PlayOn, the video recording software that lets you make your own digital copies of virtually any online programming from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video and other services, has just made it easier for Android users to join the video recording party. With the new Android app, you don’t need a computer to set your recordings, play them back or store them.
The software, from Seattle-based MediaMall Technologies, is the Android version of the previously released PlayOn Cloud software for iOS. Both apps let you browse “channels” on your mobile device for the movies or TV shows you want to download, and record them on their servers. When the recordings are completed there, you can download them as digital/MP4 files. Each file is tagged with a notice that the recording was made via PlayOn and references your name.
Files are recorded in real time in PlayOn’s cloud (actually Amazon Web Services) – e.g., an hour episode takes an hour to record — but downloading by consumers takes only seconds depending on your Internet speed. When an episode is recorded in the cloud, PlayOn sends out an email enabling you to save the file to your device. According to Jeff Lawrence, PlayOn president/CEO, the recordings are currently in 480p at the app’s launch. If customers demand HD quality, 720p is a future option.
The 480p file gives mobile device viewers a crisp image on a small screen, less so on a 60 inch-plus HDTV screen. But the smaller digital file is far more memory-friendly than its HD counterpart. A test of the app shows that a typical 45-minute downloaded TV show might consume about 380 MB; a 720p file will be more than a gigabyte.
Launched last year, the iOS version was PlayOn Cloud’s soft launch, said Lawrence in an interview. “We needed to dip our toe in the water.” Recording prices per file were set at 99 cents, which some consumers consider too high. With the Android release, the company is offering packages that reduce recording costs to as little as 20 to 40 cents per recording. A monthly package, as yet unspecified, may come in the next two months.
Each recording requires one credit. Using the PlayOn Cloud mobile app, credits cost 40 cents each, or a maximum 20 credits for $4.99. Buying through the PlayOn website, credit prices drop to 20 cents each but you’ll need to buy a minimum 100 credits for a total of $20. Want to download everything possible? A maximum 500 credits goes for $100.
While the PlayOn Cloud app offers only 12 channels at launch, the cloud app will continue to add more services. Currently, Android and iOS users can record shows from Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Amazon Video and several broadcasters. PlayOn’s older PC-based sibling, PlayOn Desktop, continues to provide HD/720p recordings for upwards of 65 channels including cable providers such as Comcast/Xfinity and Time Warner. The company will also launch a PC cloud app offering similar recording/cloud playback services as the Android and iOS apps.
One caveat: if the channel you’re recording via PlayOn is subscription-based (e.g., Netflix) you’ll still need to pay for that service to make PlayOn recordings. No free lunch here.
When it was founded in 2003, PlayOn was a service making possible the viewing of Internet media on home TV sets. Its more significant use today is for recording programs and taking them offline. While several sites, such as Netflix, enable downloading shows and movies offline, Lawrence says that PlayOn is the only service letting its customers download the full range of programs available to subscribers. He noted that 40 percent of Netflix’s library isn’t downloadable directly from the Netflix app, but the full streaming Netflix library is available via PlayOn.
Are PlayOn recordings legal? PlayOn maintains that they are just time-shifting, and are protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1984 Sony v. Universal Studios’ decision that recording for time-shifting purposes does not constitute copyright infringement.
Lawrence acknowledged that the company has a relatively low profile. “We’re not a huge name,” he said. “We fill in when there’s no other way to record that content.” There are no IPO plans in the company’s future, he noted.
A PlayOn spokesman claims that virtually the entire Netflix library, some 55,000 to 60,000 titles, are being downloaded each month through PlayOn.
He does see growth with the cloud service, however, because it can function without users needing computers, or customers unwilling to tie up their computers with lengthy download times. He also quoted a report from Akamai, citing that 15 to 20 million U.S. homes have minimal or spotty broadband coverage — a big potential market for PlayOn in the future.