Brad's favorite apps worth paying for: BeyondTV
First up: BeyondTV, from Snapstream Media. You can think of BeyondTV as TiVo for your PC. But it's a lot more. It's a personal video recorder that's extraordinarily easy to use, but also quite powerful. It offers a ton of features you won't find in the Windows Media Center software that comes with Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate.
Here's how it works. You throw a TV tuner in your computer and install BeyondTV. You can then search for programs by title, keyword, or category or browse a program guide. You can schedule one time recordings, or record every episode or every new episode of a show. BeyondTV will do the rest, including sorting your shows by series.
There are a few things that set BeyondTV apart from similar PC-based PVR software like SageTV and MythTV. For example it has a built-in "showsqueeze" feature that lets you automatically re-encode recordings using DiVX or Windows Media video codecs. You can certainly do this with other applications, but it typically requires a plugin. But probably the main reason I prefer BeyondTV to the alternatives is that it has an intuitive feeling user interface but allows you to dig around in advanced menus if you want to tweak things.
BeyondTV runs on Windows XP and Vista and costs $70 to download or $80 if you want it shipped to your door in a box. You can also order the software bundled with a TV tuner card for an additional fee.
If you're looking for Linux alternatives you might want to check out MythTV or SageTV, both of which run on Linux. MythTV also happens to be free and open source. If you're a Mac user, you should check out EyeTV. And if you're a Windows user but don't want to pay for a PVR application you can check out Media Portal or GB-PVR, both of which are free. Or you can download the free trial version of BeyondTV and test it out for a few weeks before you have to pay.