Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way by the companies mentioned in this post. These opinions are my own and have not been influenced by anyone.
About a year and a half ago I put an antenna on the top of my roof and built a computer to act as our DVR in anticipation of dropping our service with DirecTV and going straight Over the Air. No cable, no satellite, just what’s broadcast locally.
We did in fact drop our service with DirecTV and have been pretty happy with the performance of the computer. We are running Windows Vista on the computer and had been using Windows Media Center on it as our DVR/Media software. We were able to bring all of the shows we recorded over to the TV using the Xbox 360 and the media center extender software included on that system. There were some little quirks, but that’s to be expected, nothing is perfect. It was all working just fine until the Xbox died.
When the Xbox died we had to make a decision, replace it, or try something else. After some research, we decided to try something new. Enter SageTV. We installed SageTV on our Windows computer with the intent of replacing Windows Media Center. Unfortunately, Microsoft does not take kindly to users trying to replace one of the core components of Windows. Every time I tried to start SageTV with the remote, the computer would try to start Windows Media Center. Then I found a little piece of software that suppresses the native Media Center in Windows. Problem solved.
I was easily able to set up our tuner cards in SageTV and begin receiving the broadcast signal. Just as it was in Windows Media Center. Setting up our regular recordings was a breeze. The guide was easy to follow and the options were, for the most part, self explanatory.
We also opted to purchase the SageTV HD Theater 300 to replace the Xbox. This is a much smaller and quieter unit than the Xbox was. There are no fans, so there is no noise! (the Xbox was really loud). The user interface of the HD Theater 300 pretty much clones the software on the computer, so it’s easy to use. No issues there. Once we got it installed and set up it found the server running on the network and connected. We were watching TV on it in minutes.
After a while, I started to play with some of the options, and this is where I really fell in love with SageTV. It’s similar to some open source projects, where ordinary people, not affiliated with SageTV, can write components or add-ons to the software, and they are made available to the public. I’ve been able to install plugins that allow me to view my Netflix streaming movies and TV shows through the SageTV interface. I can also view my Hulu (Hulu classic or Hulu Plus) shows through the HD Theater 300. Pretty slick, huh? But wait there’s more.
The plugin that I really fell in love with was the mobile web interface plugin. It allows me to control and view my SageTV recordings from my iPhone or iPad, from anywhere! I just type in the web address of my server and I can see what’s been recorded, what’s going to be recorded, if there are any conflicts, the list goes on and on. And, I can watch the shows that have been recorded, right on my phone!
Now, I haven’t really gotten into the specifics of setting this stuff up, mostly because it’s not for the novice computer user. There are a lot of great forums out there with a lot of help on setting this stuff up. I’ve made use of more than a few of them. See, that’s the one little problem with opensource projects like this, there’s no set place for help or documentation for the plugins, since people not affiliated with SageTV are writing them. They’re also a little more difficult to set up than just installing software. There is a little configuration involved, and sometimes it’s not that easy.
Over all, though, I’m loving the software and it’s been great. Much better than Windows Media Center was. If you’re looking for a way to get rid of your cable or satellite but don’t want to give up your DVR, this is a great way to do it.