Frey Technologies' SageTV, now in version 2.2, juggles more than its name suggests. Yes, the software lets you watch, pause, and record TV on your PC, but it also provides a single interface for accessing pictures, running DVD movies, and playing music files stored on your computer. If you've read of Microsoft's Media Center Edition 2005 (MCE 2005) OS, these capabilities should sound familiar. Unlike Microsoft's OS, which requires a purchase of a new Media Center PC, you can purchase SageTV in a number of ways to add DVR functionality to your current PC. We tested the $149.95 SageTV Single Tuner Bundle. It took a few e-mails to tech support to get up and running, but once the software was working, we liked what we saw. The interface is slick and easy to navigate, and the software/hardware bundles provide an affordable way to get media-center functionality if you don't have plans to junk your current PC.
SageTV comes in all shapes and sizes. The SageTV Single Tuner Bundle we reviewed includes the SageTV software, the Hauppauge WINTV-PVR150 TV tuner/MPEG-2 encoder card, and a remote control. SageTV is also available in a dual-tuner bundle ($254.95) or as a downloadable, standalone program ($79.95). SageTV Client ($29.95 per license, one license per PC) installs the application on a remote networked PC, which accesses the host to view and record live TV without the need for an additional TV tuner card (similar to MCE 2005's Extenders for sharing recorded TV, photos, videos, and music across your home network). If you choose the software-only option, you'll need a TV tuner with a hardware MPEG-2 encoder.
Installation on our MPC Millennia 940i test system began smoothly enough. The Hauppauge installation, which includes Ulead's DVD MovieFactory 3.0 SE for burning DVDs, took all of five minutes to complete. (The TV card hardware must be installed, drivers and all, before loading the SageTV software.) Installing the SageTV software was also a breeze, thanks to the installation wizard that prompts you choose which TV tuner card to use, tuning options (cable, satellite, antenna), and your local cable/satellite provider information. You'll need an Internet connection to access and download the programming guide for your area, which you select from a list determined by your zip code. Frey has released a Linux version of SageTV, but it currently does not offer a version for Macs.
Our first hiccup came when we tried to view a TV program from the LiveTV Guide menu and were met with a blank screen and a rendering error message. After an exhaustive and unsuccessful trial-and-error session that required tweaking video rendering and acceleration settings in the advanced setup menu, it was time for some tech support. Unfortunately, there is no tech support available by phone (all support is e-mail-based), and the troubleshooting tips offered on the SageTV Web site and in the SageTV community forums did not address our problem.
We filled out a support form, including our error warning, on the company's Web site, which warns that it could take up to 72 hours for a response. We were pleased to receive a response the following day, including a link to a beta version (version 2.2) to download, which did the trick. Our Hauppauge remote control, however, was rendered inoperable as a result. A subsequent support request was answered the following day, which included a zipped INI file. We replaced the current irremtoe.ini file with the new one and were back in business. Our e-mails to tech support were answered promptly and fixed the problems we encountered, but the process could be daunting for the typical home user.
SageTV looks a lot like MCE 2005, with large menus that you can navigate with the remote control from 10 feet away. In addition to an input for a TV signal, an audio-in port, and a remote IR receiver, the Hauppauge WINTV-PVR150 card has an S-Video port that lets you use your PC as a TiVo replacement and connect it to a TV. We think it works better in reverse, where you bring TV to your PC monitor. SageTV's time-shifting capabilities allow you to pause and rewind live TV on the fly, and you can view program information and enable parental controls with the press of a button. The programmable commercial-skip button lets you zip pass commercials or entire commercial breaks. The LiveTV Guide allows you to select multiple programs to record within a 14-day time frame, but you'll need dual-tuner functionality to simultaneously record two different programs. Since the WINTV card has a compression ratio of 100-to-1, recorded programs use approximately 2GB of disk space per hour, so you'll want a decent amount of hard drive space (160GB or higher) if you plan on doing a lot of recording. Recorded TV looked nearly indistinguishable from live TV.