Sure, you can beam stuff from your iPhone to your TV using Airplay, but what if you don't have an Apple TV? And what if you own an Android phone? That's where Plair comes in, a waferlike accessory that lets you beam content from Android and iOS devices, as well as your notebook, to any TV. Should you take this $99 device with you wherever you go?
The Plair vaguely resembles an oversized seed pod from a maple tree. Measuring 3.8 x 1.4 x 0.5 inches, the Plair is rounded at one end, and comes to a gentle point at the other. The majority of the device is covered in a glossy plastic (available in red, black and blue), while a removable cap at one end has a black soft-touch rubber finish. The whole device fits snugly in your hand, and disappears in your pocket.
Pull the cap off to reveal a male HDMI plug; farther down along one of the sides is a covered microUSB port that's used to power the device.
The Plair comes with a microUSB cable and power jack; plug this into an outlet, and into the Plair, and then plug the Plair into your TV using the HDMI connection. Next, download the free Plair app to your iOS or Android device, or download the Firefox or Chrome plug-in to your notebook.
Once it's powered on, the Plair starts transmitting a Wi-Fi signal; you must connect your phone or notebook to it first, then configure the Plair to connect to your Wi-Fi network. When it's set, the Plair will beam a test video to your TV.
We couldn't beam videos directly from Hulu, but Plair's own site had access to 134 popular shows on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, as well as cable shows on A&E, FX, SyFy and USA. The device also lets you beam videos from Bravo, Disney, Comedy Central, PBS, CNN, History Channel, AMC, ESPN, Lifetime, TLC and E.
Additionally, both Plair's website and apps have shortcuts to websites such as Funny or Die, College Humor, NASCAR, UFC, Sports Illustrated and YouTube.
Plair iOS App
More than just a simple device for beaming videos, the Plair app has a friendly interface that shows a variety of movies, shows and clips. We selected a "Saturday Night Live" clip, and it started playing on our TV within a few seconds. On our iPhone, controls came up that let us pause, stop, rewind, fast-forward, and like or dislike the clip.
Additionally, you can beam content stored on your device itself. However, a video we shot on our iPhone had to be reformatted to a smaller size; the app said it would take 2 minutes and 9 seconds to finish. It took exactly that amount of time, and our iPhone video then played smoothly on our TV. Still, users shouldn't have to wait that long to start streaming.
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Android and Amazon app
Plair's Android app looks the same as the iOS version; we liked that it filled the screen of our Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, but were annoyed that it only works in Portrait Mode. Like the iPhone app, you can beam videos curated by Plair's app, as well as those stored on the tablet itself. While videos from the Internet quickly appeared on our TV, those we had on the Tab itself took a long time to show up.
We also installed the Plair app on an Amazon Kindle Fire HD. The setup process was the same as on the iPhone, as was the interface. However, the interface only appears in Portrait Mode, which was somewhat annoying.
While it can beam online videos curated through Plair's app, it can't beam Amazon videos from the Fire HD.
In order to use Plair on our laptop, we first connected to the device via Wi-Fi. We then installed a Chrome browser plug-in on our Mac (it supports OS X 10.6 and higher). The Plair plug-in then detected the device on our network. We also installed the Chrome plug-in on a Lenovo G580 running Windows 8. Plair also supports Firefox, but no other browsers.
Like the mobile app, the Plair plug-in lets you beam videos stored locally on your notebook to your TV. After opening the plug-in, click on the "add files" icon, and then select the file(s) on your notebook you wish to view on the big screen. When we tried beaming a 1080p video, though, it paused for a few seconds every 15 seconds or so, which was frustrating.
When watching a video online that's capable of being beamed via the Plair, a small blue icon appears at the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Click this icon, and the video then gets streamed to our TV.
When we went to Amazon Instant Video and tried to stream a standard-def version of "The Dark Knight," we were unsuccessful; all we got was a black TV screen. The same thing happened when we tried streaming "The Hunger Games."
We were able to stream an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" fairly well, but it wasn't quite as pristine as if we were watching the show on our cable box; there were occasional stutters, and skin tones were slightly splotchy. The speed of your Internet connection has much to do with this; when we used the Plair on our more-trafficked office Wi-Fi, resolution was far worse.
While the on-screen controls let you pause, play, stop and change volume, we wish Plair included fast-forward and rewind.
One feature we wish Plair would add is the ability to mirror our notebook's display on out TV; that way, we could share presentations, as well as websites and other content. However, the company says a second app, currently in beta, will let you stream PowerPoint slides from your notebook, as well as cloud services such as DropBox.
Also, the Plair app can't stream content you've downloaded from iTunes.
Those looking to easily stream video content to their home or hotel TV will like the portability and versatility offered by the Plair. All you need for this $99 device to work is an outlet and an HDMI port. However, the device doesn't support mirroring and the streaming performance could be more reliable. Right now, Plair looks fairly promising, but we'd like the company to add more features to justify the price.