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Multimedia & VoIP Reviews

Introduction

TVersity media server

At a Glance
Product TVersity Pro media server [Website]
Summary Windows-based media server for streaming and transcoding local and Internet content.
Pros • Handles both local and Internet content
• Highly customizable
• Web browser interface for both media and admin screens is nice
Cons • Finding the right codec pack combination for your media is DIY
• Pre-transcoding not supported
• iPad video is maxed at 720p and had occasional hiccups
• Could not get 1080p resolutions while transcoding to devices that supported it

You might remember that back in February I reviewed Mezzmo. The goal with Mezzmo was to put together a media server solution for my retired parents when their brand new Sony TV couldn't handle the formats that most of their videos were in, with Mezzmo transcoding on-the-fly to a format the TV would recognize. It worked great for that task, but Mezzmo can't play Internet content like TVersity can.

In our home, we need a media server only for accessing Internet content because our Samsung TV takes any format you can throw at it. We use PlayOn for that and it has served us well, but PlayOn still doesn't provide HD quality. As I sat down with TVersity, I wondered if one media server could indeed take the place of two very good media servers.

TVersity allows you to view local content, but it also streams online content to your devices. If the device can natively handle the content, TVersity will theoretically simply stream the media to the device. If the device isn't capable of handling the content, TVersity will transcode and then stream to the device.

Just two weeks ago, TVersity released version 2.0 of its popular media server. Version 2.0 included a much improved transcoding engine over the prior release. Then just two days ago, Pro version 2.1 came out with changes I talked with support about during testing. I took a look at both versions, as well as the version prior to 2.0, but will be focusing mainly on Pro version 2.1 for this review. Pro 2.1 is available for $19.99 on a single PC and $29.99 on a household unlimited license.

Note that with the release of version 2.1, TVersity has changed its pricing policy and its basic version is no longer free. TVersity Basic now costs a very reasonable $3.99 / $9.99 for single and household licenses.

I had a few goals in mind while testing TVersity. I wanted to test streaming 1080p HD video on the fly to our Samsung TV, which can play almost any format. I also wanted to test transcoding HD video and Internet content to our iPad and to my Samsung Android phone.

Streaming to the iPad is a feature available only in the Pro version. Local media streaming to the iPad has been something I've never found a good solution for. PlayOn, and its iOS app, work great for internet content. But PlayOn's media server has always had a love/hate relationship with local media, working on one release and broken on the next. Usually it has worked ok for me, but I don't stream much local content to the iPad.

Since our Samsung TV handles too many formats and some of the iPad media players do soft encoding, Tim sent me a Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ to use. Because it doesn't handle a lot of formats, it's great for testing transcoding!

Setup

The minimum system requirements of the Pro edition simply state a Pentium 4 2.8 GHz processor or better and the latest Flash on either Firefox or Chrome. The Additional Notes specify the obvious, that real-time transcoding of HD video requires a multi-core system with at least 1 GB of memory, but that's all it really says about CPU.

The Additional Notes also supply a caveat about third party directshow filters that may need to be installed. I found in the TVersity forums later that it really is hit or miss as to whether you'll find the right codec pack for your videos. Ffdshow tryouts seemed to be the codec pack of choice and worked well after I realized TVersity needs to be reinstalled when new codec packs are added. This was necessary since TVersity configures itself for the codec packs it finds on the system.

To run TVersity, I decided to use our repurposed TiVo. The repurposed TiVo runs Windows 7, 64-bit, has 8 GB of RAM, and runs an Intel i7 2600K 3.4 GHz processor. The repurposed TiVo specs far exceed TVersity's minimum requirements. But since my goal was transcoding 1080p video to the iPad and other devices, I wanted to be sure CPU wasn't the bottleneck.

Installing TVersity was a breeze as most Windows apps are. At the end, a message popped up that ffdshow was not found on the PC (Figure 1). Some of the other media servers I've tested have their own codec packs installed and don't require you to go out and get them. I guess in a way this makes TVersity more customizable to individual needs. But it also has the potential to be a frustrating endeavor as you read forum posts and try to figure out exactly which codec pack is needed for the videos you are trying to play.

TVersity codec pack warning
Figure 1: TVersity codec pack warning

One of the strengths of TVersity is that it's very customizable, maybe too customizable for some subsets of users. It requires a little thought to keep things organized. I enjoyed how I could add any video RSS feed from the web and TVersity would go out and get it (Figure 2).

TVersity Video RSS feed screen
Figure 2: TVersity Video RSS feed screen

One thing I found strange was, even though I added my YouTube account, by default it only showed my uploaded videos. Favorites and the rest of your account could be easily added within the TVersity interface (Figure 3), but they weren't there inherently like you see in a media server like PlayOn. This was neither good nor bad, just different. Overall, TVersity's flexibility for organizing internet content was nice.

TVersity YouTube configuration options

Figure 3: TVersity YouTube configuration options

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