• Using MediaMall's PlayOn to stream Hulu to your DLNA TV

    Tired of sitting around the tiny computer monitor watching Hulu? Looking for a way to watch internet content on your DLNA-enabled TV? Look no further than PlayOn from MediaMall.

    At a glance
    • DLNA support of Hulu (without requiring Hulu Plus), Netflix, and many other channels
    • One time registration fee
    • Relatively cheap price is more economical than a dedicated media appliance, if you have the computer to handle it
    • Works well with little configuring

    • No HD support at this time
    • Fast forward and rewind are a tricky subject
    • On the fly transcoding requires a beefy host computer

    It was a happy day when I finally talked the Mrs. HomeNetworkEnabled in to tombstoning our old Sony TV, which had a great picture, but it was 10+ years old. Being 10+ years old isn't a terrible thing for electronics all of the time, but with new flat screen TVs out for several years at this point, I figured we needed something new. The final selling point was internet connectivity and the able to watch things such as Hulu without having the entire family cramped around our 21-inch computer monitor, Netflix streaming of shows like Top Gear was thrown in to the mix as icing on the proverbial cake.

    So we set out to find a new TV, one that would give us a great picture and make all of our dreams come true. Doing 10 minutes of internet research I knew I also wanted DLNA capability, although at the time I can claim to have been rather ignorant about what that exactly entailed. We settled on a 40" Samsung LN40D630M3FXZA. Not huge by any means, but nice and big compared to the 30 some odd Sony we had previously, and at the limit of how much my frugal spouse would allow us to spend.

    Got it home, popped it out of the box, and plugged it in to the network, then hooked up our aging TiVo Series2 to the one set of composite ports I could find, and fired it up. As we excitedly popped through the screens, giddy as little school children, I wasn't finding where I could watch Hulu. Content to simply watch over-the-air TV that night we left it at that and went to bed. The next day, after some RTFM time and some light internet searching, I found that network connectivity doesn't always mean internet connectivity and, especially on the lower end TVs, you don't always get both DLNA capability and internet media services. At the time I felt that really sucked, for lack of better words, and was imagining the disappointment the family would feel when our blinding light of entertainment technology couldn't even do what we had highly anticipated it would do.

    Not giving up that easily, I thought this may be the perfect opportunity to replace our aging TiVo Series 2 to get a new one, surely it can do Hulu, but it couldn't... Just Hulu Plus, a pay for service that still makes you watch commercials. Every thing I looked at was only Hulu Plus, network blu-ray players, Boxee, Roku, everything, and things were looking grim. But then I remembered the DLNA, surely something as cool as DLNA would allow us to watch Hulu and stream Netflix? Finally I was right about something as I found PlayOn from MediaMall. PlayOn installs on to a Windows PC and streams online video sources (such as Netflix and Hulu) via DLNA over the network to DLNA clients such as our Samsung TV, perfect. Other clients would include Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, smart phones, iPads, Roku, and many more, anything that handles DLNA would be able to be used with PlayOn.

    Of course, this isn't exactly free. It's either $4.99 a month or $79.99 as a one-time fee, but still cheaper than the $8 a month for Hulu Plus. Being skeptical I loaded up the free trial. My first attempt was on a Core 2 Duo Dell Latitude D630, which I was also using as our home 2003 "server". PlayOn seemed to work pretty good on here, but the codec support of Windows 2003 would make some channel viewing frustrating. Thinking I should do a more dedicated Windows 7 machine, I moved it over to an old Dell OptiPlex GX620 we had sitting around. It seemed to work fine here as well, but the picture would degrade for a few seconds from time to time and that made me unhappy. So I finally succumbed to moving it up to our quad-core HP we had up in the living room, and it was a beautiful thing. Picture quality was great and never any degradation.

    The "channel" support of PlayOn is dizzying and there is never a shortage of anything to watch should our normal playlist of Biggest Loser via Hulu bore us. Now that Netflix effectively doubled their prices we don't stream that anymore, and that's unfortunate as I miss Top Gear, but I'll wait for the DVDs in the mail. The cool thing about DLNA is it just works with nearly zero configuration. As long as our computer with PlayOn installed is on (we use WOL via Overlook Fing on Android) we simply turn on the TV and there sits PlayOn, ready to serve us.

    There are a few things you should know about PlayOn though. First is that HD support is not present at this time. The FAQs on their site have, for some time, said they are working on it, but so far it is not available. This may be an immediate deal breaker for some, it wasn't for us. Fast forwarding and rewinding are tricky subjects and can vary from not working at all to somewhat working, this is due to the next fact. PlayOn works by doing realtime transcoding, basically taking a video in one format and converting it on the fly to another, this take a lot of CPU resources. PlayOn states that for minimum playback quality, the Passmark value of the CPU must be 500, but that a score of 1000 or better is highly recommended. Given my testing I wouldn't go below the 1000 value, and I'd probably try to aim much higher, which means don't install it on a low power Atom machine and expect to get amazing quality video.

    Overall PlayOn is a great product and it fills in a niche that even the coolest network media players don't fill. The DLNA capability of it makes it awesome for many new TVs, and it's channel support is great. You can try it free for 30 days to see if it will work for you.