PlayOn gives cord-cutters an offline DVR, but it’s pricey

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PlayOn gives cord-cutters an offline DVR, but it’s pricey

While streaming video has a lot of things going for it, watching TV offline isn’t one of them.

Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu don’t work without internet access, and live TV services such as Sling TV and YouTube TV come with cloud-based DVRs that only work online. Those requirements can be a problem for some potential cord-cutters, particularly those who don’t have fast, dependable internet service at home.

That’s what makes PlayOn’s new Android TV app so intriguing. With certain streaming devices, such as Nvidia’s Shield TV or the new TiVo Stream 4K, you can record shows from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services, then download them for offline viewing. It’s a clever way to deal with internet speed limits and still have plenty to watch.

The only problem is PlayOn’s convoluted price structure, which can get expensive quickly.

How PlayOn downloads streaming video

PlayOn has been around for more than a decade, and I’ve covered it a few times in this column. Until now, I’ve mostly focused on its Windows software. For a one-time purchase of $70 (and often on sale for much less), that software lets you record shows from your streaming services onto a PC.

Not everyone has a dedicated Windows computer, though, so in late 2016, PlayOn launched a cloud-based version of its service. Instead of making you record shows on your own hardware, PlayOn Cloud records programs remotely, then lets you download them through its iOS or Android apps. You can then cast the videos to Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, or Fire TV over a local Wi-Fi connection.

playonmobile Jared Newman / IDG

PlayOn’s mobile app lets you sign into streaming services and manage recordings.

That approach also had one problem: Most phones don’t have ample storage for dozens of movies or TV episodes, so you had to keep most recordings online until you needed them. With the new Android TV app, you can plug an external hard drive into your streaming player, load it up with downloads, then watch them offline directly through your TV. PlayOn can record videos from more than 20 streaming sources, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, HBO, Showtime, Tubi, and CBS All Access. (You still need to use PlayOn’s iOS or Android apps to sign into these services and set up recordings.)

I tested this on an 2017 Nvidia Shield TV with a 128GB thumb drive, and while the interface could use some polish, I was impressed with how the software worked. PlayOn presents a simple, two-part menu, indicating which recordings are stored online with PlayOn, and which ones are on the device itself.

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