Make Your PC Into a TiVo

SnapStream Personal Video Station 3 gives your computer digital recording capabilities

By Richard Baguley

For upward of $200, companies like Sonicblue and TiVo sell digital video recorder (DVR) boxes that let you automatically record, watch, and pause live TV programs at any time, without using VHS tapes. If you'd like to do this on your PC, look into SnapStream Media's SnapStream Personal Video Station 3.

For just $50 ($90 including the PCI TV-capture card you'll need if your system lacks a graphics card with a TV input; $120 with a remote control added), PVS 3 enables you to watch and record shows on your computer. (Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition builds in DVR capability, but that OS can't be purchased separately; it comes only with new systems.)

The positives: The software is less expensive than even the lowest-priced ReplayTV or TiVo boxes. For access via the Internet to TV listings--which you'll find essential if you intend to streamline the process of choosing particular shows to record--SnapStream costs only $5 a month versus ReplayTV's $10 and TiVo's $13. In addition, PVS 3 is more flexible than its stand-alone competitors. It allows you to watch the programs you have recorded on another PC over your home network, the Internet, or a Pocket PC-based PDA. Or you can put the programs on DVD if you have a DVD burner.

But the PVS 3 system has its disadvantages, too: Watching TV on a computer screen can be unpleasant, and connecting a TV to the video-out port of your graphics card requires that the PC be near your TV. And if you want the TV-capture card and the remote control along with the software, you're getting fairly close to the price of an entry-level DVR box.

The image quality you get with PVS 3 depends on your PC's speed, but on my test system (a 1.2-GHz Athlon PC with a GeForce4-based graphics card and 512MB of RAM), it was certainly acceptable. Nevertheless, even at the higher quality settings, the same program looked worse on the preproduction PVS 3 software than it did on my TiVo.

From the March 2003 issue of PC World magazine

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