Archive for December, 2008

SageTV HD Theater can record Hulu too

SageTV recently released the fabulous HD Theater (A.K.A., the HD200).  This device can replace a dedicated PC when it comes to playing back video content from a SageTV server.  The surprise feature in the HD200 was that it can run as a standalone media player.  Using the remote that comes with it, you can navigate shares on your local network to watch your content from the comfort of your couch.  Included in this was the ability to connect to UPNP servers to play that media also.  There are a few of these you can get for free, and some appliances come with them (like the ReadyNAS NV+).  Basically, UPNP is a dead-simple way to share your media.

A $30 Windows program called PlayOn extends the UPNP concept even further.  It runs a UPNP server, but rather than serve your content, it serves content from Hulu, Netflicks, and other streaming content providers.  It actually transcodes the content on the fly from the proprietary format of Hulu, etc. to a format that your media player can handle (like MPEG), all in real-time.

Back when I first got my HD200 appliance, I explored PlayOn through the HD200’s UPNP browser.  I found that it includes an unusual feature “Copy to Library”.  I tried it out, and it prompted me for a network location to save the file.  Intrigued, I gave it a place to save it, and waited.  I’ve not actually timed it, but it seems to be converting it in real time, writing the file (along with the Hulu embedded commercials) as the seconds tick by.  When it was done, I hurriedly navigated to the location via the HD200, excitedly selected it, then found that it could not play the resulting file.

I wasn’t too upset about it, so I sort of forgot about it for a while, but my thoughts recently came back to it.  I wondered if perhaps the resulting file was not 100% mpeg, but close enough that a tool could automagically fix it for me.  So, I went through the process again, today.  Once it was done saving the file off, I opened it with MPEG Streamclip.

And there it was.  In the MPEG Streamclip window.  I hit play, and it played.  I jumped around to various scenes, seeing commercials mixed in with them, and the whole episode was there.  Next, I hit File -> Convert to MPEG and gave it a new location to save the resulting file.  After a few minutes of processing, it was done.  SageTV could now read it, skipping ahead and back just like any other file.

Now, admittedly this process is a bit much to go through for every file that you want to see.  But, if it can be done this way, we’re surely only a hop, skip, and a jump from someone automating the process (using a different tool other than an HD200 to save the file off).

December 24, 2008 at 8:49 pm Leave a comment

SageTV HD200 and PlayOn

PlayOn is a product that basically starts a UPNP server on your network, reads the feeds from Hulu and a few other online content providers (like NetFlicks), lets you use the UPNP server to navigate through the available items, and once you select one, it streams it down to the PC PlayOn is running on, then transcodes it on the fly to a format the device understands (like Mpeg, Windows Media, etc.).

Since the HD200 lets you navigate and play content from UPNP servers, the HD200 sees PlayOn running on the network.  Navigating PlayOn, however, is very slow, and the possible feeds you can look through are numerous, it is not nearly the joy to navigate as Boxee’s Hulu interface is.  Using Boxee (running on an AppleTV), the Hulu interface is clean and it is easy to find what you want to see.  With PlayOn via the HD200, you must first select that you wish to see all TV Shows, then select the first letter of the shows you’d like to see.  Each selection seems to take 10-15 seconds or so before the next page of content is loaded.  While the HD200’s display is barren of artwork, Boxee displays a picture from the show, so that it might catch your eye.  When you want to select the content, Boxee has this beat hands down.  Picture quality goes to PlayOn, hands down, however.

Where PlayOn shines, though, is in the actual playback itself.  It’s crisp, clean, and smooth.  On the AppleTV, the playback is a bit on the jumpy side.  It’s doesn’t come off as crisp (though perhaps the minor jumps every few seconds cause this effect).  It turns out that if you select REW or FF on the HD200, it knocks you back to the very begining of the show, but at least pause works properly.  I’ve read that the latest version of Boxee lets you REW and FF on Hulu playback, but I haven’t tried to do that just yet.  Using PlayOn, I’d say you get pretty close to DVD quality.  According to Sage, each 1 hour show (which is actually about 42 – 45 minutes of content) is 1.7 GB, so if you do this a lot, it might cause issues between you and your ISP.

