I’ve been playing quite a bit with a Google TV box that I received as a gift a few weeks back. I do think it has potential and interesting use cases, especially when the app store opens up on it, but right now I get the ‘nobody is home’ feeling. There just isn’t a whole lot to do. ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX all block access to their sites from Google TV, so I can’t watch any of their shows. “What about Hulu?” you might say… well sadly, that is blocked too. Even the new Hulu Plus isn’t available on the Google TV yet.
Recently I came across a really interesting product called PlayOn. I received an email from AppSumo (I suggest you signup, they offer cool software bundles for cheap) that included PlayOn. For $19 bucks I got 6 months free of PlayOn plus a whole bunch of other software.
PlayOn allows you to access Hulu, NetFlix, YouTube, and a bunch of other streaming service on your TV via a number of supported devices. These devices include Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Moxi, Google TV, etc. So what does this have to do with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch? I bought the service for my Google TV because it allowed me to access Hulu on my TV, but I’ve found that it is useful for watching videos on my iPad as well.
The way it is able to pull off this end-around on Hulu and the other services is by involving a PC on your network. You install a pretty simple client on your PC, and the video is accessed via this utility on the PC (all in the background). Then, your other device (iPad, Google TV, etc) identify that this is running on your network through a native app or web app, and the magic begins. The utility transcodes on the fly and sends it to the device in a supported format. That device can then send it to your TV, or in the case of the iPhone or iPad, you can watch it right there on the device. There is also a configuration option that allows you to access Hulu even if you aren’t on the same network. This means that anytime you have a data connection on an iPad or iPhone, you can access Hulu (via the utility on your PC) because of the adjustments it makes to your router.
So, this isn’t quite free. You do have to pay for a license…. but its cheap. $39.99 for the first year and $19.99 each year after that. Or, you can buy a lifetime license for $79.99. Compare either of these price points with a Hulu Plus subscription that runs $7.99 a month, and you can see that this is a fairly economical solution, and the savings definitely add up over time.
Are there downsides to PlayOn? Yes. Its not so much of PlayOn’s fault, but if you don’t have Hulu Plus, you only get Standard Definition. I don’t know about you, but I won’t watch Standard Def on my TV. I just won’t. However, on the iPad, SD isn’t that noticeable. PlayOn also doesn’t have a Mac version yet, they only have a Windows version (see this note from their CEO on why that is the case). This is easy to workaround via Parallels, and they say that a lot of users do just that.
Its certainly worth a try, and they have a 14-day free trial, so give it a go. You might find an interesting use case for yourself that makes it all worth it.