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Appeared on: Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Sage TVv6PVR


1. Introduction

Sage TV is one of those products that is a little hard to initially describe because it does many different things. It is like a Sling Box - but offers more features. It is like TIVO - but it is not something you need to subscribe to. Essentially, if you are looking to truly turn your PC into a media center and want full access to your cable programming and the ability to record both live TV and scheduled programs on your hard drive - Sage TV might be for you. Throw in the "Placeshifing" capabilities of watching your TV and your recorded shows on a remote computer - anywhere in the world - and you might just have one of the coolest things available.

Sage TV was founded in 2002. They really began to "arrive" on the scene with the release of Sage TV V5 - now with V6 on the market and a host of peripherals available, they are quickly becoming a force to reckon with in the world of Media Center PC's and PVR technology.

The "Official" line from Sage TV reads as follows:

SageTV is an industry-leading software technology that allows users to create and operate complete media centers from an existing PC. Building on the concept of personal video recorders (PVRs) such as TiVo®, the SageTV Media Center adds complete control of home media such as TV, movies, music and photos through an easy-to-use interface. Users can pause live TV, record their favorite shows, access their music collection and play DVDs all from one application. By delivering such an integrated media solution, SageTV is helping to define the media center market and taking the concept of personalized home media entertainment to the next level.

  • Browse, search and watch all the latest online video from Google Video including movie trailers, TV shows, music videos and more.
  • Never miss your favorite TV shows and record multiple shows at the same time. (now in HD!)
  • Watch your TV when you want, not when it's on.
  • Skip through commercials in the blink of an eye.
  • Record in High Quality MPEG-2, MPEG-4* or DivX*.
  • Use your PC without realizing it's recording TV while gaming, playing music, surfing the Internet or more.
  • Record new shows automatically based on what you watch and record.
  • Watch shows on your TV, PC or both.
  • Access live or recorded TV, music and photos from anywhere with SageTV Placeshifter and a high speed internet connection .
  • Stream High Quality MPEG-2 Live and recorded TV across your network with SageTV on any PC.
  • Access your Music collection quickly by Album, Artist or Playlists.
  • Customize SageTV with SageTV Studio.
 
Detailed Features of SageTV Media Center and SageTVClient Software:
  • Timeshift television in MPEG-2, MPEG-4* or DivX*
  • Pause live TV
  • Instant Replay
  • Instantly skip through commercials
  • Personalized Intelligent Recording and Scheduling
    A SageTV exclusive that utilizes proprietary algorithms to determine your interests based on past viewing habits and automatically records programs for you.
  • Fully integrated programming guide**
    Up to two weeks of programming data updated daily from the SageTV server allows you to view all your channels and shows. There's no need for a web browser to obtain this data, as with other providers. ( U.S., Canadian and European TV listings only)
  • One-Touch Recording
    Find your favorite show and hit record. It's that easy!
  • SageTV Studio Development Kit (learn more)
    let's you customize or develop new applications for SageTV .
  • Multiple Tuner Support
    Record two or more shows at the same time! No limits to the number of tuners allowed.
  • HD Over-The-Air Tuner support.
  • Support for multiple formats across multiple tuners (can mix MPEG-2 and MPEG-4/DivX hardware encoders)
  • Favorites ManagerTM
    Never miss your favorite shows whether it's first runs, re-runs, or all episodes.  
  • Add Favorites by Title, Actor, Category and Keyword and link Favorites to specific channels
  • Search by actor, title or description and preview the results as you search
  • Browse upcoming shows by Category
  • Local DVD Playback
  • Library to organize your recorded TV, Music and other Video files
  • Browse your Music collection by Album, Artist or Song
  • Support for Album Art where songs are tagged appropriately
  • Playlist functionality for Music and Visualizations
  • Expanded support for music file types and playlists
  • Picture Library and Slideshow support
  • Integrated Weather reports
  • User Interface and OSD support for the TV-out of the PVR-350
  • Stream High Quality MPEG-2 Live and recorded TV anywhere across your network
  • Simple "VCR-like" interface for time-based recordings
  • Full screen interface supports sitting on a couch using a remote control or mouse and keyboard, to select programs, change channels, and adjust the volume
  • Extensive Parental Controls
  • Power Management to support Standby and Hibernate modes with automatic wakeup for recordings
  • Works with any antenna, cable, or satellite provider
  • Infrared or serial control of your cable or satellite set-top box
  • View TV full screen on your PC monitor or watch a mini screen while you work
  • Connect directly to your TV with a video card with TV out or use the TV-out of the WinTV-PVR-350 card
  • Widescreen (16:9) TV support
    Zoom options, screen shifting, background overlay
  • Step-by-step Setup Wizard makes setup and configuration simple
  • Record your favorite TV shows and movies with DVD quality to your PC hard drive
  • Recorded video is fully DVD/CVD/SVCD compliant and ready to burn with your third-party software

