Capture, Control, Create

Published Date
01 - Jan - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Jan - 2006
 
Capture, Control, Create
More and more people are using their PCs as TVs, and software is being developed by the dozen to help you get the best from your TV-Tuner card. With Media Center PCs becoming more popular, TV-Tuner software are also being better designed; however, Personal Video Recorder (PVR) software hasn't entirely lost out on presence. These software tune in to TV channels, and capture screenshots and video in a compressed format. Some can pause a TV show.

The interface apart, the thin line that separates PVR software from Media Center software is the latter's additional functionality that integrates DVD, radio, picture and music playback capabilities using a remote control, while retaining the capabilities of PVR software.

The major parameters that we based our comparison of PVR software on were ease of use, features and performance. We took a detailed look at six software in all-ChrisTV, iuVCR, NeoTV, PowerVCR II 3.0, WinDVR, and WinVDR.

ChrisTV
ChrisTV is a unique contender in the category of PVR software-unique because the interface is so dull! But make no mistake-all the functionality is there: everything you need is a right-click away.

Ease Of Use
Installation is wizard-based, at the end of which you're prompted to configure the settings. The process also includes setting up a video capture device. This is an important step; make sure you select your TV-Tuner card, since your graphics card can also serve as an input source for PVR software.

The interface is compact and the colour combination dull, like we said. It looks like a failed attempt at aping the Mac OS user interface! The buttons on the panel make all the important functions accessible. Advanced settings become accessible with a right-click. Clicking the "gear" icon button opens the 'General Settings' menu. This menu is at the heart of ChrisTV's configuration.



How We Tested 
The broad parameters considered for testing Personal Video Recorder software were ease of use, features and performance. Our purpose here is to identify and recommend one software that will serve your requirements on all counts.
Our Test Machine: We tested the PVR software on a Pentium IV 3.4 GHz dual-core CPU with 1 GB of DDR 2 RAM and a LifeView FlyTV Prime 30 TV-Tuner card. A VCD player connected to the Composite input of the TV-Tuner card served as the input signal for testing purposes.
The Test: Software should be easy to use and configure. Keeping this in mind, we looked for a clean interface and easy-to-use methods for configuring and setting up the software.
Apart from the standard features, we also looked for the ability to zoom in while watching TV, pause, and tile displays (showing more than one channel on a single screen). Such features earned a software extra points.
Of course, we didn't want software which had great features and which was really easy to use, while not being able to capture video properly. Therefore, we gave as much weightage to the quality of video capture as to the features and ease of use.

Features And Performance
ChrisTV probably has almost all the features you'd look for in a PVR software. It has the time-shift feature by which you can pause a telecast, forward through ads, and create your own TV replay. This feature has three modes of operation: software DV encoder, software MPEG encoder and hardware MPEG encoder. (The time-shift feature works only with Windows XP, Windows Media Center Edition or higher.)
Recordings can be stored as MPEG, AVI, XviD, and more; recording is supported with many codecs to choose from. The channel preview and the recorded video quality are satisfactory, whereas the snapshots (which can be taken in the JPEG and BMP formats) give remarkably better results.

Another prominent feature is the scheduler. ChrisTV allows a user to schedule recordings for the entire week. Just select the day of the week and set a timed recording for that day-it's that easy!

Link: www.chris-tv.com
iuVCR
iuVCR features a simple interface, beneath which lies a variety of features and options. This software also features radio tuning (if your tuner card supports it). 



Ease Of Use
Installation is, again, wizard-based. The interface design is so sober, it looks like software from the Windows 95 era. The configuration options are classified under the 'Video' and 'Audio' tabs. An 'Info' tab shows the important settings for recording and compression. It also displays other technical information, such as file size and frame rate in fps along with a graph. Overall, the interface may be confusing at first glance, but you'll find it is very organised once you've understood the classification of the settings.

Features And Performance
Basic features include TV channel tuning, TV and video capture, and compression of captured content to various formats including DivX. You may need to install a codec pack on your Windows machine before you can choose from various compression formats for your capture. (We installed K-lite Mega Codec pack.)

Capture/Recording can be controlled by limiting it within a time frame, or by punching in the maximum file size. Moreover, captured files can either be saved in a particular folder in a partition or in different locations across hard disk partitions.

This software offered scheduled and timer recording. With timer recording you can set the software to record for, say, the next one hour; with scheduled recording, you can instruct the software to record from, say, 5 pm to 7 pm for any specific channel or input!

The schedule feature wasn't very impressive, though-it restarted the iuVCR software at the scheduled start time, and it often recorded from the wrong input. Overall, iuVCR is just about OK.
Link: www.iulabs.com/iuvcr/index.shtml

NeoTV
NeoTV needs to be tweaked by the developers; there is plenty of room for improvement in video recording as well as the user interface.

Ease Of Use
When NeoTV is run for the first time at the end of the easy installation process, it requests you to set up audio/video sources and channels. You are taken to the 'Configuration Options' dialog box. After you're done with setting up the software, the rather ordinary blue user interface shows up. Moving the mouse pointer over the buttons reveals their functions.


There aren't too many options on the panel for setting up the software, which makes NeoTV good for first-time users.

Features And Performance
A unique feature in NeoTV is the reconfigurable Hotkey option. User-defined keys can be set; this helps you easily remember the keys you set for various functions such as record, stop, next channel, previous channel, etc.

NeoTV can handle recording of telecasts in MPEG, VCD and DVD formats, and snapshots are saved as BMP files. The quality of snapshots is really good, but we couldn't judge the quality of video capture-the saved file turned out to be corrupt. Our repeated attempts to capture video in different formats were in vain. Given the fact that we weren't even able to capture video, we can't recommend NeoTV.

