PlayOn’s streaming video DVR just got a lot better

As I write this column, I’m downloading dozens of movies from streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access, and Peacock.

But instead of using the built-in download function in those services’ mobile apps, I’m using a program called PlayOn to make recordings of each video. That means I can keep the recordings indefinitely, transfer them to practically any device, and feed them into my whole-home DVR.

Although PlayOn isn’t new—it’s been around for well over a decade now—the reason I’m gorging on it now is because of a couple big updates to the service: Its desktop PC software no longer requires Adobe Flash to function, and the cloud-based version now integrates with Channels DVR, which provides a slick interface for viewing all of PlayOn’s recordings.

Those two changes turn PlayOn into a much more viable way for cord-cutters to record video from Netflix and other on-demand streaming sources. While not everyone needs what PlayOn has to offer, it’s worth considering if you want more control over your cord-cutting setup.

No more Flash headaches

If you have a desktop PC that runs Windows, I’d suggest using PlayOn’s desktop software, which has a one-time cost of $70 (and is often on sale for less). After installing the app, you enter the logins for all your streaming subscriptions, then use PlayOn’s menu to navigate their catalog. For any movie or TV show, you can press a record button to add the video to your DVR queue, and PlayOn will quietly run in the background, recording each video as an MP4 file on your hard drive.

playonrecord Jared Newman / IDG

PlayOn’s Windows software lets you build a queue of recordings, then downloads them in the background.

Until last month, PlayOn came bundled with Adobe Flash, which some streaming services used to rely on for web playback. There was no way to prevent PlayOn from installing Flash, so using the software meant opening yourself to potential security vulnerabilities.

Fortunately, that’s no longer the case. Adobe discontinued Flash at the end of 2020, and PlayOn stopped bundling the software in a recent update. Even without Flash installed, I haven’t run into any major issues recording video from Netflix, CBS All Access, Peacock, and Disney+.

PlayOn’s desktop software still has some drawbacks. Occasionally, it might fail to record a program, in which case you’ll need to re-add it to your queue and start again. And as of now, video resolution is limited to 720p. (PlayOn says it plans to add 1080p video support later this year.)

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