Life With a Plugin, Episode 12: TVTonic - The Internet Channel

Jul 23 2008

Video podcasts within your Media Center simply make SENSE! It makes so much sense, that even Microsoft developed their own application to let you enjoy some online programming, for free--Internet TV Beta. That being said, Internet TV really is more of a "push" technology, with very little customization. As opposed to TVTonic, which is geared entirely around full user control of their content.

Overview

TVTonic has been around since the original Windows XP Media Center days. I recall playing around with it back then, but had not touched it for several years, until I was informed by its developer that they have a very nice MCML interface! And you know me and my love for MCML interfaces!

So a brief overview. First, as I'm sure some of you are asking: "What is a Video Podcast??" Per Wikipedia,

"Video podcast (sometimes shortened to vidcast or vodcast) is a term used for the online delivery of video on demand video clip content via Atom or RSS enclosures. The term is an evolution specialized for video, coming from the generally audio-based podcast and referring to the distribution of video where the RSS feed is used as a non-linear TV channel to which consumers can subscribe using a PC, TV, set-top box, media center or mobile multimedia device."

To put it simply: it is a bunch of TV shows which are broadcast over the Internet, and you can stream them to your system on demand. TVTonic is designed to allow you to have the download of your favorite podcasts automated so that you can view the shows whenever you choose, from the convenience of your remote control.

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Playback of HD Vidcasts Overlays with Show Descriptions

Above & Beyond

Where to begin... this application is fantastically refined. I've played with a ton of Media Center plugins, and the years of work that has gone into TVTonic really shows. The interface is gorgeous and very intuitive. You bring up the menu by arrowing over, this is similar to the interactive menus Universal uses in their HD DVD and Blu-ray titles. It's very easy to use and is a welcome departure from the traditional Media Center menus.

Every aspect of the configuration is available for you to tweak. You can configure the cache file size for an individual podcast, schedule the time to download so that your Internet does not slow down, set the level of download speed and more! Adding and removing podcasts is as simple as using the TV guide. TVTonic also makes it easy to find new programs that you may like, with some very easy to understand categories.

I found streamed podcasts played very smoothly (your bandwidth is the big issue if TVTonic has not downloaded the podcast, as it will be streamed in real-time) and the overlay menus were very unobtrusive yet still informative.

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Categories to Find New Shows Easily Add or Remove Channels

Falling Short

The only thing I found lacking has to do with the notification of disk usage. While there are several disk cache settings and what not, there was no way I found to set a global limit of hard drive storage. Being an everyday Media Center TV user, my hard drive gets filled and emptied often as shows are recorded, watched and then deleted. What I would love to see in TVTonic is similar functionality: allow me to set a maximum space to be used, or allow the program to automatically delete certain shows based on date or priority, this way there is more space free to download the latest shows. This would prevent me from overfilling my hard drive while still maximizing the amount of content I have available to watch. Besides, the beauty of podcasts is those older episodes are almost always still available for download later if I really wanted a deleted show back.

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Set the Cache Limits for Series
Monitor the Download Status

Grade: Approved for Everyday Use

Minor quibbles aside, TVTonic is a fantastic and refined application, suitable for any Media Center interface. It's perfect for summer time when so many shows are on hiatus and I find myself running out of TV content, I can have another pool of shows to watch. The quality of the programming really depends on the content providers, but that has increased significantly over the years with more HD programming and better produced shows giving the feel of a professionally made television program.

Video on demand is something being pushed by cable companies and it's great to see we Media Center users have something just as powerful and convenient. You won't see your favorite mainstream TV shows, but if you browse around, I bet you won't have a problem finding one podcast (or 13 or 20) which is attractive to you. I even found one that covers Fantasy Football--you can bet I added that and will be watching it regularly!

If you ever are frustrated by the lack of programming available on TV, or heck, mabye you refuse to pay the outrageous prices for cable or satellite, then go get TVTonic! It's free, and gives you countless hours of great shows, all from the convenience of your Media Center remote.

Product Vitals

Website: TVTonic.com

Creator: Wavexpress, Inc

Price: Free! 

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