Link: www.mediostream.com/products/ index_neotv.html
PowerVCR II 3.0
CyberLink's PowerVCR II is the most commonly bundled software with most TV-Tuner cards. With the advent of Media Center PCs, CyberLink now supplies PowerCinema. Nevertheless, PowerVCR II still has the punch to be amongst the most-sought-after PVR software.

Ease Of Use
The procedure for installing PowerVCR II 3.0 was somewhat lengthy-it installs the Intel Indeo codec pack right in the middle of installation. The option to not install Indeo wasn't offered.

Those who have used CyberLink products earlier will know the characteristic interface scheme-it resembles an actual DVD player with knobs and buttons. A similar scheme is used here, more like a blend of a set-top box and a DVD player. The preview screen looks like a flat plasma TV.

A side panel bar is provided to directly access certain features such as the recording scheduler and the DV Tape Transcoder. Overall, the interface and the software are elegantly and professionally designed.

The software starts with a hunt for channels and stops at the very first signal it detects; detection is so fast, you'll notice it only if you disconnect the TV cable and connect only the composite input. This is of immense help, because you don't have to dig around in the configuration settings to set an input mode for the software-the available signal is quickly detected.

Features And Performance
Despite the professional look of the software, PowerVCR seemed to be lacking on the features front. Its closest contender is WinDVR, which impressed us with its performance and features; read on to see whether PowerVCR can keep its winner tag from a couple of years ago.
The snapshot feature took images only in BMP format, and although the clarity of the images was commendable, it would have been nice to have an option for JPEG.

The 'Instant TV Replay' feature allows you to pause a live telecast while it (the ongoing telecast) is being recorded to disk. You can, therefore, replay and even forward ads at will. The file converter helps convert a captured file from MPEG to other formats such as AVI.



If you want to record everything on your camcorder to DVD, you can use the 'DV Tape Transcoder' feature, which converts your DV files to MPEG. Creating a DVD from this is accomplished via the 'Direct burn to DVD' feature.

The TV channel preview quality was very good; in fact, PowerVCR and WinDVR were the only two PVR software that showcased grain-less picture reproduction. Video captures are stored by default in the MPEG format. The quality of the capture was also very good-we didn't see any jerks, nor did we notice any pixelation.

All in all, PowerVCR might well be the best PVR software out there-which is also probably reason for it being bundled with most
TV-Tuner cards!

Link: www.cyberlink.com/multi/download/ trials_2_ENU.html
WinDVR Version 3
Two years ago, we did a similar comparison. WinDVR finished as the challenger to PowerVCR. Now we're back to our testing desk, looking for something new in WinDVR!

Ease Of Use
A wizard guides you through the installation process. The UI might seem cluttered at first, but the functions of the buttons soon become clearer. You shouldn't have a hard time configuring the software to tune in to TV channels and other inputs such as Composite. The configuration options are well-defined.

Features And Performance
WinDVR is a promising piece of software, considering its feature set. First, the live TV preview was outstanding. The preview didn't show up any pixel grains. Colour reproduction did seem a little dull, but that can be corrected from the colour settings in the configuration options.



WinDVR helps you take a closer look at a channel telecast by a nifty implementation of the zoom feature. This helps you to magnify a selected area with negligible distortion.

If you want to see what's going on on, well, 16 channels simultaneously, then multi-channel preview is what you are looking for. Yes, WinDVR allows you to watch 16 channels at the same time! The quality of channel preview as well as that of video recording were superior as compared to almost all the other software; only PowerVCR was close to  the quality of WinDVR.

Because the feature list thus far was impressive, we were a little surprised to see that the recording feature was left uncontrolled-that is, there was no time limiter or disk space limiter option. This means that recording will continue until it's manually stopped-or until the disk space is exhausted!

Other features include DV-to-MPEG conversion and burn-to-disc; these can be used together to record from a camcorder to a disc. Barring the cost of this package, it has all the features and quality to beat the top-rated PowerVCR II.

Link: www.intervideo.com/jsp/WinDVR_Profile.jsp

WinVDR
No, that wasn't a typo-this is WinVDR we're talking about, not WinDVR. But the similarity in the names doesn't reflect in the quality of WinVDR. We don't really recommend this software.

Ease Of Use
WinVDR's interface is so mediocre, it should probably be distributed for free! The designers don't seem to have put much thought into designing the user interface.



All the configuration options are listed under the 'Options' menu. And almost all the options begin with the letter 'S'; you'll have to strain your eyes to find the option you're looking for. A separate playlist window is provided to list and also play back captured videos.

Features And Performance
The first impression that WinVDR makes with respect to features is the list of video capture formats it supports: AVI, DIVX, MPEG, VCD,DVD, WMV, MP4, MOV… the list is never-ending!

WinVDR does include necessary features such as the time-limiter to control unattended video recording, and live TV pausing. Now, despite supporting so many video formats, there is no Snapshot feature. This is one of the many reasons that WinVDR lost out in this comparison test.
The other is the poor capture quality, with lots of pixel-grains, especially in the brighter sections of the captured clip. The preview is much better, though.

Link: artech365.com/winvdr/index.htm

Summing It Up
NeoTV and WinVDR lacked some features, and the video capture of the latter product was just about satisfactory. iuVCR had good features but lacked slightly on the quality front.

We decided that the winner had to be either PowerVCR or WinDVR. Since the highlight of the comparison was the features of the software, WinDVR leads the comparison table, along with ChrisTV. But ChrisTV did not offer the clarity we were looking for. The performance department-that is, the quality of image and video capture-belonged to PowerVCR and WinDVR.

It wasn't easy to choose between PowerVCR and WinDVR, but after much deliberation, we decided that WinDVR was the winner by a very small margin.


Team DigitTeam Digit

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