Traditionally, anyone who wanted to convert a PC into a DVR was limited to the likes of Windows Media Center, SnapStream Beyond TV, or (for the more adventurous DIYers) MythTV.
Starting in October 2008, however, people can turn their Windows PCs into a full-on TiVo DVR thanks to Nero's new Liquid TV package. The software effectively turns a standard PC into a full-service TiVo DVR, replete with the same interface, program guide, and ease-of-use as TiVo's standalone hardware DVRs--but with the added ability to burn recorded shows to DVD or export them to portable devices such as the iPod or PlayStation Portable.
Liquid TV will be available in two versions. The $200 package includes a standard TiVo remote, USB DTV tuner/antenna (for over-the-air analog and digital TV, including HD broadcasts), and an IR blaster (for controlling external cable and satellite boxes, which would then be fed into a video capture card on your PC). The $100 package is software only; it's for people who already have a TV tuner card and remote solution (or who will opt for the software's onscreen mouse controls).
The software is said to support up to four TV tuners, one of which can be an external set-top box. Both versions include a year's worth of the all-important TiVo service (required for use). Nero hasn't officially set the renewal fee for the service, but company reps suggested that it will be less than the $13 per month that's the baseline for owners of the set-top TiVo boxes.
Nero provided CNET with a quick demo of Liquid TV last week. While the company-run demo was brief (and strictly under Nero's control), it appeared to confirm that Liquid TV is almost a straight PC port of the TiVo experience. All of TiVo's standard TV-recording functionality looked to be onboard--pause and rewind live TV, commercial skip, Season Pass, WishList, search, and even KidZone.
The software's fairly muscular system requirements will preclude its running on older PCs, but the advantage is a big increase in speed and responsiveness compared with recent TiVo hardware. The software also has a control overlay, so you can easily control it with the PC's pointing device if you're sitting at the desk (instead of sitting on a sofa, for instance).
The other big advantage of the PC-based TiVo experience is DVD burning and portable device transfer. Yes, both of these features are available with standard TiVos with that company's TiVo To Go add-on software (and a compatible DVD-burning software package). But transferring the recordings over your home network and then transcoding them is a long and laborious process. The transcoding and compression phases still take time with Liquid TV. But because the recordings are already on the hard drive, things go a lot faster, and the processes can go on in the background as you continue to watch other recordings or live TV. (It's the closest thing to products like the Pioneer DVR-810H and Humax DRT800, which were among our favorite TiVo-powered set-top devices when they were first released.)
So, what are the potential drawbacks? If Liquid TV is like other TiVo products, content providers or broadcasters could use program "flags" to make it impossible for certain shows to be transferred to DVD or portable (or recorded at all). But the bigger problem could be the HD issue for anyone not using an over-the-air antenna source. If you want to record a program from your cable or satellite box--for something not over-the-air like HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central, USA, ESPN--most PCs only allow standard-definition video capture (composite or S-Video). To get HD quality, there are only two possibilities: capturing the HD video output stream from the external cable/satellite box, or getting a PC with internal CableCard support. Unfortunately, peripherals and PCs with hardware support for either solution remain rare.
Note that Liquid TV doesn't offer internal support for Internet bells and whistles found on TiVo boxes--stuff like Amazon Video-on-Demand, TiVoCasts, podcast support, Internet radio, and so forth. But since you're already using a computer, all of that would be superfluous, anyway. Its absence isn't much of a loss.
Is Liquid TV worth buying? If PC makers could make it easier to get an external HD cable feed, I think it would eliminate the product's biggest red flag. Also, competing products like SnapStream's Beyond TV already offer built-in support for antenna HD recording, DVD burning, and transfer to portable devices. Still, the ability to get a true TiVo interface, the TiVo remote, and the necessary accessories and dongles in one box--along with a year of service--could well make Nero Liquid TV a compelling PC DVR option for many.