My Primary TV viewing device – AppleTV

August 4, 2013 at 9:47 pm Leave a comment

I’ve long been a fan of SageTV.  It was the best DVR of its time.  It was better than SnapStream, better than Windows MCE, more flexible than ReplayTV and Tivo (yes, those are hardware based DVRs, but it beat them too!).  I know that there are more DVR software packages out there now, so I can’t say for sure that it’s better than they are, but it has got to be close.

Unfortunately, Google bought them about two years ago, so there’s no more software updates, support or forthcoming hardware…  They have left the forums open, thankfully, so there is peer-to-peer support, and you can still get TV Guide info auto-downloaded.

Initially, I expected this to mean that GoogleTV would quickly integrate SageTV’s recording engine, making GoogleTV the best DVR out there.  That has yet to happen, though.

Since about 6 months after the buy-out, I’ve been on a quest to find a replacement for SageTV.  My software still works, SageTV still records shows, but it’s the hardware that’s the issue.  I have two HD200 boxes, and if either of them dies, it will be difficult (and/or expensive) to get a replacement.  I also have been having problems with recordings (antenna and tree related, I believe).

Then something strange happened…  I’m not even sure when it happened, but I think I noticed it within the last 6 months.  I realized that we rarely watched anything recorded by SageTV anymore.  For the most part, I download or stream the shows we watch now.  There are some PBS shows that the kids still watch on SageTV, and they still use to it watch TV shows that I’ve ripped, etc. but my wife and I aren’t using it to record the regular shows we enjoy watching anymore.

The result is that I rarely even switch to the HDMI input where my SageTV box is attached.  Just about anything I’ve wanted to watch during the last month or so can be had on the AppleTV, either direct streaming from Apple, NetFlix, via the Hulu plugin in XBMC, or streamed locally from my NAS.  Most of my recent local streaming has been through Plex, via PlexConnect…

Plex reads some directories on my NAS every so often, downloads meta-data about the shows, tracks the watched status, etc.  It transcodes the content to play on whatever device you have, so if you are on an iPhone, AppleTV, or whatever, it will send it down in a format that the hardware can natively play.  Mine is configured to also communicate with my SageTV server, so if I do record something, Plex learns about it and I can watch it with a Plex client.

My favorite Plex client is called PlexConnect.  It’s not an app that runs on your AppleTV, but it is an amazingly good “hack”.  Essentially, it hi-jacks the AppleTV’s built-in Trailers application (who really uses that anyhow?) to show your Plex content.  To put it simply, PlexConnect pretends to be the Apple Trailers server.  It formats everything for the Trailers app the way the app expects to receive content from Apple, but PlexConnect is talking to your local Plex server to figure out what content to show…   And I’m not talking about some bare-bones listing of files with a “Play” option.  PlexConnect looks like a full-featured Plex client.  It shows DVD cover-style images, screenshots of individual episodes, fan art across the background.   As a programmer myself, I can’t say enough how impressive this is to me.  Not the fact that it is possible, but the fact that they’ve written that translation layer so the Trailers app is doing their bidding so well.

Anyhow, with all of the above, the AppleTV has become my Go-To device for watching content.

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