We loaded up Beyond TV 4.3 on a PC running MCE, but it will also work with systems running Windows XP Home or Professional (sorry, no Macs). We've had some trouble in the past getting DVR software, including Beyond TV, SageTV, and Media Center, to install 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's, but with each iteration Beyond TV comes closer. Like most DVR programs, the Beyond TV interface features gigantic menu buttons that are meant to be navigated from a living room couch--a setup popularly known as the 10-foot interface. The top two options are for Recorded Programs and Live TV, taking you to either your list of previously recorded shows or the current live feed from your cable or satellite box (or antenna, if you're going over-the-air). Below that are menu buttons for the electronic program guide and setup options.
The program also offers more settings and configuration options than Media Center, such as four different recording-quality levels, and support for MPEG2, DivX, and WMV. Some users will love the choice, others might prefer the more basic foolproof set of tools in Media Center.
Using the program's ShowSqueeze option (for backing up old shows to save disk space), you can now convert recordings to Windows Media and DivX formats. We took a 45-minute recording, made at the best quality setting, and squeezed it. The clip went from a 2.5GB MPEG to a 900MB WMV file. The compressed files are easy to back up to DVD via a DVD-authoring program, such as Nero.
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 it will factor your choices into the stats, if you choose to participate. Currently topping the list is Comedy Central's The Daily Show, and several of the new Doctor Who episodes on the Sci-Fi Channel.
A returning feature, and one not available in Media Center, is remote recording. If you sign up for a SnapStream.net account, you can log in to your account from a remote computer, or mobile device with Web access, and schedule recording times.
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 Beyond Media, to get an all-inclusive package.