It has been a while since we got back on track to the multimedia stuff. On the hardware side, ATI has been busy pumping out new products like the All-in-Wonder 9200, 9600, 9600 XT, and TV Wonder USB 2.0. Of course, HDTV Wonder is probably the most anticipated thing to come from the ATI multimedia team over the course of the past year and, even perhaps, 5 years. But that is another story for another time (which, of course, we will get to).

Now for NVIDIA, there isn't much that we can discuss, at least for the moment. Their multimedia flagship line, Personal Cinema FX cards, still aren't selling in the same volumes as those from ATI, and it currently looks like they have a long way to go before they make any large strides. Of course, the fact that ATI made the crossover into the true blue mainstream market with their All-in-Wonder 9200 popping up in a Wal-Mart has certainly helped their situation.

On the software side, there isn't much to discuss, minus Forceware Multimedia, which we are still waiting for. (Yes, it has been a long wait.) We were told way back at Comdex and during our Personal Cinema review that it is currently being put through Q&A at their multimedia project partners, but it still hasn't been released to the market yet. Coincidentally, NVIDIA announced a while back that it would be available to download back in October of '03. Reflecting back, they are definitely behind schedule.

In the meantime, there is one major company, SnapStream, that seems to be setting up a good name in their multimedia software shop, and NVIDIA's absence certainly is adding credence for the need of good software. Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004 is still only available with a pre-built system from Microsoft certified partners, which is still a shame, since Microsoft still has the best GUI and overall design when it comes to multimedia software. Until Microsoft makes the move to sell Windows XP MCE 2004 by the CD, you are going to have to choose between using the software supplied by ATI, NVIDIA, etc., or whoever makes your TV tuner.

While ATI still leads the multimedia field in the software and hardware for the do-it-yourself, this hasn't stopped other companies from attempting to provide better software solutions for those willing to shell out a bit more. After all, even ATI can only go so far with their house brand (Multimedia Center) before they have to increase the prices of their multimedia packages.

SnapStream's last software iteration was called Personal Video Station, and was fairly well received, even catching the eye and praise of Microsoft. Their latest solution called Beyond TV 3 is an overall over PVS, which means there is plenty to talk about.

The Test
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  • DFranch - Friday, May 14, 2004 - link

    One feature which Snapstream still does not have that Sage Tv has had for some time is multiple tuners. I have 2 tuners in my machine and in 5 months I have only had 2 conflicts on my machine.

    Please do a review of Sage Tv 2.0. It does not seem to get nearly as much press as Snapstream, but it is a really execellent product.
    Reply
  • glennpratt - Thursday, May 13, 2004 - link

    JackHawksmoor: x86 machines actually can turn themselves on, one of the machines I had even let you set timers in the BIOS. x86 has nothing to do with it by they way, its a function of power managent. More importantly newer PC's support S3 standby which uses almost no power and restores in seconds. My MCE machine with an AXP 2000+ actually goes to standby and restores faster then a TiVo (which also just goes to standby, doesn't actually turn off).

    The MCE remote has a power button on it, push it, it goes to standby. It will power back up if it needs to record a show or when you push the button again.
    Reply
  • glennpratt - Thursday, May 13, 2004 - link

    BTW, MCE 2004 now has an HDTV Tuner.

    http://www.vboxcomm.com/news_specific.asp?id=49
    Reply
  • segagenesis - Thursday, May 13, 2004 - link

    First decent review of Beyond TV ive read. Im not sure if SageTV is any better (a review of this in the future could help?). I lack the time to setup MythTV and this would be a good alternative, and I dont really care much about wanting multiple tuner support since I already have a PVR from my cable company. It would really complement things by allowing me to record shows I can put to disc later, something I cant do otherwise unless I had ReplayTV or Tivo with hacks. Reply
  • JackHawksmoor - Thursday, May 13, 2004 - link

    Sorry! I keep thinking of other features I want, and the review isn't clear on. Can this software initiate a dial-up connection to grab program guides? That's another needed feature (unless you've got broadband). Reply
  • JackHawksmoor - Thursday, May 13, 2004 - link

    Whoops, one piece of information I'd like to know is what other formats "ShowSqueeze" can convert to. It would rock if you could set this to automatically convert some shows to like a Divx or MPEG-1 format for a Palm OS unit (the review only mentions Windows Media, and dosen't actually specify that it allows settings for smaller screens, etc.).

    I'd also like a feature to automatically set a show to get copied to a DVD-RW after it's been recorded (so I could watch it on a TV in a different room, etc.)
    Reply
  • JackHawksmoor - Thursday, May 13, 2004 - link

    Great review! Really informative!

    I'd LOVE to make a PVR out of spare parts, but unfortunatly there's no way for an x86 system to turn itself on for a recording, and I don't want to leave a system running all the time. I'd probably do it otherwise.

    (Technically I think someone could take advantage of features in most BIOS like "wake on network access", etc. Include some piece of hardware that does nothing but wake up the computer-software on the computer tells that piece of hardware when the next time the computer needs to be turned on is, and then the device triggers a wake on LAN (or whatever) to wake the computer up at that time). COULD probably be done.

    I think current Macintosh's can wake themselves up at prescribed times, and I've got an older PowerMac in the closet, so maybe I should look into that...
    Reply
  • glennpratt - Thursday, May 13, 2004 - link

    Web control is available for Windows Media Center 2004.

    http://www.showtell.com/mce_webguide/2/

    Also, a proof of concept has shown that HDTV is possible in MCE 2004 if the manufacturers would write BDA drivers for HDTV cards. With the SDK its also pretty easy to write programs for MCE which have access to alot of the things MCE does.

    I imagine, the future of HDTV on the computer will involve HDTV analog inputs (Component or RGBHV) from your cable or satelite box to avoid broadcast flags. It would be nice to stream the digital HD stream directly to the hard drive, then simply play it back, but I imagine the industry will never allow pay TV computer decoder cards.
    Reply
  • orogogus - Thursday, May 13, 2004 - link

    crazy_vag-

    in all likelihood, probably never. You'd need a HDTV capture card, that was HDCP enabled (never going to happen) or a tuner that could tune in pay-channel HDTV (satellite or cable- QAM). They don't exist (well, the FusionIII has QAM but it really doesn't work 100% and it will only tune unencrypted channels)- probably run into HDCP problems here anyway cause the network will likely turn it on for pay channels (not to mention encryption). However, if they ever broadcast Sopranos on over the air channels, you could do it now or in the future, since HDCP shouldn't ever be applied to OTA content. Cheers
    Reply
  • buleyb - Thursday, May 13, 2004 - link

    agreed #6, MythTV, once setup properly, is the best option for making a HTPC Reply

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