Several months back I was emailed asking if I would do a review for BTV. Actually it may have been closer to a year, I don’t really remember. Now that I have no internet connection, I figured this would be the perfect time.
You can read the entire review in the extended entry.
BeyondTV is a PVR application that runs under windows. It allows you to watch live television, rewind, pause, record, and fast forward it just like you would with a dedicated hardware solution. It allows you to schedule shows and have them recorded, both single shows and movies, and entire seasons based upon whatever criteria to give it. Only new ones, only repeats, whatever you want. Just like a dedicated hardware solution.
It also supports multiple tuners, unlike a dedicated hardware solution. Yeah, you might get something that will record on two channels, and you can always buy two or three Tivos, but that is a pain in the rear unless you have a serious setup down in your basement with some sort of logic controller running it all. BTV supports multiple tuners out of the box.
Currently my PVR server that was hooked to my television is down, so I am running it on my personal TV. I actually own two licenses as well as Beyond TV link, a client. I am using one of my server licenses, and occasionally the client license. Both of the other main PCs in the house are wireless, and I have experience serious lag problems using BTV Link on wireless, so it is rare that I will do anything with that other than administration.
Here is the main screen from the BTV UI. Click the thumbnail for the full size pics. As you can see from the screenshot, there are several options to choose from. You can go into your library of previously recorded shows (or ones that you have manually added yourself), watch live TV, see what’s playing, setup new recordings, change settings, listen to FM radio if your hardware supports it, and exit the screen. The DVD burning plugin is a separate purchase that I am testing out. I haven’t decided whether I want to use it or not. It is nice to have for the wife and kids because it makes it simple to burn a movie to DVD, but I can do it myself using the Divx converter or Nero.
Here is the Library Screen. As you can see, with the girls here, we watch a lot of Barbie stuff. The newest version of BTV has considerably sped things up in the library. I have a fairly large library of movies, and it used to take anywhere from 30-90 seconds to load. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you are sitting on the couch twiddling your thumbs, possibly with guests that you are trying to impress with your geekiness, that’s a lot of time. This loaded considerably faster than previous versions. Up toward the top, where it says ‘All’, you can change the view (not shown) to ‘By Series’ and ‘By Folder’ as well. Very handy for me. I don’t do a lot of TV watching. I like a few shows, Lost, 24, Battlestar, the Sopranos, but I am normally at work when they are on. I also like to record kids movies, because when they are young, they have the tendency to watch the same thing. Over. and Over. and Over again. I must have seen John Wayne in the Green Berets (not exactly a kids movie) 5000 times by the time my son turned five.
Since my main server is down (actually it is my computer that permanently hit the waste bin, I just took my HTPC and put it on my desk) I will want to watch the shows from this season eventually. What I may do is record some of them to DVD and watch them that way, as I hooked my old DVD player back up to the television when I took the computer.
Live TV is pretty cool. Here is a screen shot of the Live TV screen. As you can see I am watching Sci-Fi. The Incredible Hulk is on right now. Quality TV at it’s finest. Just below is the screen that pops up when I hit the “info” button on my remote, or click the screen with my mouse.There are various options aside from showing the current channel and show. The little clock icon in the upper right hand corner or the “A” button on my remote brings up the guide showing what is on. This is the same selection that you can also pick from the main menu. The screenshot of the guide is shown below. What you CAN’T see is that since my video card is pretty decent, the guide is actually transparent and I can watch TV through it while I am browsing for something else. For a channel surfer like my wife, this was a must. She flips channels all the time, so being able to do that AND keep watching is quite a bonus. The screen size is configurable. Right now it is only showing one hour. When I have it hooked up to my television I have it set for three. If you have a wide-screen, you can set it for whatever you want that is comfortable for viewing.
One of things that BTV does NOT have that I really wish they would add is picture in picture. Right now I have three TV tuners set up in my system. When I had it hooked to the TV I use four. One hooked to my Motorola cable box, which BTV controls with a serial cable, two hooked to regular basic cable, and the fourth was hooked to my VCR so that I could take my videos that are sitting in my basement and slowly copy them onto hard drives. I have a lot of really old VCR tapes, and some home movies on video tape that I have been saving here as the video is not going to last forever.
As you can see in the earlier screenshots, there is a TV icon in my system tray. It is normally the only thing running. BTV runs in the background and I only bring up the interface itself when I want to watch TV. It even has a web server running, so I can schedule recorded shows through that from my PC, or even remotely. Snapstream offers remote recording setup through them if you have purchased BTV at no extra charge and you can set up BTV to pick up remote recording instructions when you want, so if I am out or on a trip I can log in from my iPaq and tell it to record something, and BTV will do so.
Since three of my four tuners are hardware based, they record in mpeg format. This takes up a lot of space. BeyondTV has a solution to this. I am able to showsqueeze each mpeg into WMV or Divx avi format which saves A LOT of space. You can do this automatically for each show, but what I do is edit each mpeg and strip out the commercials completely before I showsqueeze them. I hate commercials. If you don’t have the aptitude or just don’t want to edit video, BTV can be set up to ‘smartskip’ each show. It detects the commercials really well, and you can skip them completely while watching. If it is a show that I am not going to keep after watching I will use smartskip, but if it is a movie or something I think I may keep awhile, I like to strip them out.
Since I was doing this review, I decided that I would showsqueeze the last two shows from the current season of LOST, as I have only had the chance to watch the first two and then burn them to DVD. Here’s a screenshot of the showsqueeze portion of the web UI. Since I didn’t want to wait until my computer was not in use tonight, I decided to manually start the showsqueeze now.
As you can see in the picture to the right, it is currently using about 65% of my CPU for the showsqueeze, which is not giving me any kind of problem. I also have two browser windows open with several tabs each, three text editors where I was working on someone’s web site earlier, Zoundry, which is the app I am currently using to post to my blog (or will be if my internet connection ever comes back up), Outlook, the BeyondTV main interface, MS Paint, and of course, Task Manager. In the background I also have Windowblinds, Trillian, Skype, Logitech Quickcam, The Windows Vista sidebar, Firefly (which is my remote control that I use for BTV. I may review that another time. It kicks ass), DesktopX Builder, Windows Defender, and the Quicktime tray thing, plus whatever services happen to be running. I don’t currently have my HA server running, but normally Homeseer is going as well.
Showsqueeze is still running, Once it has finished and I burn the DVD I will continue the Review in another post…