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PLAiR: A Small Stick For Streaming But With Limited Content

The Good: It is a stick-like device, at $99, which streams free videos at Web from smartphones, Chrome browsers and tablets. PLAiR handles the streaming all by itself, so as the video is selected once, one can use a mobile device or computer without having to worry about interrupting video. It is capable to stream for free shows from the important TV networks.

The Bad: The streaming is unreliable and glitch and a lot of Web videos do not work. The device doesn’t also support some important streaming services, like HBO Go, Hulu Plus and Netflix. It also doesn’t play back any services or music files. PLAir requires a power source which is separate and detracts from the “just a stick” design. Physical hardware is itself poorly made and cheap-feeling.

The Bottom Line: PLAir is the streaming device that is neat-looking but unreliable, short when it comes to content and unreliable.

Specifications

Product type Streaming player
Functionality Content streaming
PLAiR specs (passion) Manufacturer: PLAiR
General Type of product: Streaming player
  Color: Passion
Network & Internet Functionality: Content streaming

 

From many years, message from the TV networks is clear: They have agreed to put loads of content online for free but do not want you watching it on TV. Among the many workarounds in recent years, latest is the PLAiR, available at $99. It is stick-like device to steam Web video for free wirelessly, from smartphones, Chrome browsers or tablets to the TV. The device does not rely on computer for video processing, therefore, once someone starts to play the clip, he is then at liberty to shut the laptop down.

It is an exciting concept and the device in itself is neat-looking, but does not work so well practically. Most of the Web videos do not work and the others which do work with menu overlays that are distracting. The ones that do work run into annoying playback glitches. The Web content in smartphones and tablets is only limited to the sources PLAiR does curate, that often finishes up in clips instead of full episodes. The device doesn’t work along with the high-quality services as HBO Go, Hulu and Netflix, all which work with Roku 3 and Roku Streaming Stick.

The Quirky Design With Some Cheap Feeling
It is quirky-looking device, with a common “USB drive”-like design that is reminiscent of Roku Streaming Stick but the teardrop sleek shape and the colorful cases give it a visual and neat flair. PLAiR is available in black, teal and magenta.

Once the device comes in hands, visual appeal just finishes off. The build, plastic casing that gives impression of not being much solid, is of the quality that feels cheap. When the PLAiR is pulled out of the casing, the case splits apart.

Shoddy casing is not much problem if PLAiR is parked permanently behind the TV, but that puts slight damper over the portability of device. The ultracompact design lets it be thrown in any bag, but that wouldn’t for sure hold up much for long-term use of travelers.

Its Setup: Streaming Box But Without Any Box
Popping the black cover off shows the HDMI plug of PLAiR, designed for sliding into the spare port towards right in the TV. Only concern of the HDMI ports, unlike MHL or USB, is that they do not provide a lot of power, so a separate source of power is required by PLAiR.

The small micro-USB port towards the PLAiR’s side is what gives power to device and draws power directly from the power outlet by using adapter or gets it from the USB port of TV, if the TV has one. Extra cable spoils the sleekness of the PLAiR’s design.

An annoying aspect is the careless construction of the device that makes it tough to actually be powered on. One problem is that the micro-USB port doesn’t align well with opening in the casing so making it tough to get USB plug inside.

Once the device is physically installed, setting up is not complicated. The instructions onscreen are quite simple to follow and with only little fussing, PLAiR gets connected to iPad and laptop both.

A glitch you can run into is when using dual-band router with separately named networks, and one being 5GHz. PLAiR does not support networks with 5GHz and wants the device to have the same network of wireless. Dual-band support could do well for such device that depends much on the wireless streaming. Roku streamers do support dual-band, including Streaming Stick.

The Content: Glitch Playback And Limited Content

Streaming from smartphones and tablets is strictly done via PLAiR app that offers the curated content from different Web sources. It does look promising when looked at firstly, with the high-profile shows as “The Colbert Report” and “Conan”, but it quickly fades when you get to know that there are limited clips instead of full episodes.

The major appeal associated with PLAiR is using the plug-in for Chrome browser. The pitch is much enticing here: stream whichever video is available on Web to TV only by hitting PLAiR icon. Once the PLAiR is told what is to be played, the computer isn’t required in streaming process.

All this sounds great only in theory but practically, it is quite disappointing. Much of the content does not work; annoying glitches plague other content, and the content that does work has usually poor quality of image.

“Saturday Night Live” does stream but entire “Conan” and “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” episodes do not. “Children’s Hospital” works for eight minutes, stops and shows the icon “reload” in the middle of screen. The Vimeo videos do have supported PLAiR icon, though it would not stream. “The Colbert Report” streams but with only the overlay on screen; “The Daily Show” works but with the closed captioning on permanently. “Austin City Limits” also works but suffers from the issue of low frame-rate, while “NOVA” happened to work relatively smooth.

Other issue associated with PLAiR is the major Web sites not agreeing to streaming of their programming through TV, which was made clear by them by blocking a similar functionality of Google TV. As yet, PLAiR is not block, but once it becomes so much popular as to attract the networks’ attention, it might have to face these restrictions.

There is much that PLAiR doesn’t even try to do. The popular streaming services as HBO Go, Netflix, MLB.TV are just not available for PLAiR. It doesn’t stream any personal collection of music, nor even works with the services of streaming music as Rdio and Pandora.

The Quality Of Image: Quite Far From The Level Of HD
Once someone finds the content to stream, quality of video varies somewhat too. Some stuff like 1080p stream in the Comedy Bang Bang’s YouTube channel looks good but the other content looks rough on big screen. Most of the content suffers from window boxing, with black narrow bars on the content’s four sides. The frame-rate issues, as mentioned earlier were also present in most of the content, and also the glitches when videos jump ahead and full parts of programs are skipped.

The Alternatives
PLAiR faces much competition where $100 streamers are concerned. Apple TV and Roku 3 both are polished and much recommendable products with same price and offer loads of video content at Web for free, including the subscription services as Hulu Plus and Netflix. At $65, WD TV Play is a good option for those searching for something to play their personal files.

It is also true that not any of the alternatives discussed do what PLAiR does, but the problem is that even PLAiR does not do everything it promises about. It is not very convenient but is a good choice if the content to be streamed is lo-fi solution that is, connecting HDMI cable to the TV from laptop.

Closing Comments
The concept behind the device is intriguing indeed, especially for the ones who watch many Web videos on laptop, but many limitations, reliability issues and glitches are present that wouldn’t allow the device to be recommended.

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