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Snapstream upgrades Beyond TV

Snapstream upgrades Beyond TV

It's been only a few months since Snapstream released the 4.2 version of its popular Beyond TV DVR software, but the company today unveiled another update, and its flagship product is now called Beyond TV 4.3.

More of an incremental upgrade than a radical change, Beyond TV 4.3 offers a handful of notable new features. Using the program's ShowSqueeze option (for backing up old shows to save disc space), you can now convert HD recordings to Windows Media and DivX formats, and save even more space by stripping out some extra subchannels from HD recordings. The DivX 6.1 video codec is also supported now, and Snapstream says using that format helps Intel dual-core CPUs encode content faster.

Hot on the heels of ATI's release this week of the new ATI Theater 650 Pro chip for TV tuners, Beyond TV 4.3 is the first DVR app to announce support for the new chip. The Theater 650 gave us the best image quality we've seen from a TV tuner, so we expect it to be popular among DVR fans.

One of the more interesting new features of Beyond TV 4.3 is called Beyond TV Buzz. While it won't improve your image quality or save hard drive space, this community service lets you see what shows are popular with other Beyond TV users. It'll show you the top 100 recorded shows from the previous week and the most popular upcoming recordings, and factor your choices into the stats, if you choose to participate. Currently on top of the list is one of the new Doctor Who episodes on the Sci-Fi Channel.

We loaded up Beyond TV 4.3 on a PC running Windows Media Center Edition. We've had some trouble in the past getting DVR software installed and set up properly, but this time it was a breeze. Our only hitch was getting Media Center to give up control of the TV tuner hardware. (Go to Start > Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Services and right-click Media Center Receiver Service. Go to Properties and set Startup Type to Disabled.)

No one has yet come up with a DVR interface that is as elegant and well-designed as Windows Media Center, but with each iteration, Beyond TV comes closer. It also offers more settings and configuration options and greater control over your recordings than Media Center. Some users will love that; others might prefer the more basic foolproof set of tools in Media Center. Before contemplating a switch, note that unlike MCE, Beyond TV handles only TV recordings, not your entire catalog of photos, videos, and music. You have to add the sister program, called BeyondMedia, to get an all-inclusive package. We'll continue to test Beyond TV 4.3 by recording, playing, and encoding content, and we'll post a full review in the coming days.