If your main living room television is anything like mine, you've probably already run out of space and connections for any new devices. Between things like the satellite box, the DVD player, gaming consoles, etc. there just isn't any more room for new devices.
So while I've been intrigued by devices like the Roku, which lets you play Netflix Watch Instantly movies on your TV, I just don't have the room for any new devices. But what if I could use one of the devices I already have hooked to my TV for playing any Internet-based video, whether it's Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, whatever?
That's where a little piece of software called PlayOn comes in. PlayOn is a Windows application that, when installed on a PC, makes it possible to send Internet-based video and other media from your PC to a gaming console.
PlayOn has been available for PS3 and Xbox 360 for a while but they recently released a beta that worked with the Nintendo Wii, the console system that I have, so I decided to try out this new beta. PlayOn is essentially an easy-to-use program that turns a PC into a media server, taking content from video services, converting it to work on console systems, and then sending it to these consoles via their network connections.
Set-up of PlayOn is simple and straightforward. Once installed on a Windows system, it can be configured to run automatically or on demand. To get it to work with most Internet video services, I had to enter my account names and passwords in the PlayOn configuration interface.
From here I switched over to my Wii system. To use the PlayOn service, you'll need to have the Opera-based Internet Channel installed on your Wii. Luckily, this recently became a free option for Wii owners.
From the Wii browser, I then entered the Web-address playon.tv. This basically enables the handshake connection between the PC and the console, and then from there the entire connection is over your local home network.
I found the PlayOn interface simple to use and navigate. On first login a selection of video services is shown and the user simply selects the service they want to use. On Netflix, PlayOn showed me my current queue of Watch Instantly movies and I could also browse through movies and TV shows in multiple ways. With other services it can show favorites or channels that you've set up using the standard Web interface for these services. Once I found a program I wanted to watch, I simply hit play.
But enough about the interface, how was the video quality? Surprisingly good. Sure, it's not HD, but it was pretty close to DVD quality. On some programs there was a bit of clipping but others played very smoothly.
Of course, there are a few gotchas. Using PlayOn on the Wii, I could find no way to fast forward video while watching so try not to fall asleep half-way through a movie. Also, watching content in this way can be straining on both your home network and the system running as the PlayOn server. I'd recommend not using that system for anything else stressful (say playing a game) while someone else is trying to watch video through a console. Also, you probably don't want to be doing anything else that's bandwidth-intensive at the same time.
Another area of concern is the services themselves. Some of these video services don't want people to deliver content to televisions. Hulu especially has been known to make it difficult for services like this to work. There will probably be times when some services fail to work.
PlayOn also has a beta functionality to serve any media files that are on that system. Using this I could send home videos over to my TV through PlayOn and the Wii and also view pictures. It supposedly could also play audio files but so far after several days of use I haven't gotten that to work.
So is PlayOn worth using? I guess it depends on your local set-up. If you have the ability to run connections directly from a PC to your television then that's probably the best way to go. But if, like me, you lack both new connection abilities and the space for new hardware around the TV, then PlayOn is an intriguing option for watching Internet video on your regular television.
PlayOn is priced at $39.99 but a fully functional 14-day trial is available for those who want to check out the set-up and quality of the application.
For more information, go to http://www.themediamall.com/playon