Today I had the pleasure of testing a service called PlayOn. In a nutshell, PlayOn plays (and records) video from the internet, transcodes it and broadcasts it over UPnP so you can watch it on a multitude of devices like Roku, Playstation, Wii, Mobile devices and Kodi based HTPCs which is our focus today.
In its most basic free form PlayOn can host and stream your video library, but we already have Kodi to do that. When you decide to pony up $50 a year or $99 for a lifetime (although at the time of this writing, both prices are 50% off so if you are considering it, now would be the time to subscribe.) The premium package grants you access to PlayOn’s “Channels,” like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Crackle, etc. If you have a cable subscription you can also log into each of the major networks and sign in to watch videos and live streams. Comcast customers have access to most of their subscribed networks available to stream from the Xfinity Channel (which can come in handy if you want to get access to live TV on your Kodi box, but don’t want to invest in a TV Tuner or HDHomeRun.)
You could get most of the content PlayOn provides with other Kodi addons, and a bunch of clever hackery in the case of Hulu and Netflix. But, to put it simply, PlayOn is the absolute easiest way to get it into Kodi. Just simply install the PlayOn server, sign in to all your streaming accounts, and start watching. Like most things in life however, there are are some caveats. For one, the PlayOn server needs to be installed on a Windows machine. If you run Kodi on Windows you can just install it on your HTPC, but if you are using OpenELEC or Kodibuntu, you will need an “always on” Windows box to host the server. Because of the transcoding done before streaming the media to your HTPC, you can expect video quality to be degraded, sometimes quite noticeably. There are settings you can play with to adjust the transcoding but it can not be turned off, so there will always be some degradation. That means if you are the type of person who gets queasy at the thought of watching anything under 1080p you may want to look elsewhere.
Our third caveat won’t affect users who just navigate the PlayOn Browser and watch what they want, but may affect a few edge cases. Anytime the PlayOn server is restarted the UPnP address of the specific media changes. What does this mean? For example, I set about building a few PlayOn based channels in PseudoTV Live (my favorite addon) and they worked beautifully. I had my Netflix favorites, popular Hulu episodes, even a few live TV channels from the Xfinity app all tied in…then my power went out. When the power returned, the addresses of all that media had changed. I launched PseudoTV Live again, and everything came crashing to a halt. I was able to rebuild the channels again, but every time the server reboots I have the same problem. I spoke to the PTVL developer about the issues, but with PlayOn’s 4.0 upgrade the code that was put in to deal with that was broken and it isn’t high on his priority list to fix it. Admittedly it is a very specific problem, but it is worth knowing about because anything that would rely on that address never changing would meet with a similar fate.
Despite those few catches, PlayOn is a terrific service that I highly recommend you try, especially if you use Netflix or Hulu. You can even record anything from PlayOn’s channels (for example, movies from Netflix that are going to be removed) or just about anything you can find on the internet using their included browser extension called PlayMark. There currently is no way to record something from the Kodi interface, but it is a breeze to do it right from PlayOn’s Windows interface.
The first step is to visit https://www.playon.tv/ on your always on Windows computer and download the software. You get a free 15 day trial of the premium package so you can see if PlayOn is right for your needs. Anytime I can try before I buy I am a happy man. The next step is to fire up PlayOn and open the Settings. Here you will go through the admittedly tedious process of signing into each of PlayOn’s channels. Hey, at least you only have to do it once! While you are there I recommend enabling mobile access in the mobile tab of the settings so you can watch any of these videos with the PlayOn Android or iOS apps. Conveniently enough, your machine’s local ip address is also listed here under the Diagnostic Information, so make a note of it as we will need it in a minute.
Once you are logged into everything and the PlayOn server is quietly humming away in the background you can turn to Kodi. Now, if you go to your UPnP sources under the Videos > Files directory of Kodi you will see PlayOn. You can browse around everything here if you like, or you can install the PlayOn Browser addon from the official Kodi repo. I prefer using the PlayOn Browser because I like the interface slightly better, but the choice is yours. If you want to use the PlayOn Browser go to Settings > Add-Ons > Install from repository > Kodi Add-on repository > Video add-ons > and click on “PlayOn Browser”. When the prompt opens select “Install.” After the installation is complete, open the context menu and choose “Configure.” You will have to chane the Playon Server IP address to the one you noted above, but leave the port number as the default. Next, browse for your UPnP source by clicking Browse > UPnP Media Servers (Auto-Discover) > PlayOn: > and then hitting “OK.” That’s all there is to it.
You can find the PlayON Browser in your video add-ons just waiting for your Netflix binge watches. Hit the video, wait for it to buffer for a few seconds, kick back and relax. You’ve earned it!
Be sure to check back for more Kodi tips, tricks, and tutorials!