Tech Tips - Video On The Go
by Gregg Marshall
If you got a new smart phone in the last few months, congratulations! You probably got LTE data connectivity, giving you a connection to the internet that is as fast, or faster, than your home computer. But that speed came with a price. Most of the major carriers have eliminated their unlimited data plans, replacing them with tiered data. So your phone is capable of consuming a lot more data just as your plan stops allowing that.
One of the biggest consumers of that data is video. Downloading a day’s email might require a few megabytes of data, downloading an HD movie requires several gigabytes of data, almost a thousand times more! One movie would pretty much consume your monthly data allotment. Even SD movies take several hundred megabytes. And your new phone likely has a HD screen resolution.
Or you might be traveling. Most airplanes still don’t have internet connections, even if they do, rarely will you have enough bandwidth to stream video. I recently had the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong, then back from Beijing. Both are 12-15 hour flights in an older 747 which had communal video monitors. Looking at the movie selection for my flights was disappointing.
At home I have Netflix. I also have an Amazon Prime membership, although I like using Netflix on the internet connected TV better (Amazon is much harder to navigate with only a TV remote). In other words, I have a lot of streaming options.
Just before my long trip I ran into a neat piece of software, PlayLater (http://www.playlater.tv/). It is billed as a DVR for mobile devices. It records a streaming movie, saving it as an MP4 file which you can transfer to your phone, iPad, or for my trip, a Kindle Fire. In addition to Netlfix and Amazon Prime, it can record most of the major networks, as well as other streaming services such as Hulu.
Installation was the only touchy part of PlayLater. One quibble I had initially was it didn’t give me the option of selecting where to install the program (many programs have an advanced installation option missing on PlayLater). I like that option since my desktop computer has a very fast, but relatively small, SSD drive coupled with a large hard drive. I generally install software onto the hard drive, which is drive E on my computer.
Using PlayLater was really easy. Launch the program, select the channel (streaming service) you want, navigate to the show or episode you are going to record, select record now and PlayLater will record the show. Recording is done in “real time” so an hour show will generally take an hour to record. You can queue up a whole series of shows to be recorded and PlayLater will sequentially record them all.
Trying the first recorded show on my Kindle Fire was disappointing. I had video, but no audio. I tried recording a different show with similar results. There is a button in the program to send a report to support, which I used. About an hour later, on a weekend, I got my first reply. It took several email exchanges, including using the button a couple of more times (the button sends an internal log) before we found the issue. The PlayLater installer is supposed to install a special audio device driver to fool your computer to allow PlayLater to record the audio. It didn’t get installed. I had seen an oblique reference to that driver in a Google search. No sooner had I explored the directory PlayLater was installed in and found the installer, ran it manually and solved the problem, then support emailed back and suggested the same thing. While the installer obviously needs more work, I do give PlayLater support a lot of credit for working through the issue.
Once the audio issue was resolved, PlayLater recorded without any issues. The resulting files appear to be SD recordings (720 by 480 resolution), which might be what the channel is delivering, but I didn’t see any options in the settings or when selecting the show to record. The resulting files average about 1 gigabyte per hour, so my Kindle Fire had room for about 8 hours of video, which is longer than the battery lasts watching video which puts a lot of demands on the tablet.
It was easy to move the resulting MP4 file onto the Fire, just plug it into a USB port on the desktop and it appears as another disk drive. iOS users will need to download a special PlayLater player and use iTunes to “sync” the resulting files to your device.
Even though the resolution wasn’t as high as my Kindle Fire, it still looked almost perfect while I watched several shows on the plane. Watching a recorded show on my computer, which has a 28 inch HD screen, was acceptable, but visibly not HD.
The bottom line is PlayLater is a great tool for recording streaming video sources to watch later when you aren’t on-line, or don’t want to use valuable mobile data plan to stream large video files. Hopefully a future upgrade will increase the recorded video resolution to HD, but even the SD it does record is adequate for many mobile devices. I wouldn’t dump my cable DVR yet for PlayLater, but I could see that day coming in the future.
Gregg Marshall, CPMR, CSP, CMC is a speaker, author and consultant. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or visit his website at http://www.vendor-tech.com.
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