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How to record any free streaming TV before it's gone



To help people spend time at home during the coronavirus pandemic, several TV networks have streamed free movies and shows. For example, HBO has opened nearly 500 hours of free programming to non-subscribers, while CBS All Access has even offered 60-day trials to previous customers. Epix also offers a 30-day trial through Amazon Prime, and several other services offer extended trials through the Roku channel.

These are not a simple generosity. Eventually, the free trials will dry up and the giveaways disappear, after which you're expected to pay for all those shows you're watching.

Fortunately, there is a solution: with a service called PlayOn, you can record movies and shows from online sources such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO and CBS All Access. The resulting video files are yours to keep even if you are no longer subscribed to the services from which those files originate. If we mainly stay at home in the near future, now might be the time to stock up on free movies and shows to watch later.

How PlayOn records streaming video

PlayOn offers two versions of its service. PlayOn Desktop records videos on any Windows PC and is currently on sale for $ 35. It is also available as a subscription, priced at $ 5 per month or $ 20 per year.

For those who do not have a Windows computer, PlayOn Cloud can record videos through its own servers and then store them in the mobile app for iOS or Android. However, this service is quickly getting more expensive than the desktop version: Current sales allow you to save 1

00 recordings for $ 15, with monthly plans also available.

  playonhbo Jared Newman / IDG

PlayOn presents a list of programs for each streaming source that you can drag to the recording queue.

In both cases, the process is similar: log into your streaming services from the PlayOn app settings menu, then select the streaming service (or "channel") whose programs you want to record. (If you have a desktop computer with a secondary or external hard drive, you must also select that drive in the PlayOn settings before recording everything.) PlayOn then records the contents of each channel in a series of lists for you to browse.

To make a recording, drag a program to the recording queue in the left sidebar or click the recording button for an individual season or episode. PlayOn also offers an “Off-Peak” DVR option, which you can use to schedule recordings at night when fewer people are competing for bandwidth. This can also help reduce the load on your PC during the day if you use it for work.

  playonrecording Jared Newman / IDG

PlayOn allows you to set recordings during off-peak hours, freeing up bandwidth and processing power during the day.

After making some recordings, you can use the PlayOn app to watch and stream the videos on other devices, or host them with alternative media server software such as Plex.

Finding the Free Things

After setting up PlayOn you still need to track down all the content TV networks are giving away for free.

For HBO's freebies, the best path is the Roku channel, which works even if you don't own a Roku player. Go to the Roku Channel website, c create a free account and log in with that information through PlayOn's settings menu. You can then navigate to the Roku Channel section of the PlayOn app, where "HBO – Free TV Shows" is one of the folder options.

  playettingsettings Jared Newman / IDG

To record free programs from the Roku channel, you must use a Roku account.

Some premium video services also offer extended 30-day free trials through the Roku channel, including Showtime, Noggin and Smithsonian Channel Plus. Once you've added those subscriptions, you can also find and record them through PlayOn's menus. Remember that you can immediately cancel these free trials (via this link) and still use them for the duration of the trial period.

These same tricks also work with Amazon Prime Video, although you need a Prime membership to take advantage. If you're already a Prime member, consider adding Epix's 30-day free trial to record its movies and original shows. (Again, you can cancel it immediately and still enjoy the trial afterwards.)

  playonprime Jared Newman / IDG

With Amazon Prime's add-on plans, you can go to the "Your channels "navigate to find them.

Meanwhile, CBS All Access offers extensive trials, even for those who have previously subscribed to the service. Try to use the code "GIFT" during checkout to get 30 days for free, then use the code "ENJOY" to get 30 more. After that, you can use PlayOn to record all that new Star Trek content ( Picard. Discovery ) released by CBS.

Is PlayOn worth it?

If you're wondering if any of this is legal, PlayOn has always compared itself to a y VCR or DVR that copies videos for personal use. The user's name and IP address appear at the beginning of each recording to discourage sharing, and while some streaming providers may point out that their terms of service do not allow recording, it is not the same as breaking the law. The fact that PlayOn has been around for over a decade is a strong indication that the service is legally clear.

The bigger problem, at least with PlayOn's desktop software, is that it automatically installs Adobe Flash. PlayOn works by capturing video while running in a hidden window, and some video sites still require Flash to play despite the history of vulnerabilities. I've always avoided keeping PlayOn installed for a long time because I don't want Flash to have a permanent home on my PC.

The good news is that Adobe plans to end Flash in late 2020, at which point all major browsers will no longer support it. Jeff Lawrence, the CEO of PlayOn developer MediaMall Technologies, told me via email that the software already works with sites that use HTML5 instead, so hopefully Flash can be removed for good once every video site has stopped.

PlayOn & # 39; s software also has some other flaws. While compiling this column, I had to reschedule several recordings after failing for no apparent reason, and at one point all my recordings disappeared from the PlayOn app. They are still on my hard drive, accessible through my Plex server, but PlayOn no longer recognizes them. PlayOn also lacks some content sources that can be fun, such as Apple TV +, Pluto TV and the vast majority of individual channel apps that use TV Everywhere authentication.

Please also note that PlayOn records videos at a maximum resolution of 720p. That won't be a problem for many TV or cable shows, but if you're hoping to record Netflix or Disney + programming in 4K or even 1080p, you're out of luck.

Those problems add up to a sense of playfulness that PlayOn has never quite shaken over the years, and I don't expect that to improve significantly. Lawrence told me that MediaMall will continue to maintain the channel support of PlayOn Desktop, but will not develop new features for the software as it focuses more on the PlayOn Cloud service. (I suspect it's more lucrative given the recurring business model.)

Still, PlayOn ultimately works as advertised, and there is nothing else that looks like it. Even as a short-term subscription, using PlayOn can be worth grabbing as much free stuff as possible. Otherwise you will pay much more for the same entertainment in the future.

This story has been updated to reflect PlayOn's video resolution limits.

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