Last week, I wrote up my experiences on the Boxee Box vs. Roku and I mentioned that one of the frustrating limitations of the Roku was the inability to view local media stored on my NAS (Network Area Storage) box. I also mentioned that it was primarily the lack of live sports events (being married to a Buckeye) that keeps me from giving up Satellite.
Well, a friend suggested that I give PlayOn (www.playon.tv) a try. So I did. The conclusion? PlayOn is not ready for prime time, but there is potential there.
To give you some background, I have a pretty robust network environment at home. My wireless devices are all 802.11N with good performance, and the NAS sits on a 1GB switch. Netflix and Hulu both stream like champs to my Roku.
PlayOn requires a “server” that runs on a PC on your network. Once that is installed, you can connect to it with other devices (iPhone/iPad, Roku, XBox, etc.) and stream a number of different channels. The idea was pretty appealing, because you can stream content from ESPN, ESPNIII, PBS Kids, etc. It’s an interesting selection–and channels that we watch a lot in our house (PBS Kids, especially). There is also a feature that lets you stream your local media files (well, almost).
Installing the PlayOn server on the PC was easy. It was also very easy to get the channel installed on the Roku. Sadly, though, that’s where PlayOn stopped performing.
First up, we tried to watch Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, on the PBS Kid’s channel. It took forever to start the stream, and then, before the video started, an error popped up that the media file was “unavailable or an unsupported format”. What? An unsupported format? It’s their system. Okay, so we tried another episode. Same thing. Frustrating.
We decided to move on and try another channel. We tried Cartoon Network, and I just tried a cartoon at random. Another annoyance: it started playing an ad, but the buffer ran out before the ad was finished. So, it replayed the ad from the beginning. Three times. This was to be a constant problem. Finally, the program started and it played OK.
The final network TV test was Comedy Central. I queued up an episode of the Colbert Report. After watching the same ad three times in a row, the video started to play. Then, about 1.5 seconds later, the audio started to play. It remained out of sync for several minutes when I just got so annoyed I gave up.
I would be more forgiving of these issues if I thought it were a problem with my setup, but since I regularly use Netflix streaming and Hulu Plus–both of which are awesome, I’m pretty sure all of the issues with streaming were problems with PlayOn. And considering most of the potential users of PlayOn are probably also users of either Netflix or Hulu, I would say PlayOn has a way to go in improving their software if they want people to pay for their service.
Overall, the network programming was a big fail. So I decided to try the local media option. In fairness, PlayOn makes it very clear this feature is in Beta. So I really can’t fault PlayOn that it did not work for me at all. I do have an atypical setup, too, in that I have a NAS box where I store my media, so I’ll cut PlayOn some slack.
In the end, I’m still stoked about the potential for a product like PlayOn, which would let me stream individual network television. We watch very little broadcast television in our house, limited to about five channels with any regularity. If we could subscribe to a service that allowed us access to that content, and found a way around the live sporting events, we’d drop satellite/cable in a heartbeat. So listen up PlayOn: the market is there! PlayOn isn’t priced bad at all: $3.50 per month. If it worked, I’d gladly pay that. However, based on my experience with PlayOn so far, it’s not work any money at all. Yet. If they fix their software issues, or a competitor comes along with software that works well, that could easily change.