Streaming content from the Internet is getting better and better as time progresses. We are seeing more content, higher quality and more reliable streams – it’s also pretty cheap. A lot of content is completely free with some premium streaming services offering dirt cheap stream only packages, like Netflix for only $7.99 a month. With all these positive vibes surrounding it, can streaming content allow you to kick your cable box to the curb? A couple of foundation applications – PlayOn and TubeCore – might just make that a reality for some of you.
Introduction and Installation of PlayOn
PlayOn and TubeCore have both been around a while, but I’ve never had much interest in them – mainly due to Comcast’s decision to limit my monthly bandwidth to 250GB. Sure 250GB is a lot and I’ve never gone over, but I get close and that’s without using the Internet as my primary source of watchable content. However, considering there were free trials of both, I figure it was about time I at least see what they offered.
PlayOn is basically a back-end streaming content aggregator. It is where all the streams are added so that DLNA-capable client devices (like the Wii, XBox360, PS3 and more) can access them from a central point on your own network. Streams are organized into channels, much like your typical cable subscription provides. Common network stations such as Fox, ESPN, MTV and others all have streams and can be distributed to PlayOn clients. Premium subscription services are also available, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora and more. By using the PlayOn master interface and providing the credentials for premium services you are subscribed to, all clients connected to the PlayOn server will be able to connect and use it.
PlayOn comes with an initial 14-day fully functional trial period and can be downloaded from here. Should you choose to purchase a license, the cost can be broken down into four available options:
- $39.99 for the first year and $19.99 each year thereafter. Cancel at any time.
- a $4.99 flat monthly plan. Cancel at any time.
- A one-time $79.99 lifetime license that is valid for the life of the product.
- If you already have a license, you will have a couple of upgrade options available to you.
After downloading the package, it’s a simple MSI file for installing. Double-clicking and accepting the defaults will be just fine…there’s really nothing to choose except a different file location if you need to do that.
After installation completes, the Quick Start Guide will welcome you to your newly installed PlayOn server application. I just clicked Next through the series of pages as I didn’t not have any compliant devices on my network to write about in this article (I have a Wii, but that’s another story).
Since I wasn’t adding any DLNA-compatible devices (Windows Media Center is not), the Quick Start Guide was closed and the PlayOn Settings manager was openeded. This is where all the real configuration takes place. On the General tab, we have our free support button (premium support is included during the 14-day trial!), Video Performance settings, Resuming Playback option, the PlayOn Media Server service control options and Parental Control features. I made few changes there and moved on.
On the System Check tab, there are some system specific tests for bandwidth, CPU performance and displays for available storage space and memory (RAM). You can also choose whether or not to be notified of available PlayOn updates and even whether or not your antivirus and/or firewall application may cause issues with your PlayOn clients connecting to the server. Proactive troubleshooting…I like it!
The next tab is where the good stuff starts – Channels. By default, all available channels are enabled and many require necessary credentials to access them. The list of channels as of the version I was using consists of:
The only premium subscription I had in that bunch was Netflix, so I logged in with that. I also logged in with hulu, but I only have an account there…I don’t subscribe to Plus.
Next are Plugins. There is only one plugin available in the default installation – Yule Log – which displays various fireplace videos found on the Internet. Many more are available at PlayOnPlugins.com, however…many more. I didn’t mess around with these much…just browsed the forum there to see what was available.
Continuing on, we reach My Media. Here, we can add local media via shares for PlayOn to distribute out to compatible clients. If you look at the bottom, you’ll see a check box for enabling and an indicator that it is still a beta function.
Although I’m not adding any shares at this time (this writeup is focusing on streaming content only), I decided to check it and see what the setup looked like. I received a popup indicating that it required VLC to be installed as that is what is used for the transcoding engine. Clicking Yes directs you to download VLC. I selected No and moved along.
Mobile Access is next and I won’t touch on this much either. I’m focusing on streaming online content to HTPCs, so this isn’t really necessary to go into. However, a quick glance shows you can enable mobile access and if you have an UPnP router on your network, it will automatically detect it and configure it for use. You can then use the Test button to the right to ensure it’s working properly.
The next to last tab is the Social Network tab. Here is your chance to be really annoying to all your friends on applicable social networks. You can spam all of them with what you’re watching at any time of the day. However, you can specify which channels you want to spam them with by selecting only those you wish in the check box-enabled list to the right. This feature is also in beta mode.
I did enable Twitter and clicked the Setup button just for the sake of review, so here’s the screen of that. Pretty typical of any application that needs access to Twitter.
Finally, we make it to the end – Registration. If you decide to purchase PlayOn, this is where you will enter your username and the license key they have given you. You also have the options to recover a lost key or purchase PlayOn directly from this screen (opens their website). Other pertinent information about the current version and whatnot can be seen at the bottom, to include release notes.
We will now move on to TubeCore installation and setup. Turn the page…