SageTV & PVR250 Combo Review

Morning all. Having stumbled across this site a few weeks back, I had decided to build my first PVR. I posted here: with some initial questions, and now that I’ve got it working, it’s time for a review.

A bit of background. I had an older, decent computer and a newer gaming rig – but only one monitor. I decided to give my wife the older computer for her gaming needs, but with only 1 monitor, I had a problem. Seeing this site, I figured to kill 2 birds with 1 stone – hook my computer into my 32" sony wega for use as a monitor, and build in a PVR so I could record my favorite shows and abolish my VCR for all eternity.

Reading the SageTV Review, I settled on the Sage TV combo: Sage TV software, PVR250 + remote. I hooked my PC into my T.V. via S-Video, got a wireless card, and waited patiently for the UPS man to bring my gift. Got it and installed yesterday. Now for the review.

Installation
The card went in without a hitch. I’ve never in my life used the drivers off the CD for hardware, preferring to download the latest greatest from the internet, and did so from hauppages site. Got the card installed, the software decoder, and skipped WinTv2000, as Sage would be my television medium. A small bit of user error would come back to haunt me, however. More on that later. Didn’t install the remote software on accident.
Ease of card install: A

Next it was Sage TV time. I downloaded the Beta, forgoing the standard version. Started off smooth, but died when attempting to install the java runtime. It kept erroring out saying another install process was running. Rebooted 3 times, tried a few different things but kept hanging there. I finally installed java right from java.com, went off without a hitch the next time. That was rather frustrating, but easy to overcome.
Ease of software install: B-

Configuring
Ran Sage TV for the first time, and began to configure my source. Everything was a snap. It saw my hauppage card, I told it I was on cable, entered my zip, and selected my provider. It autoscanned channels, found them all, and installed them. I would note that I had not even glanced at the manual, and things were easy. I found and configured my directory for holding my shows, configured quality settings, and a few odds and ends about recording preferences. No problems, and a very smooth interface.
Ease of configuration: A

Running
At last it was time. I started the live tv, saw all my channels laid out with details and times. Very nice, something I wish my normal cable had. Chose a channel I liked, selected it.

Static.

I could hear sound, but no picture. I checked the Sage TV forums, the manual and the FAQ, running over the various options. Nothing fixed it. I installed wintv2000 from hauppage, with the same results, so the issue wasn’t with Sage TV. I decided to reformat my computer.

While reformatting, I glanced over all the paperwork that came in the box. I had already read the manual, but found something of notice: a half sheet of paper with a warning. The user error I mentioned? Not reading all the papers. Apparently there was a known issue with the card and driver, and to fix it, download a new driver set from the sage TV site. Ooops. Well, I needed a format anyway.

After format and settings up my normal cards and security patches, I started again. Drivers installed, using the new ones. Check. Remote installed. Check. Downloaded Java installed. Check. Sage TV installed. Check. Set up my source again, and checked live TV.

There it was, all crisp and clean. Flawless install.
Sage Configure Rating: B (not counting user error – can’t fault them for me not reading, but I did have to use custom drivers, not manufacturers)

Now it was time to use it. I chose a channel, and love how it shows visually a status bar of how long the show is, how far into it you are, how much has been recorded, and where you are in that recording while time shifting. Pausing, rewinding, fastforwarding was great. It was a great feeling pausing the Simpsons, getting a drink, and continuing on. My first need: timeshifting liveTV, was filled.
Live TV: A+

Time to schedule some shows. Since I was watching the Simpsons, I decided to schedule it. It allowed me to choose if i wanted only new episodes, only reruns, or both. You can also set the quality per show, overriding your default set up, allowing you to record show A at full glory, and show B at half quality to save space. Very nice. I set it as a favorite, and it instantly showed me all Simpsons episodes for 3 days, with short detail lists. I could filter out right then which ones I didn’t want (if i’d seen them before) by setting them as watched.

I then set favorites up by title. You can enter a title, and it will search the listings and pull that show. I searched for Mythbusters, set it as a favorite, and it was scheduled to record. You can search by title, actor, and a few more fields I didnt pay much attention to. 2 mins later I had my 5 favorite shows set to always record. Very nice, though at times the interface took a bit of getting used t. Settings it as a favorite and setting favorites options took about half a minute, and theres a lot of options you can set per show, half of which go towards intelligent recording, which i’ll go into next. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but while settings favorites wasn’t too hard, it felt a bit clunky.
Favorite Recording: B+

Almost done, I decided to enable intelligent recording, which records shows based on my viewing preferences and shows i have as favorites. The next morning i discover that since i had watched a bit of news the nigh before, i had EIGHT news shows recorded. Also, for no apparent reason, I had 2 episodes of Dharma and Greg, which I’d never looked and and certainly weren’t on my favorites, or even in a genre I watch. I’m told that it takes some training, as I have to spend some time telling it what I like and more importantly, flagging shows as ones I don’t like, but this was surprising. Turned the feature off for now, deleted the shows. I’ll try that again later.
Intelligent recording: C+, though it may be better after I train it. Out of the box, bad idea.

I did find two favorites shows had been downloaded, so I chose the first and watched it. Flawless. Easy to skip commercials, pause, or just stop to rewatch later. As long as I don’t move it to my library of saved files, or set it as watched, it will hang out. Very nice.
Watching recorded shows: A

Conclusion
Overall, I’m pleased. The fact that I have to get specialized drivers instead of the manufacturers was a put off, but not a big one. Had I read the note it would have been less of a deal. The inability to install java from the Sage installer was a very big put off, and harder for average users to do. Though I see few non avid computer users doing this. From then on things were easy. I showed my wife how to watch recorded and live shows, and in all honestly its not much different than using digital cable or sattelite tv.

All in all I recommend Sage TV as a good PVR solution. 🙂