Category Archive: SageTV Tips

Feb 22

SageTV Tip #9: HD Content With HDHomeRun

I purchased an HDHomeRun receiver, and I now have access to four "local broadcast" HD channels through SageTV! The channels seamlessly show up in SageTV’s Electronic Program Guide (EPG) and I can now view and record any show on those channels. And any HD content vews, records, and plays back in full HD glory! Read on to see my experience with this excellent product…

Some Background On HD In The PVR World
HD content is typically provided in one of three ways: Satellite, Cable, and Over-the-air (OTA). Unfortunately for PVR applications like SageTV, Satellite providers encrypt all channels, so a Set-Top-Box (STB) is required to receive HD content. And in almost all cases, there is no PC-compatible output on the STB to pass through the HD content to be able to record the (true) HD content. Cable providers also encrypt most channels and therefore also require a STB for decoding. But the good news is that most cable provides leave the "local broadcast" HD channels unencrypted. For OTA broadcast channels, you would need a suitable antenna and an HD decoder box to receive the HD content. For these last two cases, this is where HDHomeRun comes in.

For Cable, it’s a simple matter of connecting your cable directly to an input on the HDHomeRun box and running a configuration application to scan for digital channels. If digital channels are found, the application will tell you if they are "encrypted" or not. If a channel is encrypted, you cannot view it–no exceptions. But if it is not encrypted, then you should be able to view it. You can reasonably expect local broadcast channels (like NBC, FOX, PBS, etc.) to be available, but it all depends on how your cable company configures their channels. You may be able to view lots of HD channels, you may have just a few, or you may have none. In any case, "premium" HD channels will likely always be encrypted.

For OTA, again, it’s a matter of aiming the antenna, connecting the cable to the HDHomeRun box, and running the configuration application. I have not used this method, so I cannot speak to it. I can only describe my experience with a Cable source from Charter.

In either case, HDHomeRun provides two source input connections, so you can connect any combination of Cable or OTA sources.

Out Of The Box
OK, so I received my shiny new HDHomeRun, and like every review I’ve read states, it’s sparse packaging. But it includes everything you need to hook up. The only thing you may need to purchase is a good splitter to split your cable signal. The unit itself is completely unlabeled, and it would be nice to have some indication of what the LED’s mean and which input connection is which. They do include a printed "cheat sheet", but in reality, once you get things set up, labels are pretty irrelevant.

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Initial Setup
Setup of the HDHomeRUn was a snap. Instead of trying to get it to work with SageTV right away, I decided to just test it with my wireless laptop. As an aside, I do recommend using the DOS version of the configuration utility to generate a text file containing the complete scan results. It’s a LOT quicker than manually scanning using the GUI. Maybe the GUI could be updated to provide a full, automated scan.

I ran the DOS HdHomeRun_config tool and found lots of digital channels on Charter Cable in Anderson, SC (Greenville/Spartanburg/Anderson) but alas, most were marked "encrypted". Using the GUI application, I selected one of those non-encrypted channels, launched VLC, and voila…rystal-clear HD content! Very nice!

In all, I have 11 viewable channels and about 50+ music channels (I haven’t played with these yet.) Of the 11 channels, 4 are actual "HD" channels.

Digital but not HD channels
77-3 An unknown Spanish channel
77-4 GAC Great American Country
78-2 WYFFDT2 Weather
78-7 WHNSDT2 Weather
78-8 WSPADT2 Weather
86-8 SC
90-1-54 Music channels
91-1 BET

HD channels


So the bad news is that I only get 4 HD channels.

But the great news is that I now get 4 HD channels! And that’s EXACTLY what I wanted! They are viewable and recordable through SageTV. Of course, I would love to have more channels such as HDNet, DiscoveryHD, etc., but my wife and I are perfectly happy with this current lineup.

Sagetv Setup
I logged the viewable channel/program numbers and began the SageTV setup process. If you follow the instructions, it actually isn’t that difficult. It took me a couple tries, because I was unsure if I had to stop the SageTV services or not, so I just did, and it worked. The HDHomeRun tuner showed up as a selection in SageTV’s "Video Sources" setup screen. Things were looking good.

Next came the challenge of how to configure the channels in SageTV’s EPG. In retrospect, it’s not difficult, but your setup can dictate how it’ll work. I managed to mess a couple things up, but fixing things was easy.

A Brief Explanation Of My Source Setup
I have two Hauppauge PVR-150 cards. One is connected to raw analog cable providing channnels 2-99, and the other to a digital STB providing channels 2-799. Charter Cable provides several EPG selections for my area, so when I did my original SageTV setup, I had to choose two separate EPG selections to accommodate the channel overlap. Adding the HDHomeRun to the mix now complicated things because I had four channels to add. I was a bit confused by what I should choose. After some trial-and-error, I discovered that Charter has a "Local Broadcast" EPG selection, so I just used that for the HD channels, and it worked perfectly.

