App Review: TVTonic (PC)

After having a multiple monitor setup for the TV, I really didn’t take advantage of this feature until I found TVTonic. This is not really made for a multiple monitor setup but it is designed for a media center. TVTonic is a free program that you can download from their website or even at download.com.

What this program does is that you can watch internet TV which is provided by a lot of networks or people. Its like watching cable but more of the alternative side. You can get news, cartoons, game reviews, comedy and lots more. It works great on my multiple monitor setup since it can show video in full screen on the TV while I can still work on designs and websites on my other 2 monitors. The menu system also looks great since it looks like the menu system from Windows Media Center.

Ok, for the itty gritty details. Installation was small but very easy. I do have a few gripes since it does require you to have Internet Explorer (the program needs ActiveX), which I really don’t like using anymore. I’m more of a FireFox guy now. It also needs Windows Media Player 9 and Quicktime 7 which is ok with me. I like using multiple players since I have different uses for each program. The install program isn’t clear where it will put the cache files but you can indicate only during the installation. The install calls it differently so I accidentally placed it on the wrong hard drive, but that’s ok since I have the space for it.

As it starts, the program really does use Internet Explorer which I’m not too happy about, but it’s forgivable since using the full screen mode looks like you are using Media Center TV. It does go thru a very short activation mode but it is very brief and you don’t need to indicate any personal details so it really goes like a breeze. You can now setup channels, there is a list of featured channels and you can activate them easily. There is a list of all channels and it’s a big selection, about 200+ channels. After that, you better set up the cache hard drive on how much each channel will use up on your hard drive. It does use a default size if you don’t set it up, but I do suggest configuring this because it will take a lot of hard drive space.

Ok, you won’t see any results immediately since it will download videos on your hard drive. For a while, just leave the computer alone or do other stuff while it downloads the videos. This is best for people who leave their computer alone for long periods of time. But when it’s finished, you can easily setup the video on full screen and the videos are high quality and sometimes even better than real cable TV, since video is not streamed. Full screen doesn’t fully work when its Quicktime, but it will fill up the screen as much as it can.

Since everything is downloaded, there is no streaming video, in other words, no real time videos or real time news. I so, I suppose thats the only drawback that I see in this feature. But at least you can leave the program to store all the current shows of your selected channels.

I did leave it overnight to see what it downloaded in just 8 hours, I’m surprised to see that you can watch tons of stuff already. 7 segments of GameTrailers Video Game Awards, 7 episodes of Looney Toons, 6 segments of movie trailers and movie interviews, 1 news segment, 5 episodes of DL.TV and others. This can entertain for lots and lots of hours. This can cache in videos while you work so you don’t really have to mind it while you do your work or play some games. Once you open the program just watch the shows.

I’m running the videos on my TV screen which is setup to 800×600 resolution, the quality is great, I can see detail I never thought was possible. I saw a preview of Blue Dragon for Xbox360 and it was amazing to see small letters that I could read so clearly. My TV is not High Definition, but I’m happy with it. I did try using my 17″ monitor at its full resolution, the interface seems to adjust to any resolution, it adjusts the text size of the interface automatically which is very good.

This program should work well with Windows Media Center, but I don’t have MCE or Windows Vista installed on my multi-monitor setup so I can’t test it. But the website does indicate that it works well with MCE and the interface itself looks like part of MCE already.

So, other than waiting for long periods of time, using IE, big hard drive space… still, watching alternative TV is great. You can watch the shows online or offline as long as you have already downloaded the files. For people who has broadband, and can keep their computer on for hours at a time, and likes watching alternative TV, this is a great download. Watching new game trailers on Cinematech is much better online than trying to watch it on JackTV which is usually late (in years). Right now, I can’t wait for the Looney Toons channel to finish, but while we’re downloading that, I can watch the Video Game Awards from GameTrailers TV.

Update 2012-01-09: Program is not available anymore.

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