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Review: The Mevo Series Part II (SageTV 5.0)
July 14, 2006
Author: MarkLofaso Manufacturer: SageTV LLC
Department: HTPC-SFF Model: SageTV v5.0.4
Article Type: Review Time Spent: 30 days
 
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Introduction




First up for review in our Mevo Series is SageTV v5.0. SageTV LLC (formerly Frey Technologies) is one of the first companies to release functioning PVR software. I spent some time evaluating SageTV back when they were still releasing increments of Version 1. Two things made me pass on SageTV at that time. It was still in Version 1 which is usually to be avoided. But mostly, the UI was somewhat plain vanilla and not as well thought out as other offerings.

In the years since then I’ve followed SageTV’s progress in the forums. I’ve learned lots of things that I didn’t know or completely understood. For instance, the whole Client/Server concept was lost on me. I knew the advantages of Client/Server from developing software for a living, but I failed to recognize its potential in PVR form. The problem with my thinking was that I was simply trying to emulate what TiVo had created. But this was far beyond what TiVo offered.

On a side-note, you will find that there is a cult following of SageTV users that can serve as your lifeboat if you're stuck and sinking. Because I didn’t choose SageTV the first time I evaluated it, I assumed these guys were brainwashed and ready to drink the Kool-Aid if the order was given. They are the guys that answer the posts titled “Why Should I Use Sage?” Some may be brainwashed; however, I believe many have discovered the potential of SageTV and wish to spread the word. After all, nobody wants their chosen software company to fail.

Additionally and maybe more importantly, many of these guys work hard to develop new skins and add-ins that are very useful. Since this community is not included in the shrink-wrap, I’m not going to examine in detail what enhancements you can get for free from these guys.

However, it’s worth noting that Sage encourages third-party development through Sage Studio. Studio allows end-users to tinker with SageTV's interface and develop add-ins. There is detailed documentation available through Sage’s own site at no extra cost. Let me add that this feature doesn’t come free to Sage. Exposing your API is an extra, time consuming step that is rarely seen in software.


Specifications
 
AMD Athlon XP 2800+ (Barton Core)
MSI K7N2 Delta (nVIDIA nForce2 Chipset)
Crucial ValueRam PC3200 512MB
Maxtor 160GB HDD
Seagate 120GB HDD
Sapphire ATI Radeon 9250 128MB
Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150 Capture Card
(3) Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-250 Capture Cards
AverMidia AverTVHD MCE A180 HD Capture Card
Microsoft Media Center Remote and Receiver
Microsoft Windows XP Pro (SP2)
 
Test System

Staying with our promise to evaluate modest hardware, I think you’ll find this hardware to be pretty modest as a base system. You very likely have some of this hardware either in a closet collecting dust or on your network acting as a file and print server. I’d encourage anyone just getting into HTPC to re-purpose old hardware rather than buying new when possible to keep the cost down. I know you were saving it as a present for your parents but, save yourself the trouble and get them a card. They’re tired of you pushing your old, outdated computers on them anyway =)


Television Capture Cards

Beyond the base system, we have five capture cards in our test system. All four of the Standard Definition (SD) capture cards happen to be manufactured by Hauppauge. At the time these cards were purchased, dual-tuner cards hadn’t been introduced. If you’re buying new, definitely consider a dual-tuner card like this one. The trend in motherboards is 2 or 3 PCI slots with PCI Express gaining popularity. At the time of this writing, I only know of one PCI Express card on the market and it happens to be a single-tuner card. After you fill your PCI slots, you can go with an external USB solution. I’m not fond of external hardware and I think it’s worth avoiding if you can.

An absolute requirement for MeVo SD capturing is hardware MPEG encoding. Without this, your processor will have to do the encoding. The quality of real-time software encoding doesn’t compare with hardware encoding. Also, if you are recording two or more shows simultaneously, you can forget about software encoding being able to keep up.

Unlike SD cards, Over-The-Air (OTA) HD capture cards receive a digital MPEG stream. Since this stream has already been digitized and compressed, analog conversion is unnecessary. So when purchasing an OTA HD card, you should keep in mind that the picture quality should be identical for a strong HD transmission. Some HD tuners are rumored to be more sensitive than others. This is the only real difference in OTA HD cards, aside from manufacturing quality and driver support.

Although we aren’t covering it in the Mevo Series, Linux applications such as MythTV and Freevo support fewer hardware-encoding cards than Windows. If think you might be brave enough to venture into Linux-based front ends, you should cross-reference your card selection for support in both front ends.


 
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For me, an HTPC case should be:
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It has to look like other home electronics equipment.
Looks? Big deal, it is all about performance.
Small, unobtrusive.
 
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