My EPG selections are:

Basic Cable – assigned to the Analog PVR0150
Extended Basic Cable – assigned to the STB PVR-150
Local Broadcast – assigned to the HDHomeRun

At that point, it was just a matter of enabling the channels and mapping the physical numbers using the channel/program info that I logged from the channel scan. To make things easier, I also mapped the new HD channels to different virtual channel numbers in SageTV. I chose 801, 802, 803 & 804 since those channels aren’t used in my SD lineups. This makes finding the new HD channels in the EPG a snap.

I now have a nice, clean EPG with Channels 2-99 seamlessly shared by the analog and STB connections, digital channels 100-799 services by the STB connection only, and channels 801-804 serviced by HDHomeRun.

A Small Nitpick
The HDHomeRun’s audio is soft on most HD shows–not all, but most. I have to turn it way up. We just have to remember to turn the volume down when we switch to SD channels.

A Quick Tip
Now that I have access to HD content (whough it is limited) I wanted a way to quickly find HD-only content. I use malore’s excellent "customizable menus plugin" for SageTV, so I simply modified two of his custom menus (Menu2 & Menu3) and configured them to only show HDTV content. I then configured one menu to group and sort by date, and the other to group by title and sort by date. So I now have a quick & easy way to see what HD content I can record. VERY nice!

I now have a SageTV setup that provides full DVR capabilities to analog and digital SD content, and limited HD content. And because the stuttering issue is behind us, we can now really enjoy SageTV, on our HDTV as it was intended! And frankly, some of the PBS shows are simply visually stunning. And it is completely seamless in the EPG. There’s nothing "special" we have to do to record or watch anything. It just simply works!

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Feb 22

SageTV Tip #8: Video Stutter & How I Eliminated It

I’ve been struggling with "video stutter" issues ever since I built my SageTV-based Home Theater PC. Some shows would play back fine, others would be slightly jerky, and still others seemed to have intermittent "frame skips". After installing a new HD receiver, the problem worsened. Read on to see how I resolved the issue, and how I now enjoy excellent quality SD and HD video with SageTV….

I’ve tried lots of combinations of settings, and even purchased nVIDIA’s PureVideo decoder. This improved things, but I still was plagued with video stutter problems. Then, I added HD to the mix, and HD video became unplayable. I don’t know what possessed me, but I went into SageTV’s setup screens and began playing with all of the "video renderer" and "video decoder" combinations. After some trial-and-error, I found that choosing the "VMR9" renderer and the "InterVideo" decoder produced excellent, stutter-free video on both HD and SD recordings.

I do notice an occasional minor "frame skip" in some Star Trek: Voyager & TNG shows, but the overall playback quality is vastly improved . Now, I’m not complaining.

Your experiences may certainly vary depending on your hardware setup. There are many factors that can affect video playback. What worked for me may or may not work for you.

This new configuration completely removes PureVideo from mix reducing the complexity of the setup. I’m going to do some more investigation as to why the INterVideo decoder out-performs everything else, but for now, I’m going to just stop tweaking and enjoy the show, leaving the WAF* at a nice high level.

*WAF=Wife Acceptance Factor

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Jan 03

SageTV Tip #7: Other SageTV Customizations

The third type of SageTV customization is simply “other” customizations. These customizations vary widely in scope and function, but provide great enhancements to your SageTV experience. From custom channel logos to remote Web access, these other customizations propel SageTV ahead of the competition in form and function. Read on to get a taste of the additional customizations available to SageTV….

For brevity, I won’t detail all of the available other SageTV customizations, but here is a list of the general categories of customizations that are currently available:

  • Automatic Commercial Detection and Advance
  • Channel logos
  • SageTV Web Interface
  • XML File Creation
  • External Status Monitor
  • Directory Monitor
  • Control Applications via Windows Messages
  • SageTV Backup
  • Plugins to Support Additional Media File Formats

All of the above customizations are excellent, but I find two to be most useful to me:

1. Web Interface
This fantastic customization lets you remotely control many aspects of SageTV from any Web-enabled PC in your house or on the Internet. With features like EPG searching, show scheduling, Favorites Management, and a huge list of other features, managing SageTV is now a fun and effortless remote process. Say you’re at a relative’s house and they suggests an interesting show. Simply fire up any Web browser, securely connect to your SageTV PC’s Web Interface, and schedule the show. It’s very slick and easy to use. I highly recommend this one because it really extends the reach of SageTV way beyond the living room.

