FreshArrival » Blog Archive » Beyond TV 4: The Review.

Beyond TV 4: The Review.

by Richard

I’ve been testing BeyondTV 4 for awhile now, and I’ve found that it is a well thought out, fully featured program that is worth every penny, in my opinion. BeyondTV is a PVR program that gives a computer Tivo-like functions, whether it’s a standalone computer (recommended) or even your desktop PC. For the purpose of testing BTV, I built a computer from spare parts that included a 1.5 Ghz Athlon XP processor, Radeon 9600, and 640 mb of RAM. I went out and purchased a hardware TV encoder card, the Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150 ($149) and a 160gb Seagate hard drive ($109). The benefit to actually building a PVR instead of using an off-the-shelf box like a Tivo or ReplayTV is that you can configure it any way you want (you can add in as many tuners as your system will support, including HDTV and record multiple shows on multiple channels simultaneously), you can add as much storage space as you want (and record for a week straight if you want), and most importantly to me: the files that they produce are usually MPEG-2 files, which can be played back on your PC with no conversion required, and can also easily be archived to a DVD because they are just normal video files.

One of the most important things that every PVR user wants is ease-of-use. The user interface needs to be so simple that anyone can use it, even if they’ve never seen it before. BeyondTV wins here. The menu presents you with everything you need as soon as you start BTV.
BeyondTV Main

Here’s a little on each option it gives you upon startup, and a screenshot of each: (click to enlarge)

Recorded Shows (gives you a list of the shows you’ve recorded and lets you play them from there)
recorded shows

Live TV (Live TV, you can pause a show and come back to it later, or browse the program guide while you watch TV..note I didn’t leave the video in it because of copyright concerns)
live tv

SnapStream.Net Guide (the full screen program guide, lets you set shows up to record once, all episodes or all new episodes, and updates itself via the internet automatically so your program guide is always up to date)
program guide

Setup Recordings (lets you find/schedule shows by keyword, category, title and narrows your search down as you type via a keyboard or onscreen letters) and lets you see what shows it is set to record already
setup recordings

Settings (lets you set all sorts of options like recording quality, ShowSqueeze (which can compress shows automatically using the Divx codec so they take up less space) SmartSkip (which lets you skip commercials), and much more
settings

When I bought the TV tuner card (WinTV PVR-150) for the BTV test machine, I noticed that it came with a remote and IR sensor. BeyondTV is set up to work with this, and just about any remote that comes with a tuner card that they support. I just picked the remote I had in the BTV setup and it has worked like a charm ever since.

Little things make all the difference. Snapstream has paid a lot of attention to this piece of software, and it shows. A few weeks back, one of our favorite shows, Stargate came back on the air with new episodes, after a few months of downtime… Of course it was also the same week that my girlfriend planned to go out of town, so the task fell upon BeyondTV to record it automatically. I set this up earlier in the week. My girlfriend realized that an episode of Law And Order:SVU was coming on at 8PM, grabbed the remote and set it to record. The only problem was that Stargate was also set to record at that time. Normally, when you try to set one show to record at the same time as a previously scheduled recording, BeyondTV will put a red “Record” icon on the side of it, and cross it out to show that there is a conflict. In this case, BeyondTV just put up a “Record” icon with no slash through it. I thought this was very strange, because I knew that I’d already set Stargate to record at that time. There should have been a conflict. I looked through the program guide to see what the upcoming recordings were, thinking that BeyondTV had just replaced Stargate with Law And Order and found, to my surprise that it had realized that there was a time conflict, looked to see if the same episode was playing later on (it was, 2 hours later) and just set that one to record instead. That’s good software.

A few issues I’ve experienced: When BTV compresses a file using ShowSqueeze, sometimes the aspect ratio is a bit strange. If you only play the files using BTV, it’s a non-issue because BTV automatically uses the correct aspect ration when playing the file. Only when I tried to watch the file on a different PC did I notice the problem, but if you pick the right aspect ratio in your video player, it looks great.

Also, BeyondTV comes out-of-the box set up to leave 2 mins before and after each show, to make sure that it records the entire show. I only have one TV tuner installed, so I noticed that when I had 2 shows set to record back to back on 2 different channels, BTV would consistently stop the first show 2 minutes early, switch channels and start recording the other show, causing me to miss the very end of the show. When recording 2 consecutive shows on the same channel, BTV would still cut off the last 2 minutes of the first show, but I could always find it at the beginning of the next show’s recording. That was a little annoying, but at least I got to see all of both shows. In any event, this can easily be fixed via an easily accessible option in Settings > Recording Settings > Padding. I have it set to 1 minute now and it works like a charm. Your mileage may vary, and 2 minutes of padding might work for you. If you do have that problem though, you know where to look.

