PlayOn has always been a handy tool for a certain type of cord-cutter.
You can record TV series from streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and HBO Max using PlayOn’s desktop software, allowing you to watch them even after your subscription expires or they transfer to a different service. It’s essentially a DVR for streaming providers without their own built-in recording capabilities.
However, PlayOn creator MediaMall secretly announced a major change earlier this month: the firm is dropping its current desktop software in favour of a subscription-based service named PlayOn Home. While PlayOn Desktop is still functional as of this writing, its recording capabilities will gradually deteriorate, and the program will eventually stop working with Windows 11.
While the shift is vital for MediaMall’s operations, it leaves users with lifetime PlayOn licenses stranded.
PlayOn DVR explained
PlayOn’s DVR service was available in two versions till earlier this month:
PlayOn Desktop is a Windows program that puts videos into a hidden web browser and records them to your hard drive silently. It was available for a one-time fee of $70, although it was frequently discounted, and it allowed for limitless recording.
PlayOn Cloud is a web-based version of the service that does not require a Windows computer to use. Users can queue recordings from their phone or computer, and PlayOn will record them on its servers before making them available for download. Each recording costs one “credit” (about $0.15) for up to 720p resolution and three credits (approximately $0.15) for 1080p.
In both cases, you’ll have.MP4 video files that you can do whatever you want with. This is useful in a variety of situations:
- Access to a movie or show after it has been removed from a streaming provider.
- Purchasing and watching movies or episodes after your membership has expired.
- Videos can be saved for offline viewing without any time constraints.
- To avoid buffering, download videos ahead of time.
- To centralize TV viewing in a single app, use a Plex or Channels DVR server.
Keep in mind that live TV streaming services like YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV come with their own DVR. And, because other services, such as Netflix, are by their very nature on-demand, you may not require DVR functions to go along with them.
Still, PlayOn appeals to power users who want more control over their TV viewing experience, and PlayOn Desktop proved especially handy because there were no additional expenses beyond the original purchase.
The death of PlayOn Desktop
While PlayOn Cloud will continue to exist, PlayOn Desktop was updated to its last version on October 7 and is no longer available for purchase. PlayOn Home, a new Windows product that costs $5 per month or $40 per year but functions similarly to the old Desktop version, has taken its place.
Part of the rationale for the change is technological. According to Tracy Burman, MediaMall’s COO, Windows 11 introduces a substantial change in how Microsoft’s Edge browser is integrated. As a result, the organization was obliged to overhaul its whole capture procedure.
However, rebranding is also being used to address an unsustainable business model. PlayOn’s recording capabilities are susceptible to breakage whenever a streaming service updates its website, necessitating ongoing maintenance just to keep the software operational. By the end of last year, MediaMall had stopped releasing new features to its desktop program and was directing users to PlayOn Cloud; the problems with Windows 11 appear to have been the final straw in keeping the desktop software running.
“It was not possible to develop and maintain this new and improved version of PlayOn without some continuous investment from our clients,” Burman said in an email.
As a result, MediaMall now has an incentive to reinvest in its desktop software. It recently added new content sources, such as Discovery+ and Acorn, and its iOS and Android apps will soon be able to cast video from Windows PCs to streaming players. (However, don’t expect 1080p support on the desktop; according to Burman, given the way PlayOn’s recording technology works, very few household PCs have the necessary processing power.)
All of this is of little comfort to PlayOn consumers who purchased “lifetime” rights. They can now get three-month PlayOn Home trials—or more, depending on when they acquired the software—but the previous PlayOn desktop software will soon become obsolete as its recording capabilities deteriorate. On PlayOn’s Reddit website, where an announcement post has hundreds of primarily angry comments, the news has not gone over well.
Without knowing the ins and outs of PlayOn’s company, I believe MediaMall could have done more to satisfy those customers. It might, for example, offer them long-term savings on PlayOn Home or a longer support period for PlayOn Desktop.
However, the corporation may perceive that the options are restricted. Anystream and StreamFab, for example, are far more expensive, with lifetime service costing 260 Euros and $240, respectively. They also work in a fundamentally different way than live video broadcasts, downloading videos directly from their source websites. I’m curious if those services, which are less than two years old, would be able to resist media company scrutiny in the same manner that PlayOn has over the course of its 13-year existence.
Users who do not want to be billed on a recurring basis will just have to make the best of a bad situation. That means recording as much as they can before PlayOn Desktop breaks, buying inexpensive PlayOn Cloud recording credits when they go on sale (which happens rather frequently, based on the advertising emails I get), and using PlayOn Home for a month or two when there’s more to record than usual.