2. Commercial Detection
This is a very interesting customization. The concept is to install a couple applications that automatically scans a recorded show for commercial content, and then creates a corresponding file containing their locations. Then, an STVi uses these files playback the show without commercials. Amazing! There are several methods of doing this with varying degrees of success, and I won’t detail them all here. But I will say that I installed the DirMon2 application, the ShowAnalyzer application, and the ComSkip Playback STVi, and when I now playback a recording, SageTV auto-skips those marked sections. Watching commercial-free show content relatively seamless. It’s not 100% accurate, but its close–VERY close. And add to the mix BobPhoenix’s excellent “Video Editing for Sage” STVi, and you can easily tweak or fix any of the cut points as needed.

These are just two of the many SageTV customizations made available to dedicated users. The best place to learn about other SageTV customizations is to visit “SageTV Customizations” forum, and notably, the “List of available customizations” page in that forum.

Take the time to explore them, and if you like what you see, please let the developers know. They are always encouraged by your feedback.

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Jan 03

SageTV Tip #6: STV Import Modules

The second type of SageTV customization is the STV Import Module, or "STVi". These plugins get imported into the default STV to provide additional features and functions. By simply installing a couple of these plugins, you can really improve upon SageTV’s already amazing core features. Read on to learn about some of the best SageTV STVi’s available….

For me, this is where SageTV really shines. By letting third-party developers create innovative plugins, SageTV has enabled the user to tailor his SageTV experience in ways that SageTV probably never dreamed of.

Below is the current list of Plugins. The descriptions should be pretty self-explanatory, but I did provide links for you to see the details if you want. Note that the STVi’s marked with an "*" are the ones that I have installed on my SageTV system. I find these to be the best mix for my needs.

Some of these STVi’s are very simple, and some are ambitiously sophisticated. Ii all cases, they provide you, the viewer, with enhanced functions that you can tailor to your needs.

The best place to learn about these STVi’s and other SageTV customizations is to visit "SageTV Customizations" forum, and notably, the "List of available customizations" page in that forum.

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Jan 03

SageTV Tip #5: Alternate STV’s

The default SageTV User Interface is called an "STV". This is simply a file that defines the overall look-and-feel of the user interface (such as how menus are displayed, what graphic elements and colors the user sees, etc.) and the general functionality of that interface (such what menu choices are available, and what specific functionality is available to the user.) Probably the most ambitious SageTV customization is the "Alternate STV". Read on to learn more about how some dedicated developers have dramatically changed the overall SageTV experience….

The default STV is very complete, and provides simple navigation using just a remote. Its layout and features are presented fairly logically, and it provides all of the "core" functionality available to SageTV. Unfortunately, some consider the default STV to be somewhat dull and lacking in modern styling. Though it does look good, and it’s pretty intuitive to use, its overall design is somewhat dated. While this certainly doesn’t detract from SageTV’s great capabilities, it does provide a very average-looking interface.

Several very ambitious developers have created excellent "alternate" STV’s that transform your SageTV experience in amazing ways. Some retain the default user interface, while others completely change the visual design and layout. All of them provide extra features not found in the default STV.

Here is a list of the currently available alternate STV’s. I suggest that you follow the links to each STV page to learn more about what they can do for you. You may be surprised at the professional quality of some of these.

"SageMC 16×9" by mlbdude & updated by flachbar
This STV offers a rich user interface reminiscent of Windows Media Center. Its graphically-enhanced menus are animated, and there are several extra features included that enhance the overall SageTV experience. This looks great on a widescreen TV, and provides some very nice enhancements. It also includes several nicely designed alternate "themes" to choose from.


"meekell" by Crashless
This is a slick alternate interface suited especially for widescreen TV’s. It is a tight, pleasing interface that us very logically layed out, filling the screen on a widescreen display. It too adds some addtional features to the SageTV core, and makes navigation fun and easy.


"malore’s" by malore
Malore’s STV builds on the default STV by retaining its look-and-feel while adding additional features and functions. Notable are the alternate Guide displays providing more information in a format suitable for larger TV’s.


"GermSage" by greggerm
The GermSage STV ls less of a "look-and-fee" STV and more of a "function" STV. Like Malore’s STV, GermSage STV retains the default STV’s look-and-feel while adding additional features not found in the core.

(No screenshot available.)

"Unofficial Secret Extra UI Features" by SageTV
Finally, SageTV even has its "Unofficial Secret Extra UI Features" that provide additional features and tweaks. It’s invoked simply by entering a code in the System Information screen.

(No screenshot available.)

Mose of these alternate STV’s retain the functionality of SageTV while providing the user with a fresh, and often innovative way of looking at and using SageTV. And the great thing about these alternate STV’s is that if they don’t suit you, you can always revert back to the default STV.

It’s important to note that some of these STV’s are not yet compatible with the latest release of SageTV, so be sure to understand the prerequisites before installing them.

The best place to learn about alternate STV’s and other SageTV customizations is to visit "SageTV Customizations" forum, and notably, the "List of available customizations" page in that forum.

