I paid for Beyond TV 3.5 and a Hauppauge PVR-250 on my main desktop machine a year before I made a Media Center PC. Interestingly, the Media Center PC has turned into a heavy MAME arcade machine and is rarely used, if ever, for TV. Perhaps that will change with the XBox 360's new Media Center Extender (as the original XBox Media Extender sucked egregiously) but we will see. Until then, I keep ending up watching TV on my main PC, using Beyond TV. So, it made sense when Beyond TV 4.0 was release a few days ago that I give it a trial. Here's a few impressions
The upgrade from Beyond TV 3.5 was a complete fiasco. Not failure, fiasco, there's a difference. During the setup I was informed that a number of .ax files (.ax files are actually just COM DLLs that have a different extension. They are codecs for the decoding things like video and audio.) were in use can couldn't be overwritten. My options were "Retry" (Um, can't!), "Ignore" (Um, dangerous!), and "Cancel" (Um, and do what?), so I, like a putz, selected ignore. In retrospect I should have selected Cancel and figured out who was locking the files. But, I charged on.
Interestingly, to me at least, Beyond TV 4 decided that it was cool to put itself in the existing Beyond TV 3 folder called c:\program files\snapstream media\beyondtv3. Since it's not version 3, that seemed ingenuous, but perhaps I'm being too hard. Either way, it failed to start up and was unable to show video. The install was hosed at that point.
Turned out that since I'd just tried a Web Cam conversion using the new MSN Messenger 7.5 and a little QCAM USB Gooseneck camera I picked up, that MSN Messenger had loaded every registered codec on the system into msnmsgr.exe's memory space. So, I blew away Messenger and figured I'd just run the installer again and select "repair." Which would have totally worked had there been a "repair" option.
Long story short, totally uninstall and reinstall of 4.0. Afterwards though, it started fine.
Color me dorky but I always like to check out the system footprint of applications I run. Even more so since I started running without a paging (virtual memory) file.
Points to Snapstream for prefacing all the new processes with BTV*, but still, EIGHT processes? Um, ouch. Of course, who am I to complain considering that Microsoft released a whole new OS. (Yes, I know that's not totally true, but it's true from a marketecture point of view, so phooey on you.) There's also an extensive, but confusing series of COM interfaces that Clemens has seen fit to mess with, although there's also a Web Services API. We'll see what happens with that.
Chunks of BeyondTV are written in .NET 1.1 and there's no fewer than 28 .exe.config files that remind .NET that BeyondTV prefers .NET 1.1. There's over 130 DLLS and 30 EXEs that make the whole thing happen. It's a pretty complex goings on, but fortunately it's all in one folder and its footprint hasn't affect anything other than my curiosity. I've found it to be fantastically stable if a bit of a memory hog, but certainly less in total than any single Microsoft Office program.
All in all, it's a great product for the money despite my complaints. I used Beyond TV 3.5 daily for over a year without trouble, and I'm confident Beyond TV 4 is an improvement on 3.5. The MAJOR feature that was added in Beyond TV 4 that I wasn't able to test is its support for HDTV. I had an ATI HDTV All-In-Wonder but it was such a complete piece of crap that I took it back. Perhaps I'll try to get my hands on some of the newer generation HDTV cards and add to this post.
If you've got an existing machine and you're even slightly thinking about a Media Center PC, just spend the ~$150 and get a Tuner/BeyondTV bundle. Seriously, I know lots of folks out there who are looking seriously at MCEPC's for more than $1000, but could really save some money with a simpler product like Beyond TV 4.
Now playing: Original Broadway Cast "Rent" - Take Me or Leave Me
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.