SnapStream's Beyond TV 3.0 software, née Personal Video Station 3.0, gives your PC TiVo-like functionality without the monthly subscription fee. It also offers a number of welcome improvements over of this digital-video-recorder (DVR) program. The software, which you can purchase as a $59.99 download or on CD-ROM for $69.99 or as part of a kit with one of two TV tuners (plus remote control), can now skip commercials, remotely schedule recordings, and compress files for handheld viewing. Beyond TV 3.0 is unintuitive at times, however, primarily because it splits functions and settings unevenly between the DVR portion of the program and a separate Web interface. If you own a multimedia card from ATI or Nvidia or just bought a , don't bother with Beyond TV 3.0--the software that comes with those products is every bit as competent. But if you lack the above hardware and want to record TV on your PC, Beyond TV 3.0 is the best way to go. You can buy SnapStream Beyond TV 3.0 in one of three ways: you can purchase the software only--as a download or on CD-ROM--if your PC is already equipped with a TV tuner card, or you can buy it as part of a kit that includes a TV tuner and remote control. SnapStream bundles it with either Hauppauge's WinTV-PVR-250 PCI card or with Adaptec's VideOh DVD Media Center USB 2.0 Edition. The software also works with TV tuners from ATI and Nvidia.
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You can set recording preferences such as where to store video files on your hard drive and in which format. You can also set the number of minutes to pad recordings for a game you think might head into overtime.
Originally designed as a streaming media server and client, Beyond TV 3.0 has slowly morphed into a feature-rich, digital-video-recorder (DVR) program to compete with the likes of TiVo. Unfortunately, the transition isn't complete. Half of the Beyond TV 3.0 product is a DVR with a slick, 10-foot remote-control interface (so named because it can be controlled from 10 feet away with a remote) and the other half is a streaming media server/client with an Internet Explorer-based interface. We probably wouldn't complain if you could get to all pertinent settings from both interfaces, but many features are accessible or configurable only via the IE interface.
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Beyond TV provides program information in an unobtrusive way.
Installing Beyond TV 3.0 is painless, once you get beyond entering an interminable 40-character serial number. Configuring the program is also quite easy, thanks to a step-by-step wizard that detects your capture hardware and remote control and downloads the free SnapStream.net TV schedule.
When you're up and running with the 10-foot DVR interface, you'll enjoy using SnapStream Beyond TV 3.0. It's equally easy to navigate with a remote control, a mouse, or a keyboard and looks quite handsome to boot, rivaling Microsoft's . We particularly like the way that SnapStream renders its program information and free program guide translucently across the main screen; they slide into view when you want them, then disappear when you're through. The interface's organization is, however, confusing in spots; for instance, the program guide is available in at least three different locations but can be searched from only one.
Beyond TV's interface is similar to ATI Multimedia Center's or Nvidia's Personal Cinema's, but SnapStream allows you to purchase just the software if you already have a TV tuner card in your PC. It's definitely a step up from other Media Center-esque apps we've seen, such as MSI's Media Center Deluxe program (see our review of the for details about the MSI app). SnapStream's Beyond TV 3.0 covers all the features you'd expect of a digital-video-recording program: TV viewing and capture, the ability to schedule recordings, playlists, a TV-programming guide, a 10-foot interface, remote-control support, and more. Plus, it's the only program we're aware of that marks commercials in recordings so that you can easily skip them during playback. It's also full of nifty flourishes such as the ability to pad the start and end times of scheduled recordings in case your PC's clock doesn't match the TV network's. You can even define the amount of video skipped by the manual forward and backward jumps (30 seconds, 2 minutes, and so on).
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Similar in appearance to Microsoft's Media Center OS, Beyond TV 3.0 provides you with large icons you can navigate via remote control.
Beyond TV 3.0 makes choosing which programs you wish to record a snap. Simply select the guide button and choose the program from Beyond TV's own programming guide, which is updated every 15 minutes via your Internet connection. You may scroll through up to two weeks' worth of TV schedules and choose your material by clicking the programs that interest you and selecting a recording option. The downloaded guide is searchable by title, but you'll have to browse to SnapStream.net to search by actor or general category (and there's no way to record every program featuring your favorite thespian or director as there is with or TiVo).
Which brings us to another very cool feature: Beyond TV 3.0 lets you schedule recordings remotely. When you leave for a trip, just leave your PC running (standby is okay; Beyond TV 3.0 will wake it up) to make recordings. If you later discover that a rare movie you've been waiting for is going to be on that night, surf to SnapStream's Web site with any computer, log on, and schedule your recording. By default, Beyond TV periodically checks SnapStream's Web site and adds these remotely scheduled items to your record list. This feature requires an always-on Internet connection and that your machine stay either fully on or awakened by another scheduled recording--the program won't wake your PC just to check for updates.
Beyond TV captures programs in both MPEG-2 and WMV formats, so you don't need to reencode files before burning to DVD, though you'll have to provide your own DVD-burning app. It also supports a large variety of TV and video-capture hardware (here's a list of &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Esnapstream%2Ecom%2FProducts%2FProducts%5FPVS3%5FSysReq%2Easp">compatible video and TV-tuner cards). And Beyond TV's ShowSqueeze feature lets you recompress recordings to smaller, space-saving WMV and DivX files so that you can watch video on your handheld. In our hands-on tests with two generations of Nvidia Personal Cinema cards, an ATI All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro, and Hauppauge's WinTV-PVR-250 card, SnapStream Beyond TV 3.0 performed flawlessly while recording and playing back video. Our only problem occurred when we ran out of space on our rather small Windows partition during our first recording. Neither the configuration wizard nor Beyond TV 3.0 bothered to see if there was enough room or to search for a more capacious location. After using Beyond TV 3.0's Web Admin program to define a new video-capture folder on a drive partition with more room, things went smoothly. One minor gripe: initial downloading of the program guide was quite slow, even on our fast cable connection. Though no telephone support is available, SnapStream Beyond TV 3.0's friendly installation guide and quick-start sheet should be enough to get you up and running. If not, online support is available in the form of an extensive, searchable knowledge base, FAQs, user forums, and e-mail to a tech-support agent. Alas, our single inquiry to tech support went unanswered. Point updates to Beyond TV 3.0 are free to registered users.