A Windows utility called PlayOn has just left its beta phase and is now available for everyone to try. With this installed, you can stream video from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, as well as video from TV networks like CBS, CNN, and ESPN right to your Xbox 360. Of course, if you’re primarily interested in Netflix, there’s no need to get a special utility – the recent update to Xbox adds Netflix streaming as an option on the dashboard. However, being able to stream from Hulu and YouTube is the sort of thing that makes you sit up and take notice.
To use PlayOn, you just install the software to any networked XP or Vista machine (they don’t specifically say “Windows 7” but I’m going to give it a shot this weekend – let me know if I shouldn’t!). The software, once installed behaves as a DLNA/UPnP media server and browser that pulls RSS feeds from content providers, and presents them to DLNA-compliant networked media devices. In other words, the PC software pulls in the media streams from the web sites and services and then sends them over your home network to your Xbox.
The only downside to PlayOn is that it’s not free – after a 14-day trial, you can purchase the program for $30.00. A little steep for these budget-conscious times, especially considering that there’s already a free plug-in for Hulu (install XBMC plus the XBMC plug-in for Hulu) and Xbox already does Netflix. That means you’re paying mostly for YouTube and the miscellaneous TV networks. That may or may not be worth $30 to you – it’s a personal decision. However, there is something to be said for having it all in one easy-to-manage software package. And at least the $30 is a one-time fee. Hmmm, maybe I just talked myself into it.