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Jan 03

SageTV Tip #4: SageTV Customizations

SageTV provides lots of opportunity for third-party developers to provide enhancements and additions to core SageTV functionality. There are currently 3 general types of customizations: STV’s, STV Import Modules, and Other Customizations. Read on to learn about these types of customizations, what they are, where you can get them, and how they can improve your SageTV experience….

One thing that really impresses me about SageTV is that unlike some competing products, SageTV is very user-tailorable and user-extendable. This means that your investment in SageTV is not limited by what SageTV provides. Many dedicated and innovative developers have come up with customizations that improve upon and enhance SageTV’s core features. You have the opportunity to customize your SageTV experience into something that suits your personal needs.

There are generally three types of SageTV customizations: STV’s, STV Import Modules, and Other Customizations. I’ll be posting separate Tips that detail each of the customization types, but here is a brief summary:

1. STV’s
These define the look-and-feel of the User Interface, and define what functionality is available to the user. There are several custom STV’s that provide a wide range of alternate functionality from completely new UI’s to simple feature enhancements. These can provide a whole new way of using SageTV.

2. STV Import Modules (STVi)
These plugins called "STVi’s" are small add-ons that improve or extend core SageTV functions. Some examples include Customizable Menus, IMDB Search, and DVD Burning. These let you, the user, really tailor SageTV to your liking.

3. Other Customizations
This is the general category of all other SageTV customizations. These typically include more sophisticated enhancements that require installation of additional software or tweaking outside of SageTV. Though they may be a bit more complex, they also provide powerful capabilities.

The scope of SageTV customization is rather broad. Some customizations are seemingly as simple as displaying an on-screen clock to as complex as auto-detecting and removing commercials during playback. There are customizations that completely alter the look-and-feel of the user interface, and there is a plugin that will let you read RSS feeds.

There are customizations that provide amazing remote access to your SageTV through any Web browser, and there are add-ons that leverage external media players to handle a variety of common and obscure media formats.

There is’s even a plugin that, when your phone rings, will pause playback and pop-up a message displaying the caller ID info right on your TV!

And best of all, these are customizations that have been developed by enthusiastic SageTV users. If you like any of these customizations, or if you have suggestions, be sure to contact the developers and let them know. They really to appreciate the feedback.

The best place to learn about SageTV customizations is to visit "SageTV Customizations" forum, and notably, the "List of available customizations" page in that forum.

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Dec 21

SageTV Review: Animusic

This isn’t so much a tip as a plug. We were watching our local PBS station and saw part of a show called Animusic 2, the second of a collection of animated, computer-generated music videos. I immediately fell in love! I found the DVD at as well as the official Animusic site and bought both Animusic and Animusic 2 DVD’s.

So what makes this relevant to SageTV? Well, SageTV plays these DVD’s perfectly, and they look absolutely stunning on our 42" Westinghouse W4207 Widescreen LCD HD monitor. This collection of musical shorts really demonstrates how music and computer animation can come together to create a stunning, engaging experience. Once you see it, you’ll want to show it to family and friends.

The Animusic site has lots of nice sample videos and screenshots, and offers lots of interesting onfo about these DVD’s. I highly recommend these!

Screenshot from Animusic:

Screenshot from Animusic 2:

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Dec 06

SageTV Review: Westinghouse W2407 42″ HD Monitor

After building a Home Theater PC (HTPC) based on the SageTV PVR software, I decided that a 27" tube TV with an S-Video connection just wasn’t up to the task of providing maximum performance and display quality that a SageTV-based HTPC can provide. Thanks to an excellent "Black Friday" deal at Best Buy, I was able to economically add a new W4207 to our home theater setup. Read on for my review of this excellent value in LCD HD monitors, and how it fits into my SageTV setup….

I’d like to start off by clarifying one thing: The Westinghouse W4207 is not a TV–it is an HD monitor. This is determined by the fact that the W4207 does not have a built-in tuner. It will not tune analog or digital cable, and it will not tune OTA HD broadcasts. In order to view any content, you must connect it to an external source such as a Cable box, Satellite box, PVR, HTPC, DVD player, or VCR. Depending on your circumstances, this omission could be considered a "pro" because it lowers the overall price, or a "con" because you need an external tuner device. I am using the W4207 in conjunction with an HTPC which handles all video sources, so for me, it is a non-issue. So in this review, I’ll be using the term "TV" and "monitor" interchangeably.

I have been researching LCD flat panel TV’s for a while, and I originally decided that the Westinghouse LVM-42W2 42" 1080p HD monitor would be my best option. For the price (currently at between $1200 and $1500) this 1080p HD monitor is an excellent choice, and its reviews were very favorable. I was very close to purchasing one, but I wanted to put off the purchase until some pre- or post-Christmas sales surfaced. Unfortunately, the LVM-42W2′s were recently discontinued by Best Buy, and they are only available (from my location, anyway) via mail order. So, I began investigating other options, and along the way, the W4207 came onto the radar.

