SageTV 2.0 Review


Official Site: SageTV

Feature list: SageTV Feature list

Review by: Erik Pettersen (pettersen AT byopvr.com)




INTRODUCTION:



I know what a lot of you are thinking about SageTV 2.0: "Why would anyone pay for PVR software when there is an abundance of solid free and open source PVR / HTPC software available?" There are many compelling reasons to choose a free and/or open source PVR solution, and being the cheap bastard that I am really hadn't given SageTV much thought. That is until I heard a rumor that the beta of SageTV2.0 supported menus/OSD through the Hauppauge WinTV PVR350's TV out (you can read my review of the PVR350 for the full skinny on why this is so important). When SageTV 2.0 went out of beta and was available publicly as a 15-day trial I gave it a shot. I was so blown away I had to get my copy registered to continue to use it after my trial expired. That's right; Captain Frugal of the USS Cheapo is using commercial PVR software… Read on to find out why the change in heart.



REQUIREMENTS / TEST BED



SageTV 2.0 is coded in JAVA and requires that you have installed the current SUN J2RE (JAVA 2 Run Time Environment) and DirectX 9.0b. One important note: SageTV 2.0 only works on tuner/encoder cards that have hardware based encoders. Sorry ATI All in Wonder and cheap software tuning card owners, no SageTV for you. See SageTV's ever expanding supported card list for specific supported tuner cards.



I loaded SageTV on the VIA EPIA M10000 mini-itx box, with 256 MB of crucial RAM, Athenatech case, and of course a Hauppauge WinTV PVR350 tuner/encoder card.



INSTALLATION:




I installed SageTV 2.0_19 on a fresh Windows XP Pro SP1 install. Here's the first reason why SageTV was worth the money, installation was just like installing any other windows program. A very straightforward wizard steps you're the process.





Yes I agree to your terms yadda-yadda license agreement...

Do I want this program to be available to all winxp users or just me?

Which drive and directory do I want to install SageTV to?

Do I want to enable support for pvr350's remote control? Sure... why not?




View a pdf manual? (RTFM? nah… lets uncheck that =))

A quick warning about needing to restart the Hauppauge IR helper app, fine…

Lets watch the little blue install progress bar go to the right… >





Oooh it's successfully installed! Darn, I didn't get to open one config file in my trusty text editor.




CONFIGURATION:










After the initial install the first time you run sage (after you enter your registration key or start your 15-day trial) you run through a configuration wizard. SageTV automatically recognized my PVR350.






Next the setup wizard wanted to know which input I was going to use on the PVR350, in this case the TV tuner. Obviously if you were using S-Video from your cable box or the like, you'd probably want to select something more appropriate to your setup. It then wanted to know whether I was going to be using cable, antenna, or an external cable/satellite box.







The next screen lets you choose whether or not you want to enable the EPG (Electronic Program Guide). The EPG is integrated into SageTV and free if you are in the US. No ongoing subscriptions! Booyeah! In order to get the correct guide data, SageTV asks whether you will be using your tuner with cable/satellite or over the air antenna.







You then are prompted to enter your zipcode; after which a list of cable companies in your area is presented for you to identify the cable company to base the guide data from.





After downloading the guide data, SageTV needed to know which cable package I had, in this case I selected "Extended Basic".








I then needed to confirm which channels I indeed have or make any changes necessary (just for fun I nixed the Spanish channels and QVC - my TiVo thinks I want to watch sports scores in Spanish and that I need some abdominal help). Once those settings are confirmed it's rock and roll time.







YES VIRGINIA THERE IS A SANTA CLAUSE…


As you've probably noticed in the previous screen shots, SageTV looks very appealing and professional. It looks like a consumer electronic kiosk screen and NOT a computer/windows program.



Looking good is nice, but having a killer feature is better! SageTV supports "special" functionality that allows SageTV's menu's to display through the PVR350's S-Video out. If you read my review of the PVR350, you got the sense how frustrated I was with this beautifully sharp s-video out picture that I was unable to fully utilize in a PVR setting because I couldn't see the menus/controls on the TV screen to manipulate the PVR program.









SageTV can display it's menu's/OSD through the PVR350's out. This means that I can easily control my PVR (ergo SageTV ) using a remote from my couch and not bother with the keyboard and mouse. Speaking of remotes, SageTV 2.0 supports the Hauppauge IR remote that is included with the PVR350/PVR250. I called the remote pedestrian in the PVR-350 review, but it's actually quite useful/functional when controlling SageTV.


If you want to upgrade your remote, SageTV does support the Streamzap remote, as well as regular IR remotes using USB-UIRT or Irman. You can use 3rd party software like girder to assign remote control buttons to onscreen functionality/program launch/etc and tweak the heck out of your remote control command center.



There's one other feature in the detailed setup screen which I felt was an important inclusion: overscan settings. I can adjust SageTV's display to fill the entire TV screen, no black bar wasted space syndrome for me! Again, this was adjustable using SageTV menus and remote control, no digging around some display setting in control panel.









GENERAL USAGE:


For the most part general navigation using the Hauppauge PVR 350's remote is very straightforward and intuitive. Occasionally I would get momentarily confused when I wanted to do something and tried using a shortcut or method of navigation ingrained into my consciousness from constant TiVo use. That's not necessarily a knock; just an observation that it is a subtly different UI approaches and tries to do more than copycat TiVo.







TiVo sets the stage and benchmark for what an easy to use, simple, and beautiful interface to your DVR should be. I find SageTV to be very close to this usability ideal, and that's quite the compliment. All the menu's are sharp, cleanly designed, and easy to navigate. I can manage every aspect of SageTV configuration and programming from my couch without a keyboard and mouse. I may not have understood all the settings in the deepest part of the detailed setup menus, but I didn't have to grab the keyboard to experiment (remember I eschewed reading the manual at the beginning of the article)








OTHER FEATURES:


SageTV comes integrated with some cool built in non-PVR functionality like a music jukebox and media player. The Media Player lets you play other media clips (i.e. other than what you recorded from within SageTV like DivX clips) and DVDs. Note: I did NOT play any DVDs via SageTV as that's one mode of functionality not extended through the PVR350's TV out. If you go for the PVR250 and another card with TVout you can make better use of the Media Player functionality to play DVD's.










There are other customizations, plugins, and hidden features available to extend SageTV's functionality. For example, there's a hidden MAME frontend (unsupported: look at this thread for more info), which is fun for a little Galaga between "Family Guy" marathons.



Side Note: Everyone (well most people) in the SageTV community are patiently waiting for the release of Sage Studio which will allow users to create custom skins and theme their SageTV to their hearts content. If I understand correctly it should also make it easier to add new external program links into SageTV's menu.



SUMMARY:

I don't give out 10's very easily or slap "BYOPVR approved" badges on many products, but SageTV really hit it on the screws with their Version 2.0. I have to consider them the commercial market leader at this point and time. SageTV was simple to install, looks dead sexy on screen, and greatly enhances the usability of the PVR-350 encoder cards.


Score 9.5 out of 10



PROS:
·Super easy installation

·Beautiful UI

·For the most part very simple to use

·Excellent PVR350 and Hauppauge remote support



CONS

·I couldn't enable 3D acceleration on my M10k(although that could be a driver issue)
·No web/online scheduling (coming soon?)




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GENERIC REVIEW BOILERPLATE:


We would certainly love to evaluate any HTPC / PVR related products provided by manufacturers, but BYOPVR is not in the business of “selling” favorable reviews for free hardware (unless it was an ipod mini – we’d sell out for a couple of those). Read this article on how hardware payola works on “other” review sites.



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