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Applications

Yahoo Go for TV beta

Fresh on the heels of its acquisition of DVR company Meedio, Yahoo's entry in the alternative Media Center front-end sweepstakes, Yahoo Go for TV, is currently available as a beta release from the company's Web site. The program offers easy media management in a free package, but hardware support is limited, and the emphasis on driving branded online content knocks local file browsing to second place.

Yahoo recently made minor headlines by purchasing a small software company named Meedio, which was best known for creating a DVR application, also named Meedio. Just as Yahoo bought Konfabulator to create Yahoo Widgets, Yahoo Go for TV is based on this recently acquired property. Yahoo Go for TV combines basic DVR functionality with media management and proprietary content streaming and is currently available as a free beta download from Yahoo. The new version of the software will seem familiar to Meedio users in some ways, but it offers a more professional interface, free online content, and, for now, a limited set of supported hardware. To peek at the interface, see our Yahoo Go for TV slide show.

The 10-foot user interface is becoming increasingly common in media management software beyond Windows Media Center Edition. The large buttons and tabs, meant for easy couch-based viewing, are now found in many applications, including BeyondTV and SageTV, as well as Apple's Front Row, which ships with all new iMacs and Mac Minis.

We found downloading and installing the free beta version of Yahoo Go for TV easy. The basic setup questions gave us the option to tie the program into our Yahoo account, providing localized content and access to Yahoo photo galleries.

The setup process automatically detects a compatible TV tuner card, and we had to try several before we found one that Yahoo Go for TV would recognize. The list of supported cards is small at the moment and includes the ATI TV Wonder Elite, the ATI HDTV Wonder, the AverMedia UltraTV 1500 MCE, the Nvidia Dual TVmce, and the external Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-USB2 breakout box.

If the program sees your TV tuner hardware, you'll be prompted to enter your zip code and choose your local cable or satellite provider, for the purpose of downloading an appropriate electronic program guide. Later changes to tuner hardware or TV signal information cannot be made through the program interface; you'll have to launch the Yahoo Go for TV setup wizard from the Windows Start menu to do that.

The first menu item is Movies. Five submenu items appear when you enter the Movies section. The first two, Top Box Office and Today's Features, are similar, offering movie trailers and cast and crew info from recent and upcoming films. The next two menu items offer local theater listings: one for Favorite theaters, pulled from your Yahoo account preferences, the other for all local theaters. Like the movie trailer menu items, these could probably have been combined into one menu item. Last but not least, the fifth menu item is for playing DVDs. Putting your local content on the bottom of the Go for TV priority list is something you'll see throughout the Yahoo Go for TV experience.

The next major category is Music, and the first two menu items are for streaming music-related audio and video content from Yahoo, either Launch-branded radio streams or generic collections of recent music videos. These run with 30-second advertisements before them and stream easily, with acceptable video quality and no stuttering. The third Music menu item plays MP3 files on your PC, but the navigation is weak compared to even the most basic stand-alone music player software, offering simple folder-based surfing, with no organization by artist or song. A simple CD player is also included.

The Photo section is the most promising, offering easy access to images for your Yahoo photo gallery and other people's shared galleries, plus integration with the popular photo posting site Flickr. Click the Flickr menu button, and you'll see a series of slide shows from Flickr users. The final item in the Photo menu is for viewing photos on your PC, with options for sorting by name and date, and a slide-show button that displays all the images in the My Photos folder one at a time.

For a DVR application, Yahoo Go for TV didn't impress us. You get a basic program guide, plus the ability to watch and record live TV, but there are no adjustable settings for recording video quality or changing where you store your recorded shows. We found the TV viewing and recording perfectly functional, and DVR image quality often has more to do with your TV tuner hardware than the specific application you use to record shows.

The final content category in Yahoo Go for TV is Videos. Again, the emphasis is on pushing Yahoo-provided content at you, with access to your locally stored files included almost as an afterthought. The first menu item, Featured Videos, is similar to the Online Spotlight section of Windows Media Center, offering clips from ABC News, The Apprentice, and Yahoo's own much-hyped Hot Zone war coverage. The next menu item, Top Menu Searches, offers video clips pulled from various third-party Web sites, similar to Yahoo's Web-based video search. This was the buggiest part of the beta version of Yahoo Go for TV, and we often got either zero hits or broken video links from Yahoo's preselected list of top search terms (including such mind-expanding topics as "Crazy Frog" and "Lindsey Lohan"). Third menu item, Video Search, displays an onscreen keyboard for entering search terms (just typing on a standard keyboard works, too).

For a free software application, and a just-released beta version at that, Yahoo Go for TV is a powerful tool for managing media files and surfing for online media, wrapped in a consumer-friendly package. Despite its origins as the Meedio DVR program and having the word TV in the title, the bare-bones DVR functionality and the lack of TV tuner hardware support make this more of a general interest media-surfing tool than a first-rate DVR app. We also found the overwhelming emphasis on pushing Yahoo content to be distracting; a guest invited into our homes should put our local content first, their own second. We hope to see some of these issues, especially the hardware support, addressed in the next revision.

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