How to watch offline Netflix on a plane (or anywhere else)
The free PlayOn Cloud iOS app is a 'streaming digital video recorder' that lets you watch offline video from Netflix, Hulu and other services. However, it costs 99 cents to capture recordings, and they only last for 30 days.
(UPDATE: On Nov. 30, Netflix announced that its subscribers worldwide can now download select videos for offline use via its Android and iOS apps.)
Netflix on a flight? No way, you say?
The idea has seemed out of reach for years, because Netflix doesn’t let its U.S. subscribers download video for offline viewing. (However, rumors suggest customers in countries with unreliable broadband may soon get the feature.)
Meanwhile, in-flight Wi-Fi provider Gogo is working to upgrade the speed of its service on airplanes to support streaming video. Other competitors, including Viasat, offer fast, video-friendly service via satellite. And Amazon Prime members can download some Prime video to their mobile devices for offline use
If you need to watch Netflix video on any plane right now, PlayOn Cloud is a free iOS app that’s worth a look.
PlayOn Cloud and offline Netflix (and much more)
PlayOn Cloud is a “streaming digital video recorder” service that costs 99 cents per recording, though you get five free recordings when you sign up. Using the app (or its website), you can “record” video from Netflix, Hulu, Yahoo!, YouTube, HBO, PBS, NBC, CBS, ABC, The CW and Fox, and then download the recordings to your iOS device.
The app is easy to use and works as advertised. I watched Netflix’s “The Crown” and a few other shows on my iPad Pro while it was set to Airplane Mode without any problems.
However, you should know a few things about PlayOn Cloud
Recordings are created in real-time
As with a traditional digital video recorder, it takes 60 minutes to record a 60-minute TV episode using PlayOn Cloud.
When you initiate a recording, a virtual server begins a web browser session to play and record the content. The legality of the process is a bit murky, but as TechCrunch pointed out, PlayOn bypasses copyright law by using screen capture tech.
You must subscribe to premium channels to record shows
This should be obvious, but you can’t record a Netflix show without first logging into your Netflix account. The same goes for Hulu and HBO.
Recordings only last for 30 days
Records you create are only available for 30 days, which seems fair enough to me.
You need storage space for recorded files
If you already maxed out your iPhone or iPad storage, you need to delete apps or other files to make room for the recorded video, which can consume several GBs.
PlayOn Cloud isn’t your only option for ‘recording’ Netflix
Movavi Screen Capture Studio, a free Windows and Mac utility, requires multiple steps to record, download and then transfer video to your mobile device. But it’s still a PlayOn Cloud alternative that’s worth a look.
In the future, you may not need a tool like PlayOn Cloud. For now, however, it’s an easy-to-use and functional option for offline Netflix viewing during flights or in areas with limited Internet.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.