Not Ready for Prime Time

Written by Larry Press lets you stream Internet video on your TV set. Our Larry Press gives it a try and here’s what he has to say.

My pal and fellow cord cutter Ant Pruitt has been telling me how much he likes, which lets you stream Internet video on your TV set, so I gave it a try.

The bottom line is that Playon kind of worked for me, but is not ready for the mass media prime time.

Read: your grandma will not like it.

I downloaded and installed the free Playon server on my laptop then installed the Playon “channel” on my Roku box. Playon offered me a selection of content from major sites like Hulu, Netflix, ESPN, CNN, NBC, PBS, Fox, MTV and Comedy Central. I decided to try Comedy Central, since I could not get it on my Roku box alone.

I started the Playon server on my laptop, turned on the Roku, selected Playon, and, after a few seconds’ delay, it discovered the laptop on my home Wi-Fi network. I navigated through the menus to find Comedy Central and selected a recent episode of John Stewart’s Daily Show with President Obama as a guest. After about 30 seconds for buffering, the stream began playing. As you see in this snapshot of my TV screen, the quality is not HD, but it fine for this sort of slow-action video.

President Obama and John Stewart

Everything was cool, but about 10 minutes into the program, the image stuttered, tried rebuffering, and then displayed Playon’s version of the Blue Screen of Death:

The load was too much for my Dell laptop with 4 GB of RAM, an Intel Core 2 CPU with a 3.06 Ghz clock speed, and Nvidia Quadro FX 770M with a 1920 x 1200 pixel display. I had anticipated streaming problems, so had taken the precaution of rebooting my laptop and starting the Windows Task Manager to monitor performance before running the test. I also started the Paint.Net image editor for saving the Task Manager images. The baseline performance load before starting the video was minimal:

Baseline performance after boot

While I was streaming the video, the resource requirements had increased significantly and my laptop was heating up and its fan was on, but it was still up to the task.

Memory and CPU utilization while streaming

When the video crashed, the relatively steady load become unstable, as shown here:

Unstable load after the crash

I don’t know what caused the crash — the Roku box, my laptop or some interaction between the two, but I decided to reboot both and try again. The show ran to completion the second time.

The performance problem I experienced will become a non-issue in the future. My next laptop will have at least 8 GB of memory and a faster CPU. I have no doubt that Playon will run smoothly even if I am browsing the Web or doing something else at the same time. My next Roku or similar device will also have more memory and CPU speed and I will probably be upgrading my Wi-Fi network as well.

Even then, I probably won’t watch much Playon video because there is a lot of overlap between the channel selections on my Roku box and Playon. Its value to me lies in being able to deliver content — like Comedy Central — that Roku does not offer.

The success of Roku, Playon and the other services for getting content onto your TV screen hinges on their ability to deliver that content. Like their hardware, the vendors’ video offerings change over time as they make deals with content providers. You can track those changes with this terrific spreadsheet created by Veronica Belmont.


  • Certainly not an app for your granndma but it is a cool little app for thpse who are comfortable with computers. The most challenging issue to me is the need to update regularly. For those on a budget it is a snazy way to get the free version of Hulu on your tv as well as CBS content which is not included on Hulu. Agter testing it I signed up for a lifetime license.

  • Works for me. I don’t use it if I have another option via OTA, Roku or my Android mini PC, but I use it quite a bit for viewing not available through one of those three. I do have a fairly new and powerful PC and have a Cat 6 line running to a wireless router in the attic just above where the Roku box sits. I will probably be running ethernet on to the Roku and Android mini PC in the near future, but even now, buffering is not a problem. Picture quality is less and navigation is cumbersome, but it beats paying for cable month in and month out when the content I want is often available on the internet and readily accessibly directly though a PC or via PlayOn.

  • Use hulu in playon if you want to watch the Daily Show or colbert report (works with free hulu version). Comedy Central servers aren’t exactly the greatest.

  • if you want the best playon has to offer you need to go to playon scipts. com and load up some private scripts like 1channel, ice films, project free tv. that will give you almost every movie and tv show ever can even watch a cam of a movie that is still in theaters if you like (but they suck ). also if you miss an episode of just about any tv show one night its on the next night on one of those private scripts. but your biggest problem is your computer. playon requires a somewhat decent system. i have a quad core running at 3.10 , six gigs of ram and a 1 tb hard drive. for me playon runs excellent.but you also need good internet service. i have around 22 mbs down and around 4 mbs up. oh and also i can stream any movie from my harddrive with perfect results. but i’m going the mini android route. so roku gets put in storage.