I’d also like it if BeyondTV was a bit more customizable. It’s reasonably easy to change the background wallpaper.. just choose a wallpaper that you want, in whatever resolution you’re running BeyondTV in, save it as background_sml.png and copy it to the FSMedia\Images folder, found in the BeyondTV installation folder (on my system the full path was C:\Program Files\Snapstream Media\Beyond TV\FSMedia\Images). I still haven’t been able to change the icons for the menu selections though.

In conclusion, though…if you want to build a PVR with almost no fuss, great stability (I know, I know it’s running on top of Windows but it hasn’t crashed yet!) and ease of use (almost anyone can pick the remote up and use it), BeyondTV is a great choice, and is definitely my first choice when it comes to building a PVR of my own. I’ve tried a few PVR programs that run on top of Linux, such as MythTV with this exact same hardware and they were a pain to configure, even for an experienced user like myself, who has used Unix in the past for some pretty major tasks. In the case of MythTV, I finally got it set up, but then, without fail it started throwing up error messages that I could not get to the bottom of. I wanted a PVR that I could trust to actually record my shows and not just crash for no reason, so I decided to see what was available for Windows. BeyondTV does everything I’ve asked it to do and more. I highly recommend it.

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13 Responses to “Beyond TV 4: The Review.”

  1. Chris Coyier Says:

    Ahhh. Stargate and SVU huh? I thought I was the only one.

  2. Richard Says:

    Yeah, and Alias. My top 3 favorites, definitely. Great minds really DO think alike! :)

  3. Matt Says:

    SVU….Mirishka….. *drool*

  4. Richard Says:

    Hehe, I was always a fan of Cabot.. Stephanie March in real life…you know, the hot, blonde ADA. I was sad when they “killed” her off.

  5. Kevin Watts Says:

    Hey, great review. I’m a huge fan of Snapstream and Beyond TV. I’ll have to check out that issue with the show padding. I haven’t noticed that before. I’ve got 3 tuners now, but I think I’m going to pick up a couple more before the Olympics!

  6. Mark Day Says:

    Can you set padding on a per-show or per-recording basis? Can you have different padding before a show vs. after a show?

  7. Richard Says:

    Padding is a global option, and applies to everything you record, in my experience. Whatever you pick for padding goes before and after the show, and I don’t know of a way to change either one separately. Hope that answers your question!

  8. Ed Rockwell Says:

    I’ve had a really bad experience with their software and support. With opening support tickets and getting the software to work. I have NOT received any responses from my 4 support tickets. You can’t contact them via phone and they do not answer any emails.

    I’ve been trying to get an RMA for the bundle I purchased but have not.

    I’d stay away from the software and company.

    See my posts on their website forum at http://fourm.snapstream.com. My user is fasteddie.

    FastEddie

  9. Ed Rockwell Says:

    OOPS, the site is actually http://forums.snapstream.com/vb/

    I’ll follow up if and when they respond and actually return my money.

    FastEddie

  10. digitalvideo500.com » BeyondTV 4 Says:

    […] FreshArrival has a fantastic review of BeyondTV that is the result of several months of testing.  Here’s a look at his findings: […]

  11. Larry Rogers Says:

    The thing all these reviews miss is a sadly lacking feature available in Sage TV, Replay TV and Tivo. The ability to record a “theme” or “category” of shows.

    For example, the ability to record all movies starring Woody Allen.

    Beyond TV can find the shows, but then you have to select which ones you want one at time. Incredibly tedious for a broad based theme, like record all movies released in 2005.

  12. Tony Cannon Says:

    I’m glad to hear that you can set up two shows on two different channels (broadcast at different times) and still get BeyondTV to automatically tune from the first channel to the next one scheduled to record (ala NBC to ABC).

    For some reason I can’t get my Gemstar Guide Plus for Windows (came standard with my ATI All In Wonder) to do that.

  13. FreshArrival » Blog Archive » Slingbox AV: The Review. Says:

    […] My real PVR configuration, however consists of a home-built, dual tuner BeyondTV box that I built back when I reviewed BeyondTV months back. Sling has an extensive library of codes to control different devices in all sorts of categories, and they’re adding more all the time… but there weren’t any codes available to control BeyondTV using the Slingbox and the remote control I’ve been using with it (the 45 button Hauppauge remote that came with my PVR-150 tuner cards), so I made one. Knowing that they can’t possibly have every code available, Sling has built a very simple but quite powerful option right into the setup wizard: the ability to add your personalized remote control codes directly into the Slingbox. I used a combination of the knowledge at hifi-remote.com, Remote Master, this tutorial and a bit of technical know-how to make a remote file that would allow the Slingbox to control my BeyondTV box, and upload it into the Slingbox. Here is the resulting file, in case anyone else has a similar setup at home and doesn’t want to go through the work of making the .bin files for the remote. This should work if you have one of the 3 new Slingboxes, the 45 button Hauppauge remote that comes with the PVR-150, and BeyondTV 4.x. It might work for other configurations, but of course I haven’t tested any other ones. Also, if these files screw up your Slingbox, I’m not responsible. :) […]