I have to admit that I bought the W4207 mostly on faith. The W4207 is a brand new Westinghouse model, and this specific model has no performance or service track record. In fact, I hadn’t actually seen one in the store, but I had read a lot about it. I read some excellent comments and reviews over at the AVS Forum, and knowing the reliability of the AVS Forum, I decided to give the W4207 a try. And besides, Best Buy does have a return policy….

So I went to Best Buy at 3:00am on Black Friday, and was amazed to see somewhere between 300 and 400 people already waiting in line! This group was a hard-core group of savings warriors with tents, cots, coolers, etc. So I promptly turned around, went home, and went back to sleep–This was simply not worth it. At around 9:30am, I decided to stop by Best Buy again to look at other models, assuming that the W4207 was sold out. A guy in the TV department said that they still had 4-5 left, so I immediately bought one. So far, I love it!

Most reviews of the W4207 tend to be very honest. This means that the W4207 is not the perfect HD monitor, but considering its low price point (MSRP is $1499) it is very competitive with other similar models, so its shortcomings tend to be forgivable.

One point of note is the fact that the W4207 is a 720p monitor, a potential step down from 1080p monitors. It will handle 420p, 420i, 720p, 720i, and 1080i content, but not 1080p content. But I have to wonder if 1080p displays are currently the Betamax of HD displays. By this, I mean that though 1080p displays are generally superior to 720p displays, they also tend to be more expensive, generally out of the range of many consumers. 720p displays are currently much more affordable while at the same time giving excellent display quality results. And most HD offerings through OTA, cable, and satellite providers are not 1080p broadcasts. Obviously, purists and videophiles will disagree, but for the typical consumer, I believe 720p displays are the current best choice, understanding that this may change in the next few years.

For me, the choice of 1080p vs. 720p really boiled down to two factors: price and quality. The price was very attractive (especially with the Black Friday specials) so that was a no-brainer. As for the quality, based on what I said above, I decided that 1080p simply was something that I don’t need at this time. My HTPC records 2 SD cable sources, so no matter how good the display is, I’m still limited by SD quality. The SageTV’s UI is simply stunning being crisp and clear on the W4207, DVD’s look excellent, and HD videos look stunning. But considering that 90% of our TV viewing is SD cable, I believe that anything more than 720p is really overkill for us.

At 42", the W4207 provides an amazing image from a couch at about 12 feet away. It doesn’t overpower the room, image quality looks great from that distance, and I don’t feel overwhelmed by its size. Yet it is big enough to make out old It’s a huge step up from our old 27" tube TV look puny.

I’m certainly no videophile, so my observations are solely based on my viewing relatives’, friends’, and in-store HD setups. I personally think the picture quality is stunning. Viewing a Windows XP screen via a DVI connection is crisp and clear, so running the SageTV PVR software presents a very crisp, clean, smooth User Interface. From 12 feet away, everything is very readable. But SageTV’s UI is designed for that. Windows XP navigation such as using Internet Explorer was still a bit small at 12 feet, but increasing the default font size significantly improved things.

I next connected our MOXI HD DVR via component cables, and HD content looked excellent. It wasn’t quite as crisp as my HTPC connected via DVI, but it still blows the doors off of SD content.

Which brings me to one down side: like most large-screen TV’s, Standard Definition playback is OK, and it all really depends on the source. Raw analog cable running through a SageTV-based HTPC is very watchable. Tweaking capture, decoder, and video driver settings can certainly improve things, but the fact is that when you blow up a small image to a large screen, so you’re inevitably going to see some noise, artifacts, etc. SD cable through a digital STB (again, recorded through a SageTV-based HTPC) does look better than raw analog. Probably 90% of our TV viewing consists of SD recordings off of cable, so the trade-off in quality to have everything consolidated through our HTPC is worth it.

Oh, and DVD’s look great. Seeing a video image on a huge screen is very nice!

The W4207 only has two aspect ration settings: Standard and Full. Standard is a "pass-through" setting such that whatever is fed is displayed in the format fed. Full basically zooms in the image. Depending on your source, (SD, HD, letterboxed, pillerboxed, etc.) the resulting image will vary. It would have been nice if there were more settings, but it turns out that for my use, I’ll most likely always keep this set to Standard and let SageTV handle any aspect ratio adjustments.

That said, some tinkering may need to be done on your source to get the aspect ratio how you like it. Nothing’s worse then watching a letterboxed SD recording that is also pillboxes. Switching to "full" can often make it much better.

