There is a breed of Home Technology enthusiasts that enjoy pushing their technology to the very edge, squeezing every bit (pun intended) of power and performance out of each part of their system. These are the people who, while they applaud the technological innovations that products such as Google TV’s incarnation on the Logitech Revue provide, still demand more out of their Integrated Home experience. Home Technology enthusiasts are more the type of people to go all out with their Home Theater experience by integrating a Home Theater PC (HTPC) into the mix.

Having a HTPC hooked up to your TV and surround sound is a night and day difference when compared to the numerous Internet Media appliances that are flooding the market recently. Devices like the Logitech Revue (as well as Sony’s Google TV offerings), the Boxee Box, and the Roku HD devices are all excellent appliances that are beginning to change how people are obtaining their content at home. I feel that this type of streaming media device is perfect for the general consumer who wants the ability to stream HD content without the hassle of integrating a HTPC into their Home Theater.

The truth is we are talking about something different here from SageTV. Something that, while more complex and difficult to install, will bring its users the most complete WebTV Integrated Home entertainment experience available! Indeed, when we get to the point of integrating the functions of a streaming media appliance WITH the power and functionality of a HTPC & Windows Home Server combination, we begin to understand what SageTV is trying to accomplish with their SageTV HD Theater 300 bundle.

The SageTV HD 300 bundle comes with both hardware and software components that when combined make SageTV version 7.0 a really powerful system! Here’s a brief overview of each component and its feature set:

SageTV HD Theater 300

This is the only hardware part of the SageTV HD 300 bundle. By itself, the SageTV HD Theater 300 is like many of the recent offerings in the “Streaming Media” appliances category, joining company with the likes of Roku HD or even the feature-rich Boxee Box. In fact, the box by itself is not ground-breaking technology by any means, and is actually priced high compared to the rest. This could cause the unknowing consumer to pass on this SageTV extender if they are not aware that this is just one part of a more powerful system!

Setup compares easily with the multitude of competing Internet Media Players out there, consisting of connecting your HDMI, Ethernet, and perhaps optical depending on your setup. Once set up and configured to look in the right place for your media, the 300 gives you the ability to:

Enjoy video, pictures, and music from your home network on your Home Theater HDTV.
Browse, search, and play video from popular internet video sites such as Youtube, tons of Podcasts, and much more.

To put things as simply as possible, let’s just say that the SageTV HD 300 is going to handle just about any file format, video format, and audio format that you throw at it! Here are just some of its more commonly viewed specifications:

File formats supported: AVI, ASF, MKV, MOV, MP4, Quicktime, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 PS, MPEG-2 TS, M2TS, BDMV Folder (BluRay), BluRay ISO, DVD ISO, DVD VIDEO_TS, VOB, M4A, MP3, FLAC, OGG, FLV, WAV, WMA

Video formats supported: MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, XVID, H.264 up to 1080p, WMV9/VC-1 up to 1080p, MJPEG, FlashVideo

Audio formats supported: MP2, MP3, AAC, AAC-HE, ALAC, WMA, WMAPro, PCM, Vorbis (stereo only), FLAC, DolbyDigital/DolbyDigital+/DolbyTrueHD* (stereo down-mix or pass-through), DTS/DTS-HD/DTS-MA (stereo down-mix or pass-through)
*DolbyTrueHD down-mix requires the DolbyDigital core track to be present

CC/Subtitle formats supported: EIA-608(NTSC/ATSC/QAM Closed Captioning), DVB, SRT, SSA/ASS, VobSub (sub/idx, mkv), Nero MP4 VOB Subtitles, MP4 Text, SAMI, .sub (Subviewer/MicroDVD), DVD, BDMV, M2TS, PGS, multiple languages supported in all formats

Playlist formats supported: M3U, WPL, ASX, WAX, WVX

Media sources supported: Online Video, external USB Mass Storage Devices (FAT, NTFS, EXT2/3, HFS format), NAS or Mac/PC over SMB/CIFS, UPnP, SageTV Media Center

As we mentioned, while this newest entry in SageTV’s respectable history with Digital Media receivers comes with all of the necessary bells and whistles, one could go out and purchase a fairly similar device at a much lower price. What sets SageTV apart from the crowd at this point is its software components that are designed to take full advantage of this piece of hardware:

With the addition of a PC or Mac with SageTV Media Center 7 installed, you will have the ability to watch live or recorded HDTV from your PC or MAC at home.
Add SageTV Placeshifter in on top of that and you will be able to stream that Live or Recorded TV program to your laptop anywhere in the world that you have a decent broadband internet connection.
So while you’re away on that business trip, you can catch the latest episode of Survivor and STILL skip the commercials! Isn’t technology wonderful? 😉

