Whether you're a Dave Chappelle fan or an anime junkie who just can't get enough cartoons, SyncTV Beta offers a new way to watch your shows when and where you want on your computer. SyncTV attempts to bring DVD-quality content to your PC via a soon-to-be-announced subscription fee, pay-per-download ($1.99 to $4.99), or full-season purchases ($24.99 for most series). The software lets you download videos to a Windows, Mac, or Linux PC, and SyncTV claims that it will soon offer 1080P HD content and a selection of shows from "major network partners" as well as support for portable media players. In its current state, however, SyncTV has too limited a selection for us to recommend it over larger on-demand libraries such as iTunes or free sites such as Hulu.
To sign up, simply visit www.synctv.com and register; choose which platform you're using (unlimited shows from one channel, individual shows, or complete seasons charged separately) and the appropriate installation package. Our Windows XP installation package was 18.7MB, and the software installed in 5 seconds. The software looks like a darker, sleeker version of iTunes, and the navigation is similar; like iTunes, you can control your playlists using the left-hand sidebar, view your library in the center frame, and play or pause all from the same window. You can access the store through the software itself.
When we launched SyncTV, we were presented with a list of featured channels, as well as the top 10 downloaded shows. At the time of our review, six channels were available: Boing, Far Out, Geneon, Showtime, Ultra Z, and Zone 11. Most of the content consisted of cartoon television shows unfamiliar to us, but we did like that we could download The Cosby Show, Dexter, and Dave Chapelle's For What It's Worth. While you can subscribe to some channels for free, others, such as Showtime, require that you purchase shows either individually ($1.99 to $4.99) or by season ($24.99). SyncTV told us that better mainstream content would be coming this summer, although it wouldn't comment on what shows would be available.
The hour-long For What It's Worth from the Showtime channel was a 526MB file that took about 2 hours to download over our broadband connection, but thankfully we were able to watch the show right after our download started.
If you purchase a file, you can keep it indefinitely, and SyncTV stores it in your My Videos folder on your hard drive as an ODF file--unrecognizable by other media players. SyncTV advertises its media as being home-theater quality, but the quality was slightly worse than a DVD on our 19-inch LCD. While the video picture was bright and crisp, we still saw a noticeable amount of clipping while the camera panned around each scene. Voices remained in sync with the picture at all times, though, and the picture was certainly good enough to sit through.
While we look forward to greater content variety in SyncTV, we found it peculiar that the most desirable choice, Showtime, was limited to purchasing shows individually or by season only and that we couldn't subscribe for a lower price. Avoid SyncTV for now, and get your fix using free, ad-supported software like Hulu, which has a better selection.