Again, not being a videophile, I can only comment based on simple observation. Colors seem to pop out very nicely. Going through the on-screen adjustments, you can easily manage hue, saturation, brightness, contrast, color temperature, etc. I actually found the default to give very nice results, but by displaying several "color bar" and "test pattern" screens from my connected PC, I was able to adjust things very nicely. Default brightness and backlight intensity were a bit high, so I had to back them down a bit to prevent squinting. Probably my only complaint is that when the lights are out, blacks aren’t as black as I would want them to be, but my understanding is that it is typical of LCD’s.

Inspired by Neo in The Matrix, I have to say, "Inputs…lots of inputs!" There’s VGA, 2 DVI, HDMI, 2 Component, composite, and S-Video. Under most circumstances, you should be pretty covered. I have our HTPC connected through DVI.

One other feature I really like is the "auto-sensing" input feature. When you connect a source, the W4207 automatically switches to that input. It relieves you from having to cycle through the available inputs to find the display you want like many other Westinghouse models. This may annoy some, but I find it to be an excellent addition.

The remote is pretty standard, and though there are a couple buttons that don’t do anything, it’s pretty intuitive. I really like the fact that the inputs have separate buttons. It makes moving from input to input so easy. There’s nothing more frustrating than to have to cycle through inputs, especially on models that have long input switching delays.

One thing missing on the remote that is missing on most is programability. These days, I really can’t understand why companies don’t include universal or programmable remotes. I’ll probably purchase a Harmony remote to consolidate everything, but until then, the remote sits prominently along side its colleagues….

Great overall quality (construction and picture)
Excellent value, if bought discounted or not
Colors are vivid and deep
Brightness is excellent, even in lighted rooms
Lots of advanced connections allowing excellent expandability
Remote has a decent feel and buttons are pretty logical

Limited aspect ratio settings
No advanced picture quality adjustments
No HD tuner (may or may not be a con depending on your needs)
The remote has some unused buttons. Why?
The remote is not programmable

I find the W4207 to be an excellent choice for those seeking great image quality at a reasonable price. The fact that I was able to take advantage of the unusual Black Friday deals certainly helped, but even at its full retail price, I think it is something to definitely consider. Westinghouse has an excellent reputation for quality and customer satisfaction, so I’m hoping that the performance and service record for the W4207 holds true. There are certainly better choices available, specifically when considering feature-for-feature comparisons, but at the price, it’s an excellent value.

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Nov 07

SageTV Tip #3: All About My SageTV HTPC

I decided to build a Home Theater PC (HTPC), and with SageTV at its core, it is proving to be an excellent choice. Read on to learn why I decided to build a HTPC, what componets I chose, the issues I had, and my plans for the future….

Why did I build an HTPC?
I’ve been a long-time DVR user, having used several ReplayTV models and a Moxi HD DVR. Each of these "standalone" DVR’s have excellent features, are very capable, and have stood the test of time (I purchased the first ReplayTV box very shortly after its initial release.) That said, there are three issues that were bugging me that caused me to decide to build an HTPC to replace them:

1. None of my ReplayTV boxes could reliably control our Motorola DCT-2000 Cable box. Unfortunately, cable companies don’t give you a lot of choice in Digital Cable boxes, so the DCT-2000 is what I have. My ReplayTV 2xxx series boxes worked fairly well, but my 5xxx box wouldn’t control reliably. Yes, I read the workarounds. Yes, I searched Google and the AVS Forum, and followed countless instructions on getting it to work, but it was never unstable. The setup required an IR blaster, and the remote control codes were repeatably unreliable. Despite the fact that both ReplayTV and the DCT-2000 had serial connectors, ReplayTV couldn’t control the Cable box via the serial port. It could control several DirecTV Satellite receivers just fine, but not the DCT-2000. Apparantly, it wasn’t a priority to ReplayTV. So, we ended up switching to a Moxi DVR through our Cable company–which leads me to my next gripe….

2. Moxi is an EXCELLENT DVR offering many great features. I loved it. My wife loved it. My in-laws all loved it enough that they got them too. But the problem was that Moxi was becoming cost-prohibitive. Like most cable companies, initially, we had a great subscription package, but after the homeymoon as a new cable customer was over, the overall price of cable went up…way up. Every month, we had to shell out multiple fees that included such things as "Digital Receiver", "Digital Access", and "Moxi PVR service", all of which added up to just under $20.00 per month just for the privilege of using a Moxi DVR that we did not own. And that was before any actual programming was added it. My brother-in-law has two Moxi boxes, so for him, the Moxi-specific cost was doubled.

3. Both ReplayTV and Moxi imposed limitations that they simply wouldn’t lift. I was very active on several ReplayTV and Moxi forums, and I even did beta testing for both, so I was intimately familiar with the functions and features available. I feel that I could also objectively reveal excellent features as will as the shortcomings and lacking features of both. Specific to ReplayTV, users asked and asked for various features, but more often than not, it fell on deaf ears. Specific to Moxi, while it is an amazingly feature-rich product, the entire Moxi feature set is completely controlled by the cable company. Though Moxi itself offers excellent features and functions, the availability and configuration of these features and functions is controlled exclusively by the Cable company. If they decide it’s not profitable for them to enable existing functionality, or to configure a certain function in a specific way, then they won’t. The user is at the mercy of the cable company’s decisions.