SageTV Placeshifter allows you to connect to your SageTV Media Center from your home network or any Internet connection with any PC or Mac!

On to the review......


2. Setup

Sage TV needs a little "prep work" in order to function. Hopefully, your preparation will not be quite as extreme as mine was. Because Sage TV needs a direct cable connection (or S-Video) connection, it needs to be in proximity to either a Cable jack or your Cable box. Most importantly, you must have a compatible TV tuner card in your PC. The good folks at Sage TV were nice enough to provide me with a Haupgage TV tuner card which installed fairly simply in my Vista equipped PC.

After installing the TV tuner card, I did need to run about 75 feet of cable and drill through a closet - but that is just the way my house is set up and my PC is no where near a cable jack. Once I got the cable working and the TV tuner card configured, I was set for the Sage TV installation.

The Sage TV setup experience was detailed but straightforward. A Configuration Wizard runs you through the complete setup process and worked very well. The configuration wizard recognized my TV tuner card and offered the correct option for my local cable channel lineup. The options for setup and configuration are a little staggering. There were general options, Multi-Media options, Audio, Video, DVD, Commands (which help with the included remote,) an advanced menu and a complete customization menu.

The good news is that all my hardware was automatically detected and the program was configured correctly. The bad news is that if you like to "tweak" and customize, you can spend all day adjusting your video, audio and other options.

Once your location is input into the program, you are presented with the complete cable lineup of your local offerings. 

Options at Startup:

When you launch Sage TV (after it is all configured,) you arrive at the "Main Menu" screen which gives you the following options:

Sage TV Recordings, Watch Live TV, Program Guide, Schedule Recordings, Media Center, OnLine Services, Setup, Standby.

Main Menu
The Main Menu for SageTV provides quick access to PVR and Media Center capabilities, to setup recordings, playback files and access your stored media. The enhanced users interface allows for simple navigation and configuration is a breeze with the integrated Configuration Wizard.

Program Guide
The Program Guide shows upcoming programs by channel and time for up to two weeks. As you scroll through current and future programming, the relevant show information is shown across the top along with a Video Preview window if enabled. Current shows can be selected for immediate viewing and all detailed information for each show can be seen in the Program Information screen.

Online Video
Browse, search and watch all the latest online video Google Video from the comfort of your couch with SageTV Media Center V6. Enjoy the most popular online videos, news, movie trailers, TV show, comedy, music videos and more at the push of a button on your remote control.

SageTV Recordings
Sage Recordings provides quick access to all currently recorded shows. Currently recording shows are identified with a recording icon, Manual Recordings and Favorites have a white border. Shows recorded with SageTV's Intelligent Recording and Scheduling feature do not have a border. Program Information for each show is listed above and there are a number of different grouping and sorting options.

TV On-Screen Display
The On-Screen Display (OSD) is what you see when you are timeshifting your current recording or looking for the current information about a show. At the top is information about the currently playing channel or media file including the program information. The bar below shows where you are in the current recording - 01:28 into 1 hour of "Prison Break" on HD Channel 31. The white shows what you have watched, the green shows what has been recorded and waiting to be watched and the red shows what section wasn't recorded. By using the "Options" command in the OSD, you can get quick access to most Menus for SageTV.

