Beyond TV 4

Beyond TV 4

Written by John Yan on 1/30/2006 for 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.

A major problem I had with the previous version was that the LiveTV buffer would be completely erased once it hit the limit. I can't tell you how frustrated I was when I would have my LiveTV paused for a good length of time to go do something, come back to continue where I left off, only to have everything erased. Media Center 2005 helps alleviate this situation by having the LiveTV buffer recorded in sections. Once the limit was hit, only the oldest section would be erased so it lessened the chances of you missing a buffered part of the show. Thankfully,  Beyond TV 4 now lets you set slices of time so that the handling of the buffer is a lot better. An improvement over Media Center's handling of the buffer is that you can increase or decrease Beyond TV's buffer time. Media Center is limited to an hour but Beyond TV's can be stretched to more.

The improvements to the buffer are also migrated to recording shows after you hit the record button. One of things I hate about Media Center 2005 is that I can’t record what I am watching from the buffer. Let’s say there’s this documentary that I found pretty interesting and halfway through watching it, I decide I want to keep the entire show. Microsoft’s program won’t let you specify recording from the start of the buffer of the show. Beyond TV 4’s backcapture feature lets you do this and it’s something that’s very convenient. Now, I don’t have to worry about not recording the entire program if I decide to save the current program I am watching for future viewing.

Most of what you will need to do to configure your system will be in the main GUI but a lot of the more advanced features are in the web admin. I still wish they didn’t hide the ability to right click on the icon to access the web front end until after you change in the options though.

The web scheduler is still a big seller for me for Beyond TV 4. With any web browser, I can schedule recordings from www.snapstream.net . There’s even a mobile version so if I am out on the town and I forgot to set the PVR, I can use my phone to access the mobile website and program it on the road. This feature alone has saved me a few times and it’s one of the things I always talk about when speaking of this program.

Upgrades, as usual, will be free until Snapstream decides to release a new version. From my past experiences, the upgrades that Snapstream puts out does improve the program immensely but there have been a few times where new bugs where introduced that had me downgrading to a previous version. For the most part, the upgrades are pretty good and will improve the program with many requested features. The Snapstream community is pretty active I found them to be pretty helpful when I had problems with my setup.

Is it worth the upgrade from Beyond TV 3 to Beyond TV 4? Well, if you plan on getting an OTA HD card it’s a no brainer. There are a few updates that I really like about the latest version and for the price of $30 to upgrade, it’s definitely worth it in my opinion. Just the list of improvements over the original program should entice you to upgrade. You don’t get as many overall media features as say Media Center 2005 if you are a new purchaser but it’s also a lot less expensive. For a setup that’s close to the Windows OS, you’ll need to combine the product with Beyond Media. Beyond TV 4’s level of customization from the buffer amount to the display of the grid as well as other aspects not mentioned does go far beyond what Microsoft’s product can do. The new version has improved upon an already good product and I can’t wait to see the new features this program will add as it continues to evolve.

The improvements the Snapstream team has made has really strengthened an already strong PVR product.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.

I'm  married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.


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