The first part of this software suite is…

SageTV Media Center 7

On November 15th, 2010 SageTV Media Center version 7 was released and joined the SageTV HD Theater 300 as an integral part of the SageTV system. Coming in both Windows and Linux flavors (Mac is still at version 6.6), this newest release of SageTV Media Center serves as a personal video recording (PVR) and media center software package. Some of the newest and most exciting features include:

A redesigned User Interface (UI) – The User Interface in SageTV Media Center is similar to Windows media center, XBMC, and other higher end UI’s
Easy plug-in installation – now available from within the UI, SageTV plug-ins give the user the ability to tweak their system to their own personal preference. Existing plug-ins already provide the ability to change the movies section into a Movie Wall, stream media to an iPhone or iPad, add movie trailers, and much more! As long as this community remains strong, SageTV has tons of potential because of loyal users with programming skills!
BDMV folder (Blu-ray) and ISO playback support in Windows – Having the ability to playback Blu-ray disk folder rips is a great feature, though you’ll need to add the appropriate codecs.
Enhanced SageTV Studio capabilities – After having a stable system with up-to-date features, the User Interface is probably one of the most important aspects to people. With SageTV studio, the ability to manipulate the UI or completely rebuild it becomes a reality.

In the press release, SageTV goes on to say:

“SageTV software enables users to watch, pause and record TV programs on their Windows, Mac or Linux PCs without the need to pay for monthly PVR service or buy a new Windows 7 Media Center PC. It also provides a single interface for accessing PC-based photo, music and video files; can be used on any TV in the home with the addition of a SageTV media extender; and offers an optional SageTV Placeshifter license enabling users to access their home TV and entire media library on any Internet-connected PC or Mac in the home or away from home.”

So at this point in our example, we’ve got our HD Theater 300 connected and aggregating both our local media and internet media. We also now have media center streaming in the picture via the SageTV Media Center, which is providing our DVR service as well can serve as an interface for accessing all of this media. If your HTPC is connected to your main Home Theater and you use it to output video to the TV, you can use your HD Theater 300 in another bedroom without a PC to give you access to all of the content throughout your home! We’d actually have a pretty decent system if we stopped right here, but SageTV has a few more pieces of software that will further enhance this whole house solution for us. Actually, with SageTV Placeshifter for example, we can now enjoy our streaming media or even streaming Live TV, not only from any computer in the house (whether it be Windows, Mac, or Linux), but to any computer anywhere with Internet connectivity!

SageTV Placeshifter / SageTV Client

The SageTV Client and Placeshifter serve pretty much the same purpose, to connect a computer to the SageTV Media Center and allow the content from both the Media Center machine as well as the HD Theater 300. As you start connecting different computers to the SageTV infrastructure you are creating at home, you will need to purchase client licenses for either the Client or the Placeshifter.

The main difference between the Client and Placeshifter is that the Placeshifter has been designed for streaming across the Internet. So, say you’re stuck at the office catching up on work but the big game is on; you can use the Placeshifter to stream that channel to your work PC. In addition, the client as the following features that the Placeshifter is not intended to perform:

Can only be used locally, on your home LAN
Has the ability to play DVDs
The decoders and renderers being used can be customized on the PC.
The SageTV Placeshifter:

Can be used both locally and remotely via the Intenet
Can transcode media for playback at a remote location
Uses built in settings for decoder and renderer.

SageTV Media Server 7.0 for Windows Home Server

For those of us who are running Windows Home Server, we can use our WHS as the central point of this SageTV system we’ve got going. By adding a TV tuner card into your SageTV server, the system will use your WHS as your repository and stream all content as well as Live TV from here.

In Conclusion…
These days there are so many options to choose from out there when it comes to streaming media technology. With popular and feature-rich solutions from the likes of Google, Boxee, Roku, and others, it’s beginning to get more difficult in figuring out which feature set matches a person’s vision of what their Home Entertainment system will look like.

SageTV may have been given a real chance for market share with the recent news about changes in the upcoming release of Windows Home Server “Vail” and the removal of its popular Drive Extension technology. Perhaps more people will be looking for alternative solutions moving forward and with a growing community interested and creating plug-ins for the SageTV system, it can only get better from here!

I believe that SageTV has created a very viable solution for the Home Technology enthusiasts’ home by integrating their media streaming server (the SageTV HD Theater 300) with quality client software (SageTV Client and Placeshifter). With the addition of the Windows Home Server add-in (SageTV Media Server), they have empowered the Home Technology buffs out there with both power AND flexibility to design a whole-house (even whole-world!) streaming media system that takes their home system integration project to the next level!