PlayOn media server software gets a release date

PlayOn, the downloadable software that sends Internet video to any Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, will exit the beta phase and go to retail on February 1, the head developer of MediaMall Technologies told CDFreaks.

Jeff Lawrence, the company’s president and CEO, also explained two issues that could amount to a deal-breaker for users with slower wireless Internet.

But first, a bit about the software: PlayOn essentially acts as the middleman between a PC and the two aforementioned consoles or an HP MediaSmart TV, with support on the way for Nintendo’s Wii. After activating the program, a folder appears in the console’s media library, containing videos from popular Internet sources like Hulu, Netflix and YouTube.

Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to take advantage of the service. One of PlayOn’s less-publicized recommendations is wired, powerline or wireless N Internet. Without them, users could see stream-killing error messages.

It’s also impossible for any user to fast forward through a video stream before the desired portion has been downloaded and transcoded. This is analagous to DVR, Lawrence said, with which users can’t jump to a point that hasn’t been recorded yet.

That answer isn’t totally satisfying; after all, jumping around an Internet video on the computer simply requires a momentary wait for buffering. The company says it’s working on a solution, but calls it "technically very challenging."

Not being able to fast forward isn’t so tragic for users with fast connections. Presumably, they’ll have no problem watching a video from start to finish anyway. But if the video crashes for slower connections, restarting the video and picking up from the last point is crucial. Lawrence says this is possible, but only if the PC remains connected to the Internet and no other video streams are started in the meantime.

I personally haven’t had any luck resuming lost connections on my Xbox 360 at all, which is a shame because PlayOn is a really enticing program. For network connections that can stomach it, PlayOn is definitely worth the flat $30 (or $40, after the beta period ends). Before making a commitment, though, it’s best to try the beta.