ninlife

Oh, we also support iPad and iPhones. So try out the free trial, but if you want the software, our promo ends on 9/30. So try it out fast.

CanisWolfred

#4

CanisWolfred said:

Hells yeah! I've been waiting for years for this!

...oh wait, the trial ends on the 30th? I don't get access to my Wii until October! FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

ToastyYogurt

#7

ToastyYogurt said:

I guess this would be a cool program, but I want to know how the video looks through a component cable. Watching YouTube on the Wii with a component cable doesn't look very good.

ejamer

#8

ejamer said:

Can anyone comment on region? For example, Hulu doesn't allow streaming to Canada... so is PlayOn even an option here?

irken004

#10

irken004 said:

Subscription fees = instant turn off

Not to mention I have digital cable anyway, I'd have minimal use for this.

Zach

#11

Zach said:

@The users who inquired about region availability and video quality: I've added a note to the bottom of the article that should answer your questions. I apologize for not making these points clearer to begin with.

rustythekid

#12

rustythekid said:

Damn, I was ready to jump on the bandwagon but Hulu hates my country, and I guess it will be like this for all the other services. :(

Highlar

#16

Highlar said:

I've been using PlayOn for months now. While I agree with the article that its not necessarily the best solution, it DOES allow me to watch Hulu on my TV (to catch up on shows I missed) while using my laptop to play MMOs or other games on. One thing which I think should be mentioned, though...you really need a comp/laptop with decent specs to really get this to run well. If you have an older system, the videos will run really choppy and sluggish, if at all. As long as you have a decent system with a good wireless speed, you should be able to watch things just fine.

One of the few complaints I have about PlayOn though is the inability to click and skip through a video file. You HAVE to watch it from the beginning, so if you were in the middle of a video (especially a movie) and the video cuts out back to the menu, you have to start the vid all over again. You CAN press a forward button, but it only skips ahead a second or two with each click, so you have to keep click click clicking to try to fast forward. This is the biggest annoyance I have with the program; other than that, being able to watch Hulu and the vids from my laptop on the big screen...while still using my laptop for other mattesr...is great. :)

jbrodack

#17

jbrodack said:

The subscription fee is a turn off. I'd rather use free methods to watch computer content on my tv. I guess this has its uses but not nearly worth it for me.

Link-Hero

#18

Link-Hero said:

I just recently used this on my Wii, and it's decent at best. I would still rather use my Comcast package subscription where I can access just about every channel that I subscribed to instantly with non pixilated 480i to1080p resolutions. The navigation is not that smooth, the video quality is poor (and I have a fast internet connection), no search function, ect.

Though, I haven’t tried this on my Laptop yet. So I’m not sure how well it will work on that. Though I can’t figure out how to make this run on my laptop. Anyone who knows how, then the help would be appreciated.

Victoria

#21

Victoria said:

@LuWiiGi .. it's available here. I gave it a go, and stumbled my way through some features on it. It seemed a handy way to watch something on the TV that I'd normally watch through computer.

CaptainDingo

#22

CaptainDingo said:

What couldn't you guys find on Hulu, just out of curiosity? They tend to have all the shows worth watching. And by that, I mean awesome crime dramas. ;)

I agree with the fee being a turn-off. I can go on my computer and look at Hulu for free. Why on Earth would I pay to do it on my Wii? It sounds like the appeal for this sort of thing is extremely limited to people who both don't have TV, and also don't have a PC. I don't know anyone who doesn't have either one or the other.

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