Beyond TV 4

Review

posted 1/30/2006 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One Page Platforms: PC

When last I used Snapstream, now known as Beyond TV I thought the program had great potential. The ease of programming along with the remote recording option made it the HTPC program of my choice for a long time. It wasn't until I ran into a few limitations that I switched to Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center 2005. With the recent release of Beyond TV 4, I decided to take another look at the program to see how far it's come since version 3.5.


The old look...


The NEW look...

Without having to go through the program, I will point you to my review of Beyond TV from a few years ago as the program's core functions haven’t changed too much. So in this piece, I'll go through what’s' new and what's changed from my last experiences. Installation’s still easy as ever with a very good wizard through the setup process. There’s support for a good number of remotes and being that I was used to the Microsoft Media Center remote, the program was able to configure itself to use most of the buttons without any hassle.

One very nice change is that you are no longer forced to purchase multiple licenses for multiple tuners. Before you had to pay an additional fee after the second tuner but now the latest version lets you use as many tuners as you want for one price. Good job Snapstream!

The first thing that will pop out to previous users is the interface change. The color scheme and style has been updated and I must say I really like Snapstream’s use of colors here. I actually prefer the new look over the old but you can change the skin of this product if you don’t find it appealing. In truth, if you can’t stand looking at the skin, then you probably won’t last long with the product. With Beyond TV 4’s ability to skin the application, you can change the look and feel to one that you are more happy with and that’s something that a default Media Center 2005 setup cannot do without some plugins.

A few other applications have FM support and Beyond TV 4 finally has it as well. As with TV, you can timeshift but like Media Center 2005 you cannot record. Software from ATI and Leadtek allows recording of radio on their respective hardware but Beyond TV 4 sadly does not. I’m hoping that the team incorporates the ability to record into future releases though but at least you can timeshift and pause live radio.

LiveTV is very solid now. I’ve been running the programs on various configurations and combinations of All-in-Wonder tuners as well as Hauppauge tuners with hardware encoding. With each hardware, I was able to watch, record, and timeshift TV easily. One of the problems I had with earlier versions of the software was stability. The program would crash without warning and then I would miss shows that I would’ve liked to have recorded. Beyond TV 4, after a few months usage, was stable throughout and didn’t exhibit any memory leaks that plagued the previous versions. I checked the memory usage with the task manager and the three processes stayed within their usual memory usage specs.

A really welcomed new feature for Beyond TV 4 is the support for OTA HDTV. I’ve been using Media Center 2005 with my HDTV Wonder from ATI and have had wonderful results watching the major networks in high-def on my 44” LCD TV. Installing the ATI card and finding channels was a snap as well. The channels showed up in the thousand range, like Media Center 2005. I was also able to pass through the 5.1 audio to my receiver to be decoded so the true HD experience is there now with the product. Unlike Media Center 2005, Beyond TV 4 supports more than two HD tuners. I never did like Microsoft’s limitations on tuners and Snapstream’s less restrictive measures is really nice for those that watch a lot of TV.

If you’re a user of the program’s ShowSqueeze function to help save hard drive space, you will be disappointed to learn that the current version of Beyond TV 4 won’t compress HDTV recordings. That’s a shame really as a few HD recordings can really eat up your hard drive space. Then again, you’ll lose the clarity of an HD picture if you compress it as well, but there are some settings that would give you great picture quality and smaller disk space to make it worth while.

For finding shows, there’s now support for finding by a particular category. If you are a sports fan or a movie fan, this is a nice addition to the suite as well. When I’m searching for NBA games to watch, it’s nice to be able to get a quick glance of the games that will be playing that day rather than searching through the guide. Beyond TV 4 support for category searches is a great addition to the product.

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