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SnapStream Beyond TV 4.3 review: SnapStream Beyond TV 4.3

A popular MCE alternative, Beyond TV 4.3 offers no showstopping new developments. Instead, this incremental upgrade offers a few new features that will appeal to current Beyond TV users.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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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.)

6.7

SnapStream Beyond TV 4.3

The Good

New community features; support for ATI Theater 650 Pro chip; can squeeze HD recordings to save space.

The Bad

Interface still clunkier than Windows Media Center's; performs only DVR tasks and can't be used as a catchall program for managing photo, video, and music files.

The Bottom Line

A popular MCE alternative, Beyond TV 4.3 offers no showstopping new developments. Instead, this incremental upgrade offers a few new features that will appeal to current Beyond TV users.
Using a PC as a Tivo-like DVR device can lead to a sometimes-bewildering array of software choices (to say nothing of the wide variety of on the market). The most common DVR front end for PCs is Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE), largely because it's the default operation system for a big percentage of new PCs. SnapStream's Beyond TV is a popular choice for those who don't have MCE or who simply don't want to use Microsoft's app. The latest version of the $69.99 program ($29.99 to upgrade from a previous version), Beyond TV 4.3, is more of an incremental update than a radical change, but it offers a handful of new features that power users will appreciate, such as community statistics and DivX 6.1 support.

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.

Beyond TV 4.3
Beyond TV's program guide lets you schedule future recordings.

Navigating through the screens is easy and responsive with either a generic Windows Media Center remote or SnapStream's own Firefly remote. Beyond TV gives you access to the common commands--watching live TV, recording a program, perusing your catalog of recordings--all within one click from the main screen.

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.

Beyond TV 4.3
A live DirecTV signal, viewed through Beyond TV.

While recorded and live TV signals looked identical when recorded at the highest quality setting, much of your DVR experience will be dictated by the TV tuner hardware in your PC. ATI's new Theater 650 Pro chip gave us the best image quality we've seen from a TV tuner, so we expect it to be popular among DVR fans. Beyond TV 4.3 is the first DVR app to announce support for the new chip. The previous generation, last year's Theater 550 Pro, is our second choice; it's easily found on cards such as the TV Wonder Elite.

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.

6.7

SnapStream Beyond TV 4.3

Score Breakdown

Setup 6Features 7Performance 7Support 0
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