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December 14, 2004

Review: BeyondTV Link

In a previous review, we looked at SnapStream's BeyondTV 3.5 and found out how easy it was to setup a multi-tuner server. BeyondTV 3.5 Link, software which can be installed on another PC to control and view BeyondTV, turned out to be just as easy to setup and use.


Installing link on my Via EPIA M10000 mini-itx system was a snap. While the Snapstream knowledgebase mentions incompatibilities, other users on the Snapstream forums have mentioned that if you install a third party codec like PowerDVD or WinDVD to manage the MPEG2 rendering, it will take advantage of the M10K onboard MPEG decoder chip. I installed an old copy of PowerDVD, opened up the PowerDVD Settings dialog, and selected "use hardware decoding". I also had to change the default codec in BeyondTV Link to use the PowerDVD codec, but I found the M10K a nice quiet PC to use for BeyondTV link. In a companion article, I've described how I used XPLite and a cheap compact flash card to run the whole system without a noisy hard disk.

When you launch BeyondTV Link, it will scan your local network for any BeyondTV 3.5 servers and list which ones are available, saving you the hassle of configuring and remembering IP addresses.. If you have your BeyondTV server password protected, it will ask you for it, and badda boom, badda bing, your BeyondTV TV link is seamlessly integrated with the server and all its features.


BeyondTV Link provides all the features that are available from the BeyondTV 3.5 software. You can pause and rewind live television, you can watch previously recorded shows, and you find and record new shows. In my testing, I found only a few spots that felt sluggish on the controls but still very usable. It took a 10 or 15 seconds to load up a BeyondTV server during startup, something that isn’t unreasonable. I found that the controls reacted quickly during the more important moments such as pausing live television, even while recording another program or having two BeyondTV links active connections to the server.


There are only a couple minor improvements I'd like to see the Link product do better in the future. Playback was jerky via my laptop using a wireless B network, by no means the fault of BeyondTV, but it would still be nice to be able to set the LiveTV quality for each BeyondTV Link (right now it is a system wide setting). Doing so, I could watch our bedroom with a wired Ethernet port in the best quality setting, while outside manning the barbeque, I could watch the game wirelessly on my laptop with a "had a few beers so it doesn't matter" quality. I also wish BeyondTV Link supported Snapstream's new Beyond Media product so that you can use those features from every room as well. At this point, you could install Beyond Media on each front-end client, but that is not the ideal setup from my point of view.

Another product being developed by open source developers is the MediaMVP BTV interface which allows you to run a Hauppauge MediaMVP as a front-end to the BeyondTV system. It's still in its infancy and doesn't support live television, but as it evolves, that that may become the cheapest approach to building a thin front-end. BeyondTV Link is an inexpensive product ($29.99) but unless you have a lot of extra computer equipment laying around, each front-end could get expensive if built from scratch.

Snapstream gets high marks from me with their easy to install, sophisticated DVR system. It's amazingly simple to set up both server and client front-ends, even if you go nuts with extra video capture cards and many client front-end computers. If you already have Ethernet wired in your house, it's a fairly trivial task to install the whole thing in an afternoon and be watching from multiple televisions that evening. Its simple interface won't scare off house guests either, which is good or bad depending on who you are having visit over the holidays.

Posted on December 14, 2004

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