SageTV vs. BeyondTV

October 8, 2007 at 11:10 pm 2 comments

Years ago, I started using a DVR application called ShowShifter along with an ATI All-In-Wonder card. ShowShifter has pretty much fallen away now to better competitors. SnapStream PVS was my second DVR application (now called BeyondTV). Before buying it, I tried SageTV version 1.4, but it had an interface that only a nerd could love. Since my wife was a major user of this program, I decided to skip SageTV. That is, until version 2.0 came out with major UI improvements.

I’ve moved back and forth between these two DVR apps with various versions, though I’ve probably used SageTV most of the last three years. BeyondTV was the first to seek through the recorded shows to pick out the commercials, but SageTV added that feature (through user add-ins) a bit later. At some point, both SageTV and BeyondTV released clients that would let you watch TV on any computer in the house, using one central machine as a TV Server (running either Sage or Beyond). My last run-in with BeyondTV ended because, inexplicably, the audio would sometimes not record for my wife’s soap opera. Some days it worked, others it didn’t. You want your wife to get mad at you? Make her soap into a video-only affair a few days a week.

The features of the latest version of BeyondTV made me want to try it again. I will say that the one feature that had me most curious (exporting to h264 with iTunes integration) didn’t work as well as I had hoped, but I’m happily surprised at what else I found. I also found that BeyondTV still lacks some features that I have grown accustomed to in SageTV.

To explain a bit about my situation, I’ve switched to OTA HD recently (Over-the-air High Definition for the vernacularly challenged) away from cable. The real nice thing with cable is that when it works, you pretty much get everything. With OTA, if you have a good strong signal, you’d be hard pressed to know that you weren’t on cable, but if the signal isn’t quite up to snuff, you get blocky images, sound skipping, etc. at random when you play it back. This has been a problem with SageTV for me for about the last month (since I cut the cable cord).

My wife had been complaining also about the ATI Remote Wonder that we used in our bedroom. Snapstream was running a special where you could get one of the HDHomeRun tuners, a Firefly remote, and a copy of BeyondTV for a price lower than the cost of the tuner and the Firefly by themselves. I had been looking to get one of these tuners, and with the recent complaints about the remote, it sounded like the perfect time to buy.

Anyhow, here’s what I’ve found about BeyondTV that is light years ahead of SageTV. If the HD signal isn’t clean, BeyondTV does a much better job playing it back. In pretty much every case I’ve seen, the audio continues along uninterrupted, while the video either pauses for a bit, or the image gets a bit blocky. SageTV, on the other hand, descends into an unwatchable mess. Video and audio both are badly chopped. The audio is a big one here, because in Sage’s case, it’s completely distorted. It’s not at all like watching a badly dubbed movie, but rather much worse. There’s a lot of popping and clicking, and the video scene seems to jump along far faster than it would have taken if the signal were clean. I’ve sat through many scenes with SageTV where you literally could not tell what happened. During my BeyondTV testing, the audio track continued to play properly, even if the video paused or went completely black. This lets the viewer actually continue to follow the story quite well, as long as it’s a scene with something to hear. Aside from this, there is a certain something that seems different about BeyondTV. A smoothness, perhaps. I mean, when watching most content, I doubt I’d be able to easily tell if I’m watching BeyondTV or SageTV, but when watching high motion content (like pro sports), SageTV seems to occasionally have tearing issues, but BeyondTV seems about as smooth as live TV. Other pro’s about BeyondTV? The built-in commercial skipping without having to find third-party plugins is nice. This may be a bit nit-picky, but the on-screen UI (while watching TV) seems to be a bit more minimalistic in BeyondTV, showing more of the screen. In Sage, I’ve often paused a show to read something only to have the bottom bar (progress bar?) pop up, blocking my view of the text on the TV show. BeyondTV’s bottom bar is very low profile, giving me a better view of the show. So far, I’ve recorded two HD streams at the same time, and even recorded an HD stream while watching another HD stream live. In Sage, this would sometimes cause seriously messed up recordings. I am only running a 2.4 Gig processor (single core) in the server, though, so that may be some of the problem.

On a low note, the BeyondTV built-in iTunes integration seems like a great idea, but my first attempted transcode failed, and I haven’t tried again. Perhaps I’ll give this another try when I get an iPhone. 🙂 Converting video in Sage is hit-or-miss too. Sometimes they turn out fine, and others result in terrible recordings.

The one big feature that our family uses that BeyondTV doesn’t support is parental controls. We have a code set on all PG content (and above) on Sage. This lets the kids watch all the PBS shows they love without letting them see the shows that me and the wife enjoy. (No – Not *THOSE* kinds of shows, you pervert!) Yes, I will admit that having to punch in a code whenever we want to watch Desperate Housewives is a bit of a bother, but the wife and I have gotten pretty used to it. One other very nice thing about SageTV is how it tracks that you’ve watched a show, and even if you are set to record every episode, it won’t record ones that it knows you’ve already seen. In the past, this has been a weak spot on BeyondTV, but I’m not sure how it does with this yet in the most recent version (4.7). This is actually another very strong feature for the kids, as I set it to record every episode of, say Curious George, and it only records the ones that it knows we haven’t seen, instead of recording all the re-runs that come on every week. Sage runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, which is a plus. If I thought much more about it, I could probably add a few more to the SageTV column, in terms of exclusive features.

So, what am I to do? Both products have distinct advantages. I had planned to switch to BeyondTV, but I would hate to lose the parental controls. Then it hit me. I have licenses for both products, including two remote client licenses for Sage and one for BeyondTV. I have decided to only record kids shows with Sage and let BeyondTV record the shows that my wife and I enjoy. This works out, because the BeyondTV UI doesn’t need to be up to record, so the kids can watch on the server itself. They can watch on the kids PC (with a remote client), and if we want, we can even watch Sage on our bedroom PC (hooked to an HDTV). Alternatively, the wife and I can watch BeyondTV (via BeyondTV Link, their remote client) on our bedroom PC. Plus, the Firefly remote is programmable, so I can even have both clients running on the bedroom PC and switch back and forth with the touch of a button. How cool is that?


Entry filed under: General.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. rakesh  |  October 9, 2007 at 1:22 am

    thanks for writing up your experiences with beyond tv. on the won’t record re-runs of shows that have been recorded before, Beyond TV does this within a certain time window. I think it won’t record the same episode more than once within a 30-day time window. hopefully you’re able to get the iTunes integration working for you — it’s really cool once it’s working. just plug-in your iDevice (iPod/iPhone/AppleTV) and your latest recordings automatically get copied over.

    anyways, i mostly just wanted to thank you for the feedback and for writing about your experiences!


  • 2. ptaylor  |  October 9, 2007 at 6:40 am

    Thanks for stopping by Rakesh. The new version of BeyondTV looks like a very strong competitor.

    To anyone looking at turning a PC into a DVR, I strongly suggest giving both of these products a try. They can both be used in a free trial mode for two to three weeks, so give them a test drive. Both of these applications give you 100% control over your recorded content, unlike Microsoft’s Media Center Edition. I think this is really a Ford/Chevy type of thing, in that you really need to experience them yourself to appreciate the differences between them. Heck, if you have enough tuners (I have 5 now!), you might even find yourself running both on the same machine like me!


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