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Digital Media

Get a streaming video recorder for $29.99

From the Cheapskate: The vastly improved PlayOn can, among other things, record from Netflix, HBO and most other streaming services. This deal nets you lifetime license. Plus: two bonus deals!

CNET's Cheapskate scours the Web for great deals on PCs, phones, gadgets and much more. Questions about the Cheapskate blog? Find the answers on our FAQ page. And find more great buys on the CNET Deals page.

First up, thanks for all the great feedback regarding yesterday's first-ever Cheapskate video! Rest assured any future videos won't take the place of actual posts; I'll always include the important deal info in the text as well (as I did yesterday).

Next: the business at hand. Remember PlayOn? In its early incarnations, it was a PC-based media server that allowed you to watch various streaming services on your various devices. Then came an offshoot, PlayLater, that let you record those same services for offline and/or later viewing.

I always liked the idea of both these tools, but found the execution to be something of a mess. Thankfully, that's changed -- bigtime. I'll explain momentarily.


PlayOn offers a ton of great features and vastly improved interface. It's a steal at $29.99.


For now, this: For a limited time, Cheapskate readers (my "cheeps"!) can get a lifetime PlayOn Plus license for $29.99. Regular price: $29.99 per year, or $49.99 for lifetime.

As noted above, PlayOn performs two key functions. First, it slings video from your Windows PC to various devices, including tablets, smartphones, game consoles and media center boxes. It's akin to Roku, with your PC filling the role of "the box." (Indeed, you can actually use a Roku box as the bridge between your PC and your TV. And that allows you to stream from Hulu without paying for a Hulu subscription.)


The PlayOn mobile app still lacks a search function, but overall it's much improved.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Second, PlayOn serves as a streaming video recorder, or "SVR." (This was the role previously held by PlayLater, but that's been absorbed into PlayOn proper.) That means anything you can stream, you can also record.

For example, I like to watch "Game of Thrones" while I'm on the elliptical, but the Wi-Fi at my gym is spotty at best. So I use PlayOn to record the latest episode from HBO Now, then copy it over to my tablet. Problem solved. Likewise, I can stock up on episodes of, say, "Bob's Burgers" to binge-watch on my next long flight. (My only complaint: You have to do these transfers via PC; you can't copy media wirelessly.)

PlayOn supports pretty much every streaming service known to man (around 100 channels), everything from A&E to YouTube. Many of these are free, but some do require paid subscriptions (HBO, Netflix, etc.), and others require you to sign in via an active cable or satellite subscription. So I don't necessarily regard PlayOn as a cord-cutting tool so much as a cord-extending tool.

And a significantly improved one at that. The desktop client is polished and intuitive; the mobile apps make it a snap to stream or even record content. (They let you watch live TV as well.) You can schedule recordings for certain times of day (like at night, so as not to tax your Internet connection during the day) and automatically record new episodes of your favorite shows. Plus, PlayOn will even allow you to auto-skip over commercials in recorded shows that have them.

Some of you are no doubt wondering whether all this is legal, or if it violates any streaming services' terms of service. I discussed this with PlayOn's COO, and I'll leave you with two thoughts. First, the core concept here is no different than a DVR (or, before that, VCR), and recording for personal use is protected as "fair use." (Recording for purposes of time-shifting is also legal.)

Second, PlayOn has been around for years. If Netflix, HBO or any other service could effectively challenge it, it would have been litigated out of existence by now.

I'm a user. I'm a fan. Indeed, thanks to all the recent improvements, I'm a way bigger fan than I used to be. This may be the best $30 you spend all year.

Your thoughts?


Bonus deal: I just found a great mobile companion for PlayOn! For a limited time, and while supplies last, Newegg has the Seagate 500GB Wireless Mobile Hard Drive for $49.99 shipped. It lists for $99.99 and sells elsewhere for at least $10 more.

Not only is it red, rechargeable and adorable, it's also the perfect home for a big library of PlayOn-recorded media. Then you can stream that media to up to three devices simultaneously for up to six hours. The only bummer is the USB 2.0 connection to your PC, meaning file transfers will be slow. Why, Seagate, why?!

Bonus deal No. 2: In case you missed it last time around, you still have a chance to score an amazing deal on VPN software. Ending in just a couple days, StackSocial continues to offer a lifetime subscription to VPN Unlimited for $29. The license is good for simultaneous use on up to five devices, with support for pretty much every platform: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows and even Windows Phone. And it's one of the top-rated products in its class. Why pay $24.99 for a year when an extra five bucks buys you a never-ending subscription?