December 7, 2008 at 1:04 am Leave a comment

HD200 Experiences so far…

Perhaps I was spoiled…  My SageTV Client PC had an nVidia 8600GT which was using nVidia’s PureVideo codec.  While the HD200 decodes things in hardware, it doesn’t do everything quite as well as the PureVideo codec.  That’s the conclusion I reached after seeing portions of a few DVD rips that I made months ago.  One word sums up the issue with the HD200: Deinterlacing.  It does not appear that the HD200 does on-the-fly deinterlacing, which does appear to happen when using the PureVideo codec from nVidia.  I don’t think it’s a major issue, though, since most of the content I’m getting is recorded from digital signals, intended to be viewed on HD sets.

Since these few videos I’ve tested are watched frequently by my 9 month old, I decided today to re-encode them to h264, using HandBrake’s Decomb feature, which basically does intelligent deinterlacing.  No, my 9 month old doesn’t know the intricacies of video ripping, but it bugs me to see these obviously poorly ripped files.  PureVideo was hiding that from me quite well.

While the look of the HD200 case leaves something to be desired, and my wife wants me to put some electrical tape (or something) over the “Net” light of the HD200 (it is in our bedroom, after all, and is quite bright), I have to say I’m pretty happy with this unit overall, so far.

December 7, 2008 at 12:26 am Leave a comment

SageTV HD Theater First Look

On Monday, I ordered the brand-spanking-new SageTV HD Theater (HD200).  This is essentially the next generation of their HD100 unit.

Why did I buy it?  To make a long story short, I have another fairly powerful PC that was doing the same job the HD200 does.  So, I replaced that PC with an HD200, and plan to put that PC to better use.  (It was a quick repair job that involved replacing a motherboard and processor, and since it is now the newest PC that I own, it’s naturally the fastest, so it doesn’t make sense to just use it to watch TV…)

Anyhow, the HD200 arrived today and I’m pretty happy with it thus far.  When I first attached the HDMI connection to my TV and booted up, I was met with an odd purplish interface.  I checked my connections, and they were all tight…  Not that having a loose digital connection is likely to change the color (unlike the old 15 pin VGA connectors), but I tried anyhow.

After configuring the various options (DHCP, Video resolution, etc), I finally found the option for a firmware update.  About 5 minutes later, it was done, and I was met with a more typical looking blue SageTV interface.

I’ve not had a tremendous amount of time to explore it, but the video playback looks very good so far.  We watched Ugly Betty and The Office tonight, and the few visual issues we noticed were almost certainly issues with the antenna reception.  The OSD of the HD200 is transparent.  I’m not sure what it was like on the HD100, but the HD200 is like using the Windows SageClient in VMR9 mode with a decent video card.  (HD content never worked well for me in VMR9 mode until I got an 8600GT card.)  The most noticeable difference between this unit and the HD100 is the fact that the HD200 can run in standalone mode.  This means that you don’t need to connect to a Sage server at all, and you can watch content from your local network.  It will even look for UPNP media servers on your network and let you view that content, like ORB.  From reading on the Sage forums, it will even work with PlayOn, allowing you to watch Hulu and NetFlicks (though, as of my last check, it wasn’t confirmed to be working with NetFlicks).  I haven’t had the time to test this yet, but plan to in the next few days or so.

I’ve read others on the forum complain about the remote that comes with the HD100 and HD200.  Honestly, I don’t have much issue with it.  It has about every conceivable button you could want to control SageTV.  One thing that has always bothered me about my setup was that I needed the TV’s remote to be able to turn the TV off or on.  With the HD200 and my ViewSonic TV, that’s not a problem.  When I power down the HD200, my ViewSonic sees that it is getting no input, so it goes to “power save” mode, basically turning itself off.  When you power it up, the HD200 takes about 15-20 second to boot (I haven’t timed it, but it’s not very long.)  As a bonus, the HD200 uses almost no power, at least when compared to the power consumption of a full-fledged PC.

So far, I’m very happy about the HD200.  Now, I just have to figure out the best use of the PC it just replaced.  🙂

December 5, 2008 at 12:47 am Leave a comment


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