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SageTV HD Theater review

Ben Drawbaugh

When we first heard about the new SageTV HD Theater, we thought it was just a smaller version of the HD100, but boy we're we wrong. The reason is simple, the new HD Theater from SageTV does everything we loved about the HD100 -- like extending HD from SageTV DVR software to any TV in the house -- but is now smaller and adds a great new twist: it will work as a standalone media streamer. Now we know what you're thinking, "great, like we need yet another media streamer." We know it, because that's exactly what we were thinking. But this is different because it will play every codec under the sun -- including MKV and H.264 -- and at the same time give you direct access to online content from the likes of YouTube and HD Podcasts -- Hulu was demoed at CES, but isn't live yet. Before you get too excited though, this wonder box isn't perfect, but you'll just have to click on through to learn all about that.

Gallery: Sage TV HD Theater Review | 58 Photos

Dedicated media streamers are a dime a dozen these days and then add in all the other devices around the house that can streams pictures, music, and videos to the big screen, and your options gets down right out of hand. So the thing that makes the HD Theater so attractive is the SageTV tie in. If you haven't been keeping up, SageTV is DVR software that might be the De Facto standard of DVR software for geeks. While it doesn't include the snazzy UI that Windows Media Center has, it makes up for it in features. It was the first DVR software to work with the sought after component capture device from Hauppauge; the HD PVR. It features just about every item on any DVR software fan's wish list like built-in placeshifting (think Slingbox), transcoding, and software extenders. Both the server and the client will run on just about every platform out there including; Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows Home Server -- something Windows Media Center fans would die for. And finally it is fully customizable and skinnable. To put it simply, it rocks. One example of what gets us so excited is that you can take an old computer around the house with almost no processing power, throw a couple of HD tuners on it and a big hard disk, then connect the HD Theater to your HDTV in your home theater to let it do all the heavy lifting.

The Good

  • Works as as Sage Extender and as a stand-alone streamer.
  • Plays every codec we can think of.
  • The box is nice and small.
  • Its silent.
  • Included HDMI cable is very appreciated.
  • Front and rear USB ports are a great addition to plug in your own content quickly or permanently.
  • Online services are useful, but can't wait for the Hulu support that was demoed at CES.
  • Both Dolby Digital and DTS played back great via HDMI from MKV files -- no DTS-HD or TrueHD though.
  • Playing media from the USB drive is just as good as playing over the network, useful for those without network connectivity behind the TV.
The Bad
  • The included remote isn't programmable so it can't turn on your TV.
  • No built in WiFi or available dongle.
  • Had trouble running setup with HDMI, had to switch to component until after the initial setup.
  • Shows network share passwords on certain screens, not cool.
  • Media browsing isn't snappy, but it isn't slow either.
  • More difficult than it should be to switch from extender mode to stand-alone (power cycle required).
  • No coax digital output.
  • Browsing files with the "imported File browser" if functional, but in no way enjoyable.
  • There were like 60 Imported file locations already on the review unit, which made it difficult to find the ones that actually existed. To top it off, deleting them one by one is a tedious affair.
  • LEDs are too bright and the network one blinks too much.
  • No animated transitions or translucent menus in the user interface.

We fully expect someone to buy this as a media streaming and find themselves drawn to running a full blown multiple room SageTV DVR setup. And overall we have nothing but good things to say about the new SageTV HD theater or SageTV in general. But there is one looming problem that prevents us from switching our own household over. It's one thing makes us feel like we're in high school all over again, a time when the only thing that mattered was our looks. You see as much as we love the features and functionality of the SageTV hardware and software, we can't get past the looks. It is not that it is ugly, in fact for those out there using the fugly interface on a content provider's DVR or even the super dated TiVo UI, it's a step up. But when you compare the entire landscape of PC DVR software, it is hard to ignore the beautiful animated transitions and translucent menus on Vista Media Center. So while we really do appreciate everything that SageTV has to offer, we're just too superficial to make the switch in our own household.

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