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September 24, 2011

A Closer Look at PlayLater: The DVR for Internet Streaming Video

PlayLater Airplane Awesome


This one is especially for all of you who have been wanting a way to record Netflix streaming video or your Hulu videos. While there will probably never be a way to directly save Hulu or Netflix videos, capturing the video stream is the next best thing.


A few days ago MediaMall Technologies officially released PlayLater, their digital video recorder for capturing online streaming video, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, NFL Rewind, Comedy Central, Spike, ESPN, PBS and more. You can even record Pandora radio stations, which is pretty awesome. I’ve been using PlayLater for the past couple of days and now I’m ready to share the ins and outs of this new software with you.


What is PlayLater?

Basically PlayLater is new software that compliments MediaMall’s existing PlayOn software (if you want my take on it you can read my article on PlayOn and how to use it to stream Hulu and more to your Google TV). It adds the functionality to record the video streams that are available in PlayOn and store them as files (.plv files) on your computer. You can then play these files later, even when you don’t have an internet connection, using your media player of choice.


What “Channels” Can I Record with PlayLater?

PlayLater can record any video stream available in PlayOn (PlayOn must be running in order for PlayLater to work). Here is the list of available internet video streams (or, if you don’t feel like reading a list just check out the picture below): Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Video, CBS, Comedy Central, tv.com, TBS, OWN (that’s Oprah’s channel), SyFy, Adult Swim, Spike, ESPN, ESPN 3, NFL Rewind, MLB (Major League Baseball), NHL, Fox Soccer TV, CNN, Fox “News” Channel, live news, National Geographic, PBS, PBS Kids, Nick, Cartoon Network, YouTube, MTV, BET, VEVO, and Pandora.

PlayLater Channels

Internet streaming video channels available to record with PlayLater



Pandora? But that’s not video.

While Pandora radio is definitely not video, PlayLater records it as if it were. It records the Pandora on screen interface along with the audio. I must say the sound quality of the recording is excellent. Here’s what a Pandora recording looks like when played back:


PlayLater Pandora Radio Screen Shot

Pandora Recording


 Any way I can get more channels to capture?

 Yes, there is a small but dedicated community that develops third-party plugins for PlayOn. Once the PlayOn plugin is installed you should be able to record the streaming video with PlayLater. Three development communities to check out for plugins are:

 playonscripts.com     –     playonplugins.info     –     playonlabs.net


Is This Thing Legal?

I’m no lawyer, and I haven’t been to a Holiday Inn Express in ages. But PlayLater seems to have been designed to be as close to a standard DVR as possible, and I’d guess this is intended to avoid any lawsuits since a precedent has already been set with that technology.


Do you have to be a hacker to use it?

No, no, you don’t have to “hack” anything to use PlayLater, it’s got a nice user-friendly graphic interface. There are multiple ways to sort videos by air date, alphabetically, etc. You can also use Netflix’s handy search option to find exactly what you’re looking for. Then you just click a button and it starts recording. Click another show after that and it’s added to the queue. Click on “My Recordings” to see what you’ve recorded and what’s in your queue. It really couldn’t get any easier than this.


PlayLater Netflix Search Screenshot

Screen shot of PlayLater interface


 How’s the Video Quality?

The videos do lose a little bit of picture quality when you record internet streaming video with PlayLater. It could be a deal breaker for you, or it might not be too bad. I think it’s a matter of personal preference, so I took some screen shots to let you judge for yourself! Below you’ll see some large comparison screen shots from Netflix and Hulu. Click the picture to open the full size and compare the picture quality.


First up is the Pulp Fiction screen shot. The left one is from Netflix streaming, PlayLater on the right.

Netflix vs PlayLater Picture Quality Pulp Fiction

Netflix vs PlayLater picture quality (click for full size)


Now for the South Park screen shot. Again the one on the left is Netflix, and  PlayLater  on the right.

Netflix vs PlayLater Picture Quality South Park

Netflix vs PlayLater picture quality (click for full size)


And lastly, here is a Family Guy screen shot comparison. Hulu on the left, PlayLater on the right.

Hulu vs PlayLater Picture Quality Family Guy

Hulu vs PlayLater Picture Quality (click for full size)


Can I move the recordings to another computer?

No, the recordings are attached to the computer they were created on. If you move the video to another computer, cell phone, etc, it won’t work. It’s possible to reformat the video using a basic video editor, but I’m unsure of the legality of doing such a thing.


 What’s your take on PlayLater?

Personally, I think PlayLater is an awesome concept. I love having the ability to cut my dependence on wifi and to be able to take content from Hulu, Netflix, and others along with me wherever I go. Airplanes, camping, and road trips will be a lot more awesome from now on, that’s for sure. The big drawback here though, is that I can’t just drop the video file into my cell phone or other device and play it there. Hopefully MediaMall has something in the works that would allow this functionality, while still protecting the content from piracy.


Will I be buying it? I’m not sure if I travel enough right now to really justify paying for this service. If it was compatible with my Android phone, then I’d buy PlayLater in a heartbeat. But for those of you who do a lot of traveling, it just might be a godsend! Here’s the link to the free trial of Playlater, in case you’re interested.