When we last left PlayOn, the clever video-streaming Web server, its official iTunes App Store app had been unceremoniously back-burnered by Apple, shortly after we published a hands-on preview of it.
The official PlayOn app never did make it past the Apple gatekeepers, but MediaMall Technologies, PlayOn's parent company, has been working on an HTML5-based "Web app" as a replacement. The iPhone and iPod Touch version has been functional at m.playon.tv for several weeks, but the new update to PlayOn's PC-based server software will finally support the iPad as well.
We got an early peek at the new iPad-compatible PlayOn software update, and spent the weekend playing around with PlayOn's Web-based media player via the iPad Safari browser. It works at least as well as the ill-fated official App Store version did--which is to say, it ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.
If you're not familiar with it, PlayOn is an application that runs in the background on a PC on your home network. It streams and converts Web video content from Hulu, Comedy Central, ESPN, PBS, and other sources so it can be played on devices such as an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. The purpose of the original iTunes app was to get that content streaming to your iOS device, and the new HTML5 Web app works the same way.
It's an imperfect, sometimes clunky solution, but the ability to access Hulu's full content catalog on the iPad is a notable benefit. Hulu Plus has a far superior interface and much better navigation options, but costs $10 per month and includes only a subset of Hulu content, along with some exclusive content you won't get here. The PlayOn PC software (which is required) costs $20 to $40 per year, depending on promotional deals.
Our same basic complaints about the game console and unreleased iOS versions of PlayOn remain: the onscreen controls are limited to volume, pausing, and rewinding (in 30-second increments), and audio and video quality vary widely. Videos also have a significant load time before they start playing.
To try this out on your iPad, you'll need to download the just-released 3.0.14 update to the PlayOn server software (a free 14-day trial is available), then point your iPad Web browser to m.playon.tv. From there, the Web page will see the PC on your home network that's running the PlayOn server software and connect to it. If you turn on the optional remote-viewing settings, it's possible to access the same content remotely, even over 3G, with the videos essentially streaming from your home PC to your iPad via an IP address.
Steve Jobs has repeatedly said that app-makers should use HTML5 to replace Flash functionality, or if they don't want to deal with the iTunes approval process. PlayOn is, if nothing else, taking him up on that suggestion.