Streaming-video services like Netflix and Hulu have exploded in popularity, but they're useless without a stable Internet connection. If you're commuting, on a plane, or anywhere else where Internet access isn't available, there's no way to access that content, even if you've paid for it.
That's the problem PlayLater is looking to solve, billing itself as the "DVR for online video." Building off the existing PlayOn platform, PlayLater is capable of recording content from a long list of online streaming-media services including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant, Comedy Central, and Adult Swim. (See the Web site for a full list.) The software saves the recorded files on your PC and you can play them back without an Internet connection. For example, set PlayLater to record last night's "Daily Show" and you can watch it on your laptop the next morning while taking the train to work.
There are some significant limitations. Like PlayOn, PlayLater is Windows-only software. PlayLater is also currently limited to playing back on PCs, although we're told iPad/iPhone compatibility is being worked on. (It'll be a post-download, drag-and-drop process.) And the biggest sticking point for many may be the pricing structure: $5 a month or a $50 yearly license.
When PlayOn stopped by CNET this morning for a PlayLater demo, our snap reaction to seeing the software was "can this be legal?" However, PlayLater has a couple factors working in its favor. For one, it doesn't download the original digital media file that's streaming, like some "stream rippers" do. Instead, it records the video stream exactly as it would appear on your computer's screen, similar to how screencasting products like Veebeam work. (That also means recordings are done in real-time; a 1-hour show takes 1 hour to record and includes any embedded ads.) The files are also saved as DRM-protected WMV files and will only play on PCs that have your PlayLater license, which should lessen some of the piracy fears.
Even so, we imagine content providers won't be happy and PlayOn is already treated like it's in a legal gray area. And TV networks are willing to block access to their content when its used in any way other than "streaming on a PC." (Although PlayLater is difficult to block, given how it works.)
Legal worries aside, the PlayLater software felt pretty slick in the quick demo and it's currently available for download with a free two-week trial. However, until there's mobile support (Android, iPhone, iPad, etc.) we're guessing the audience for PlayLater will be limited, since it's cumbersome to tote around a laptop for commute entertainment. But as soon as people can catch up on their Netflix Instant Queue right on their phone (without worrying about bandwidth caps or losing connectivity), we could see PlayLater taking off.