So, determined that I wanted reliability, extendable features, and full control, I decided to roll my own.

The components
I worked with an experienced colleague at work who helped me pick out the components best suited for the task and within my price range, and settled on the following setup:

ASUS M2N-E Socket AM2 NVIDIA nForce 570 Ultra MCP ATX AMD Motherboard
AMD Athlon 64 3200+ Orleans 2.0GHz Socket AM2 Processor
1GB Kingston RAM
NEC ND-3550A 16X DVD±R DVD Burner
Seagate Barracuda 320GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive
Antec Overture II Piano-black/Silver Steel ATX Desktop Computer Case
2 x Hauppauge WINTV-PVR-150
Windows XP Pro SP2
SageTV v6 Beta

I purchased everything through Unfortunatly, the Seagate Hard Drive was damaged with lots of bad sector errors, and the front of the Antec case had three broken clips, but RMA’s to both Antec and yielded quick replacements. Both Newegg and Antec provided great customer service, and I highly recommend them both.

While waiting for the new hard drive, I decided to install an older IDE Hard Drive to serve as the "OS Drive". I later added the 320GB Sata drive as a "media storage" drive. I did this to physically separate out the application from the data, improving performance and reliability. I’ll probably replace the IDE OS drive with a small SATA drive in the future.

Setup was pretty straight forward. I installed Windows XP Pro, installed all the required drivers, and connected to the Internet to update to the latest drivers and download the latest apps. Next, I installed the two Hauppauge PVR-150 tuner cards, and the installed SageTV following the setup instructions. In short order, I was watching live TV and scheduling recordings.

OK, I have admit that it wasn’t really that easy. I did have to content with a hard disk crash, and I messed things up in SageTV’s configuration way beyond repair, so I did end up re-installing a couple times, but the truth is that setting up a SageTV system really is not a difficult process. It’s not a newbie task, but you certainly don’t need to be a computer expert.

Video quality
One thing that bugged me was that I was quite disappointed with the S-video output quality on my TV. I tweaked and tweaked and tweaked my nVIDIA and SageTV settings, and it just wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. Watching shows like Fox News or CNN Headline News seemed jerky and choppy. It was mostly noticable while watching the "crawl" at the bottom of both of these shows. After some advice from the SageTV forums, I purchased nVIDIA’s PureVideo drivers, and the results on my S-video TV were worth every penny. It’s still not as quality a picture as our Moxi DVR, but it does look good. Down the road, I’m planning on purchasing a new LCD tv, so that should significantly improve the picture quality over my old tube TV.

I next visited the SageTV Customizations forum and found several excellent "plugins" that extended and improved some of SageTV’s core functions. For example, I can now search the Internet Movie Database right from within SageTV with the results integrated very nicely. I next installed an enhancement to the "Stop" button function that adds much needed features. I also installed a Plugin that lets you customize all of the menus letting you order them as you wish, and add and remove entries. Finally, I installed a plugin that provides remote Web access that lets me manage SageTV’s recording functions from anywhere I have Web access. It’s so nice to be able to schedule a recording without having to be sitting in fornt of the TV. These plugins are excellent examples of how SageTV lets users tailor things to their specific needs.

I next installed the Hauppauge MediaMVP box. This is a small hardware device that connects to the network and any TV. It looks on the network for a SageTV server, and if it finds one, it downloads and runs a SageTV client application. It comes with a remote, so you can control all SageTV functions frmo another TV in your house. It was really cool to be able to start watching a recording in our living room, and then stop it and resume watching where we left off in our bedroom. And the MVP lets you also listen to MP3′s and watch ripped DVD’s.

I then installed the PlaceShifter client on my laptop. This client lets me remotely access SageTV from anywhere I have an Internet connection. We went on a vacation, and I was able to watch both live TV and recorded shows remotely. The quality was not great, but it was watchable.

What I now have
So I now have a Home Theater PC that provides two tuners (one analog cable, and one digital cable) for programming content, and I can add more tuners later if needed. We view everything through an older 27" tube TV, and it looks pretty good. The user interface is clean, and I have tweaked it to make it more intuitive for us. we can listen to my MP3 collection, and we can watch favorite DVD’s. Every morning, we can check the latest weather conditions through SageTV. I was able to (fairly) easily burn to DVD a show that my parents had missed.

