Personal video recorders (PVRs) such as TiVo are the hottest TV-watching trend. They let you schedule recordings like you can with a VCR, and more importantly, they pause and replay live TV. But PVRs cost hundreds of dollars. SnapStream Personal Video Station (PVS), now in its third edition, offers the same TV-watching and -recording functionality for your PC for just $99.99. Version 3.0 includes a new full-screen interface, real-time MPEG-2 encoding, and the ability to pause, rewind, and replay live TV. There are a few drawbacks, such as the lack of CD audio, DVD movie, or slide-show playback. But if you don't want to shell out for a PVR or an XP Media Center system, SnapStream is your next best option.
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SnapStream PVS sets up easily, thanks to a very XP-like wizard.
PVS 3.0's coolest new feature is its full-screen, TiVo-like interface, which makes it easy to control the program from across the room with a remote control. Competitors with tiny VCR-metaphor interfaces, such as InterVideo's WinDVR, CyberLink's Power VCR, or ATI's Multimedia Center, don't provide the easy-to-read visual feedback that true couch-potato living requires.
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|To configure PVS, you'll have to exit the app and use this Web-based tool.||That nice full-screen interface is so remote friendly.|
Alas, PVS 3.0's full-screen interface isn't as slick or comprehensive as the ones found in TiVo, ReplayTV, or even . You must exit to the program's alternate, Internet Explorer-based interface to define recording profiles, set options, and--most annoyingly--switch recording profiles or select a different video source. Controlling the IE interface via remote control is difficult at best, and the plethora of options and the multiple windows make for a rather steep learning curve. Also, we don't appreciate having to exit and relaunch the program to turn time-shifting (pause/replay/rewind of live video) on or off. SnapStream Personal Video Station has always been able to play back and record video, but version 3.0 adds the ability to pause and rewind live TV (or other sources) à la TiVo or ReplayTV recorders. And unlike previous versions, 3.0 lets you record in MPEG-2 as well as Windows Media Format (WMV), so you don't need to reencode files before burning to SVCD or DVD. This puts the program on near equal footing with Power VCR and WinDVD recorder, both of which support both MPEG-1/VCD and MPEG-2 recording, though PVS 3.0 lacks the latter's ability to record in real time directly to CD or DVD rewritable media. MPEG-2 encoding also gives PVS 3.0 a leg up on Windows XP Media Center Edition, which relies on TV cards with hardware MPEG-2 encoding, then wraps the resulting files in an incompatible DirectShow wrapper that, so far, you can burn with only Sonic MyDVD 4.0.
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|SnapStream's program guide lets you pick and choose shows to watch and record.||PVS 3.0 takes full advantage of the Web, with a plethora of options.|
This program's third-revision maturity shows, as SnapStream includes many small but crucial PC-as-VCR features. The program accepts schedule entries generated by the free, online TitanTV programming service as well as its own internal programming guide, and it wakes your system from standby to record programs so that you don't have to leave your computer running full blast all day. There's also a handy pad feature that lets you add a few minutes to the start and end times of recordings to compensate for inaccurate computer clocks or events that may run longer than scheduled. Another neat and, as far as we know, unique feature is SnapStream PVS 3.0's ability to tune compatible DSS (satellite) receivers via your computer's serial port.
SnapStream PVS 3.0 also makes it easy to share your AVI and MPEG recordings with other devices by converting, or transcoding, them to Windows Media Format (WMV) files of the appropriate quality and size. SnapStream includes predefined transcoding profiles to optimize video at VHS or near-DVD quality or at resolutions appropriate for many Pocket PCs and network connections, such as ISDN and cable. SnapStream PVS will also function as a network video server so that you can view your recordings or imported videos from any computer in your home network via a Web browser. TiVo and ReplayTV can't top that, though their newer versions do let you send shows to PCs via Ethernet. Unfortunately, though SnapStream Personal Video Station 3.0 is a very complex product, we found its support lacking (though, to be fair, we reviewed the product before its release, so the SnapStream Web site hadn't been completely updated with information for the latest version). Online support for SnapStream PVS includes a nontechnical FAQ, a fairly extensive and searchable knowledge base, a tech-support e-mail address, some installation tips, and a helpful discussion forum. Unfortunately, however, there's no telephone support.