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PlayLater Review – When You Absolutely, Positively Can’t Play It Now

Posted by on February 3, 2012 at 9:44 am

Do you stream a lot of videos over the internet using services like Hulu and Netflix? Do you sometimes get frustrated when your favorite movie or TV show is only available online for a limited time? Are you unconcerned with video quality? Well, if you answered yes, then PlayLater may be for you.

Developed by MediaMall Technologies, PlayLater is billed as a DVR for online videos. Just like your TiVo saves television broadcasts for you to view later (and VHS tapes did before that), PlayLater saves content streamed from internet services like Hulu and Netflix on your PC for you to view later.

If you’ve ever looked at the licensing details for a TV show on Hulu, then you might see why PlayLater was created. Each and every show on Hulu has different licensing restrictions and different availability, ranging from an entire season to just one episode. All the CW shows, for example, only have the last five episodes available at a time on Hulu. With PlayLater, you can record an expiring episode to your PC before it goes away and then watch it whenever you want.

Or, if you travel and don’t always have access to an internet connection, you can watch a video that you’ve recorded from an online service like VEVO or Amazon VOD on your laptop while on the plane. As far as mobile devices, MediaMall says, “We are working on a standalone player solution for iOS and Android phones so you may take your PlayLater recordings with you on your mobile devices.”

It works like TiVo. When you select the video to record, the software starts streaming the video and recording it in real time. Video size is a little under half a gig for a 30-minute show and a full gig for an hour-long show. It records commercials and all, though you can skip these when watching. Video quality isn’t great – you’re basically watching a compressed recording of a compressed stream. The video is saved in a proprietary video format that you can watch on Windows Media Player or through MediaMall’s other service PlayOn, which is an also-ran program that allows you to stream online content from your PC to your Xbox 360, PS3, Roku and so on.

The software is drab and bare bones. You navigate through the in-software guide, which scrubs available videos from services like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon VOD, CBS, MTV, ESPN and more. You click the video you want to record and it adds it to a queue. There is no option to set a timer to record later – once you click, the recording starts. You also can’t set the software up to automatically record a new show when it becomes available. It’s very rudimentary – more like a digital VHS tape than a DVR. I tried it out with three 30 Rock videos and everything recorded just fine, though during playback I noticed a small lag between video and audio during a five minute portion of one of the videos.

You may be asking, “Is this legal?” Apparently, PlayLater falls under the same rules that make Digital Video Recorders legal. According to PlayLater’s FAQ:

PlayLater is a legal technology that is designed to let individuals watch legal online content at a time of their choosing. Just like the broadcast DVR and the VCR before it, PlayLater is designed for personal use and convenience.

PlayLater isn’t free. As of this writing, PlayLater costs $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year. You also have the option to bundle your purchase with PlayOn if you want to watch your PlayLater video recordings on your TV through your game console. MediaMall’s big selling point is that they cost a lot less than paying for cable or satellite.

This cost strikes me as too high for what you get. This is niche product, and, truth be told, this kind of software should be made redundant by the internet anyway (TiVo has been, to some extent). I’d rather that services like Hulu and Netflix solve the licensing restrictions that make something like PlayLater even necessary. Rather than scrubbing through the clunky PlayLater software to record a video that may or may not be expiring in a few days, I’d rather just pay my subscription to Hulu or Netflix and watch whatever tickles my fancy without having to worry about when a show expires or what device it’s playable on.

Until that day comes, however, then cord-cutters that have ditched their cable and satellite services have PlayLater as an option to record their streamable content.

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