Review of Roku’s PlayCast App

Ryan Michael Downey

The PlayCast App is available in the Channel Store

The PlayCast App is available in the Channel Store

On November 18, Roku and PlayOn announced a new capability for Roku called PlayCast that allows those with a PlayOn server on a Windows computer to play web based videos on their TV’s. The Streaming Advisor recently took a look at the new app.

How Can I access PlayCast on My Roku?
First add the PlayCast channel to your Roku. It is available under the Internet TV heading in the channel store. In order to use PlayCast you must have the PlayOn server installed on a Windows PC. Once installed, the PlayOn server (which also has a private app for the Roku) provides access to numerous TV channels and third party apps.  Next you must add the PlayOn extension to your browser of choice. Detailed instructions as to how to integrate the PlayOn extension in to four major browsers; Microsoft Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome are provided in PlayOn’s user guide. In our test the only browser that was able to easily integrate the extension was Google Chrome. This should be no surprise considering the investment the company has already made in second screen technology. While the PlayOn server is free, the actual PlayOn service is not. There are numerous pricing options including a special $29.00 onetime fee offered to Roku users. PlayOn’s pricing guide can be found here.

How It Works

The new feature builds off of PlayOn’s  PlayMark service, which allows users to save videos from anywhere on the web and watch them via the PlayOn. First navigate to the website where the video you wish to view is. Queue the video by or clicking the PlayOn Icon in the tool bar. Initially you will see a mini screen where the video will be displayed without sound. Click the green next button to continue. This brings you to a screen where the video is saved in an automatically created PlayMark folder for later viewing.

How I Evaluated The Service
For my test I took a look at three popular video sites that are not currently offered as Roku Channels. Those three sites were Yahoo more specifically “Yahoo Screen” CBS.com and YouTube. I accessed the sites from In the Chrome browser, which as mentioned earlier was the only browser to smoothly integrate the PlayOn extension on the first try.

Performance
The videos from all three sites loaded relatively quickly considering that they have to be transcoded and sent from the computer to the Roku. Once the videos loaded there was no buffering or audio problems.

The video played in standard definition sticking with PlayOn’s normal playback quality. As I viewed each video it became part of a library automatically organized by folders indicating the source of the material, CBS shows were put in a CBS folder, Yahoo Videos in a Yahoo folder etc. Afterwards I was able to access the videos is the PlayMark plugin channel.

PlayOn saves videos for later viewing on your computer.

This screenshot is the last step before videos will play on the Roku. Click image for a larger view.

When using Yahoo Screen the site automatically played other videos in the order that they appeared in a given category without having to be launched individually. YouTube videos loaded and played very well. Unlike Yahoo screen videos do not automatically load so each video must be loaded individually.  On CBS.com I chose to watch a full episode of Elementary. The video loaded cleanly and displayed through the CBS video player that can be accessed from its website. When viewed as it was playing there were no problems but there is no way to skip ahead to another point in a show. This is because the content has to download in real time. For those with a slow internet connection or a poorly performing computer this might cause some video playback issues. The video feed closed at the conclusion of the show.

Only Launches From A PC
An important note about PlayCast. The only piece of hardware capable of launching the service is a Windows based PC. Users can not send videos to their TVs from a smart phone, tablet or any Apple computer to the television. PlayCast is likely Roku’s first step in its push to offer a Roku based option to compete with Apple TV’s AirPlay and the Chrome Cast ‘s casting capabilities.


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