All of this was very seamless (except the DVD burning, but that’s for another article) and all from a single box. For me, SageTV is what ReplayTV could have been…

The future
Our setup works very will, but like everything else, I have to look to the future. I am considering the following additions and upgrades:

  • Add additional storage to accommodate more ripped DVD’s. We have a sizable collection of DVD’s, but it’s s much easier to manage them and watch them if they are ripped.
  • Move lots of other digital pictures over to SageTV.
  • Organize and move lots of other MP3′s over to SageTV.
  • Upgrade our old tube TV to an LCD TV. I have been looking at a Westinghouse 42" LCD HD monitor, and it looks very, very nice for the money.
  • Add a UPS to the mix for protection.
  • Improve and simplify the DVD burning process.
  • Investigate RAID or other backup method.
  • Look into a Universal Remote to consolidate remotes.

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Nov 07

SageTV Tip #2: Why did I choose SageTV?

After reviewing the major Personal Video Recorder (PVR) software offerings, I decided that SageTV was my application of choice. Its feature set and price point made it very attractive, and there were several other "features" that swayed my decision. Read on to see why I chose SageTV over the competition….

There are several excellent PVR offerings to choose from, and they all have their benefits. These range from free applications like GB-PVR and MythTV to commercial applications like BeyondTV and SageTV. These applications are all excellent, offer feature sets that are surprisingly complete (although, some are more complete than others), and have excellent user and developer support.

The free offerings are amazingly robust. I found that GB-PVR and MythTV to be very interesting solutions. There are other free offerings, but these two were the "biggies" that caught my eye.

GB-PVR is clean, and feature-rich, and has a close user following. It runs on Windows, and offers some nice functions in a slick UI. But from what I understand, GB-PVR is a closed-source application with limited development resources. It also fell short in a couple areas that I was looking for.


MythTV is an Open Source PVR application that runs on Linux. It really is the benchmark for most PVR software offerings. It has a huge user community, and offers many features found nowhere else. Its Linux dependence, however, is both a blessing and a curse. Linux is an wonderfully stable, robust, and powerful free Open Source operating system that can very easily handle all the tasks of a PVR. But it also comes with the baggage of administering a Linux system. To its credit, Linux is now a lot easier to setup and manage these days, but to be used effectively, it still requires a lot of technical knowhow.

As much as I respect and like the free offerings, two things swayed me toward commercial products: First, I wanted to keep things Windows-centric. My home PC’s are all Windows XP boxes, so I wanted to keep things consistent. Second, I felt that if I was going to invest the money into an HTPC, I also wanted to invest in a PVR company that provides good support and continued R&D. That brought me to two other excellent choices:

I next looked at BeyondTV, and it looked very solid and feature-rich. As a PVR, it really packs a punch. It’s feature set is very complete, and its user interface is simple and slick. But unfortunately, it fell short in other areas, notably in its integration of photo viewing, MP3 management, and video playing capabilities. These were integrated as an add-on to the core package that lacked the seamless integration I was looking for. If you want a solid PVR, BeyondTV is an excellent choice. But if you want to manage other media, you may want to check other options.

When I tried SageTV, I was immediately hooked. SageTV integrated everything I was looking for: PVR, MP3, Photos, Video, and DVD Playback–all in one slick UI. The integration of the media functions is very tight, making the overall user experience consistent, easy, and pleasing to use. SageTV also integrates other goodies like Weather forecasts into its UI, and as of the latest beta version (v6), includes two other Online capabilities: Google Video, and TV Editorials. SageTV, the company, seems to be very solid and innovative, and their support is very responsive. In fact, not more than a week after I purchased version 5, they came out with a much-improved, beta release! And for a beta, it is very, very stable.

SageTV also has a very active user community of very dedicated users. The users are knowledgeable, kind, and have a real passion for making SageTV a success. You can find solid and reliable answers to any SageTV-related question in the user forums.

Another thing that hooked me on SageTV is in how its architecture was designed. It has an open API that enables developers to create third-party "plugins" and enhancements that extend and improve upon the core product. In fact, several of these plugins are, in my opinion, so well written that they really should be part of the core! All registered users gain easy access to SageTV’s Studio application that allows complete customization of the product. While it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s also not rocket science. I was able to make a couple tweaks without too much hassle.

One point of note: You may notice that I excluded Windows Media Center edition 2005 (MCE). While MCE is an excellent, mature, and feature-rich product, it also comes with the baggage imposed by Microsoft that I simply didn’t want to deal with. Overall, MCE is an excellent product, and if you are fully Microsoft-centric, the go for it. But if you want total control over your PVR, you have to look elsewhere.

So, is SageTV perfect? No. But it is maturing into a very powerful media center application. And with its varied client applications, and its extendibility through third-party plugins, it is not a limited product. Coming from the "standalone" DVR world having used ReplayTV and Moxi DVR’s for years, I can say that SageTV is very refreshing. It really packs a lot in, and works very, very will as a home theater PVR solution.

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