Beyonwiz DP-Lite PVR review

I bought the Beyonwiz DP-Lite PVR a few weeks ago so I thought I'd write up my impressions of it.  It's important to understand that I bought this after having used MythTV mostly happily for about 4 years.  MythTV's problem is that it relies on PC hardware and digital TV tuner cards, and so I've had various hardware issues over the years.  I've also had lots of problems during upgrades.  My hope here was that a dedicated hardware PVR would reduce some of these shortcomings.  So far it's reduced those, but at some costs.

User interface
The user interface is absolutely abysmal. Designed by, scratch that not designed so much as knocked together.  Then clearly not tested on any mere humans.  Part of the reason for buying this was to test out a hardware PVR to see if I'd recommend it to my folks yet, and on the strength of this I certainly wouldn't.

Here's an example of the retarded UI.  To get to recordings you've made, you press a "folder" icon on the remote.  This then takes you to the screen above with three levels of navigation, all visible at once.

To navigate the first level, as you see with the icons across the top, you use the left and right arrow keys on the remote.  This shifts you between "Media" (which seems to be all media types) "Movie" (which is, strangely, where your recordings go), "Music", "Photos".  Essentially it filters the file list, I think.

By default the focus is on the second level, on the left, which represents the device from which you'll view files. To then move focus to the file list, you click "Enter" on the remote. Don't make the mistake of going right, because that moves the always-focussed icons in the row above.

Finally you're in the file list and you can navigate to a file name.  No matter that these are recordings of TV programmes with lots of EPG information, no you get whatever arbitrary filename it gave it, including the file extension.  Useful that.

This is just one example of boneheadedness in the UI, but it's appallingly bad.  MythTV's interface, written by amateurs, is vastly superior.  Many of the MythTV developers talk about the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF) and I suspect this had a lot to do with the ease of use of the UI.  T-Box is also much better for the "my parents" target market in terms of UI. (Note: I work for Telstra Media and have done a fair chunk of using its UI.)

The scheduling interface on the device itself is a nightmare.  The better option is to use IceTV's much nicer UI, by signing up (and paying for) their EPG service.  The EPG is good.  Their scheduling interface isn't perfect, but not bad.  They could do with some user testing on people like my parents though.

The biggest downside for me, though, and something I really miss from MythTV, is the ability to set scheduling priorities. In this screenshot you'll see the little red "record" icon next to "French News".  In MythTV I had a bunch of shows I'd record that I'd only infrequently like this.  I record the French news in case something important happens in France so I can quickly see how they're reporting it there.  I also used to record 7:30 Report, Lateline, those kinds of things even though I'd only occasionally watch them.  The beauty of Myth's priorities was that I could say record these, but only if there's an available tuner and isn't something more important to record.

IceTV and Beyonwiz don't have this concept.  If you say you want to record something, it's as important as any other recording.  This can be very very bad.  For example, if I record nothing else I want the ABC's 19:00 news bulletin.  Nope, IceTV will bump that sometimes when something else you've set to record comes up.  You have to continuously be logging into the IceTV web site and checking upcoming recordings to make sure something you really want recorded doesn't get bumped.  This sucks big time.

Another thing it doesn't do is allow you to define when you want something recorded.  Some shows I want recorded when they're first shown, because I want to watch it soon afterwards.  Others are less important, so I'm happy for those to be recorded whenever they're run that's convenient for the tuners.  This can free up tuners to record something else in prime time, and pick up the show I wanted on a repeat a day or so later.  Beyonwiz and IceTV can't do this.

No virtual tuners
MythTV has an awesome feature dubbed "multirec" that was developed through a bounty system.  It exploits a feature of the way digital TV works to allow you to record more than one channel from a single tuner where possible.

Digital TV "channels" are actually just groups of MPEG Program Streams (PS) carried within a larger Transport Stream (TS), that is a single combination of "video" and "audio" is a channel.  Each Transport Stream is transmitted on a single radio channel (multiplex) and carries multiple Program Streams.  So the ABC's multiplex has: ABC News 24, ABC1, ABC2, ABC3, ABC Dig Music and ABC Jazz, those last two being audio-only radio streams (with a static channel logo).

Physically the digital TV tuners capture the entire multiplex, so when you're watching an ABC channel the tuner is actually examining the streams for all those ABC Program Streams and pulling out the bits you want.  What MythTV does is allow you to pull out as many of these as you want at the same time.  This adds a bit to the scheduling complexity, but brings some big benefits, especially if you live in a household like ours that mostly only watches ABC and SBS channels.

Australian TV rarely follows the schedule you really do need to record at least 5 minutes before and after the scheduled start and finish times, and much longer if you want commercial TV.  Beyonwiz has a feature for this.  The virtual tuner feature of MythTV, however, means that you can do this without losing a tuner and having it break when there are overlaps.  The first show on, say, ABC1 will still be recording when the following show on the same channel starts recording.  For free you can also record things on the other ABC channels at the same time, all on one tuner.

What's with the live TV orientation?

When you first turn on the Beyonwiz, it starts playing live TV. Anyone who's used a PVR for any time quickly stops ever watching "live" TV. You just schedule it and have it record whatever you want. The problem with this is it seems the natural "home" of the whole user interface is live TV, and I have a sneaking suspicion that if you left it running in that mode, the tuner it is using would stay tied up if a recording came up. A menu as the home is a much better idea.

Turning off is hard
I hear what you're saying, how can they make turning off hard?

If you try to turn it "off" while it's recording, you get this message. Wait, you want me to think about it and make some choice? Surely you should just do what I ask and blank the screen, keep recording in the background and actually "turn off" when that's done?

Setup was painful due to the convoluted and non-obvious UI and the fact you have to set up two online services and connect them with the device, which also isn't obvious.  That's not a show stopper for my parents as I can always set it up for them.

I'm pretty disappointed at how bad this device is. It can be forced to do what I need, but only with some additional work on my part.  Hopefully IceTV will rectify their system to do scheduling a bit better, which would resolve the biggest problem I have with it.  I wouldn't recommend the device to anyone who needs to share the device with a non-technical user, least of all the older generation unless you want multiple support calls every night.  The UI is just plain broken -- I don't mind ugly but it's stupid as well.