Search
The Search menu in SageTV provide quick access to upcoming programs by Title, Person, and Keyword, along with the ability to search all videos, music, and photos. Selecting a TV search result will present you with the future airings to quickly mark shows for recording or adding them as Favorites.

Music
The Music feature of SageTV allows you to access your stored music files in any standard non-proprietary format. SageTV supports showing album art where files have been appropriately tagged using third-party software. The Music functionality of SageTV also provides search and playlist capabilities included imported playlists from other applications.

Photos
The Photos menu provides quick access to stored photos by folder along with Slideshow capabilities. Now you have access to your stored photos directly from your couch!

Ease of Use:

Once started, I simply went to the program guide and saw a detailed listing of what was on all my channels, I then selected the channel and had the option to "Watch" or "Record" or "Pause" among other options. Watching TV was very easy - I just went to the Program Guide, found what I wanted and selected "watch."

To record a show, I just went to the program guide again - selected the show (either currently on or later in the day) and selected "record." When it was time for the show, it automatically recorded the show to my hard drive. I then just went to "recorded shows" and I could watch the program I had just recorded at any time.

In addition to TV viewing and recording, Sage TV is a full Media managing program. It will search for all the music on your hard drive (providing it is non DRM protected) as well as videos and photos. Once loaded into Sage TV, you can listen, watch and view any piece of media stored on your computer.

In addition, Sage TV provides an automatic link to YouTube and Google Video content and OnLine Weather forecasts.


3. Performance, Use and Conclusion

I was happy to see that Sage TV played smoothly on the various PC's on which I tested it. Frame rate was acceptable and smooth. Image quality was just fair initially, but after tweaking the settings, the picture was great. Audio was a mixed bag - it was bright, clear and loud on one PC and muffled on another. Again, after adjusting some settings and tweaking what I could, the audio quality improved.

Recorded programs looked and sounded good as well.

User Options:

There are, quite literally, too many user options to list in this review. If you are once who love to adjust settings and tweak things - this is a great setup for you. While it does work just fine with the automatic configuration tool - I found that both picture and sound quality could be improved with a little trial and error.

What I loved about this program were the many options for recording TV shows. I could record a live show, schedule to record something particular that was on at another time and even schedule to record every future airing of a particular show. If this sounds a lot like "Tivo" or other programs - it is.

Placeshifting Option:

One of the things that sets Sage TV apart from the crowd is the "Placeshifting" option. During the setup, the user can add additional "placeshifter" users with passwords. When these users download the Sage TV placeshifter program and input the "Locator ID" of the "Server" or host computer, the user can have access to all the content on the host computer.

Imagine that you need to travel and you want to take your laptop with you. You don't want to pay for programming on the hotel TV - or perhaps you have some down time and bring your computer to the lobby to take advantage of the WiFi connection. Just log into Sage TV and you can catch the baseball game at home or any other program you might want. Suppose there is a time change - just ask your family to record the game, log on later and watch the recorded content on the "host" computer.

This also works great when your kids go off to college and can't afford cable TV. All they need is an Internet connection and the software and they can "log on" at any time and watch TV.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In order for Placeshifing to work, the host Computer needs to be on and the Sage TV application needs to be running. It can be minimized - but it must be running in order for a remote user to log on.

Overall Conclusions:

This is very cool software. Provided you have a TV tuner and access to a cable jack or the S-Vido connection to your cable box, the options available to the user are really plentiful. This was fairly easy to configure - but if you need to install a TV tuner - it might require a little more technical proficiency.

The interface is really great - just like navigating TV on your Cable box. The options for recording and scheduling recording are terrific and the ability to control all the media content on your PC is just icing on the cake.

If you are in the market for creating a true "Media PC" - this is something you really should take a look at. If you have "Placeshifting" needs - this is a slam dunk.

Pros:

Cons:

The Sage TV Media Center Software is available for US$79.95, add the Placeshifter component (which I very much recommend) for a total of $99.95 all at www.sagetv.com

Sage TV also offers many "Bundles" which include TV tuner cards, remotes and media extender units - the prices vary - all products can be found at their web site.

 



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