The SageTV HD Media Extender is yet another device to help move media from your laptop or desktop PC over to the living room or wherever you keep your HDTV. It lacks the polish of the Apple TV or the DVR functionality of the Archos TV+. However, it is a worthwhile streaming machine that will solve a few pesky "living in a digital world" issues, even if it takes a little more effort to get there.
Design and Setup
At 14.2 x 9.3 x 1.9 inches, the black rectangular box looks similar to a standard Dish Network receiver. Setting up the $199 HD Media Extender is a breeze. There is a connection for every kind of television: HDMI, component, RCA, and S-Video. For audio, you can use HDMI, RCA, or S/PDIF optical.
After powering on the device, you'll realize you have a lot more work to do. To sync with a PC or Mac, you have to install SageTV Media Center 6 ($79.95); getting it to work with our PC took a good 30 minutes. The software is not necessarily difficult to install, but installation takes a long time because you have to configure your PC's TV tuner card (if you have one), set up TV recording schedules, set up the directories used for streaming media files, and customize a number of options for the interface and your network.
The HD Media Extender interface uses a dull blue color scheme and Helvetica fonts with very few graphical touches. The software transmits photos, music, and even live or recorded television to the Extender through your router. Unfortunately, the Extender works with Ethernet only--no Wi-Fi--meaning you must physically connect it to a router or use an access point bridge.
We couldn't get live TV to work with a PC that uses an ATI All-in-Wonder card. When we used a Sony VGX-TP20 home theater PC with a built-in TV tuner, the SageTV worked fine. The interface for configuring the media we wanted to share was easy to use and designed for full-screen use on an HDTV. You just add the directories you want and enable the Extender service. With the Extender, connecting to SageTV Media Center was also easy. After it found our PC, we were watching live television in less than a minute.
The HD Media Extender handled every file and format we transmitted. Using a D-Link DIR-655 Xtreme N router, we watched a high-def stream of an ESPN2 college basketball game at 720p resolution without a hitch, viewed a collection of 3008 x 2000 high-res photos, and streamed a Shelby Lynne MP3 collection without any problems over both a wired feed and a Wi-Fi bridge, both connected to a D-Link DIR-655 router. We also recorded an entire game of college basketball from ESPN-HD, and the playback was butter-smooth on the Sony VGX-TP20 and the extender. Our only major issue was that sometimes the remote, which is full of buttons but generally easy to use, would lag behind our clicks but then suddenly catch up as the buttons activated.
The HD Media Extender allowed us to watch YouTube videos, catch weather in our area, and view a bunch of HD videos from NASA. The HD Extender presents all Internet content through its own interface, so there is no browser that gets in the way of finding what you want. It doesn't lock down videos or music with any DRM protection of its own, like the Apple TV does, and it supports high-def video formats, unlike the Archos device. The trade-off, however, is storage. With the Apple and Archos devices, you get a minimum of 40GB of storage, whereas SageTV offers none.
SageTV HD Media Extender Verdict
Overall, the SageTV HD Media Extender worked as advertised. It lacks the elegant design--both in hardware and software--of the Apple TV, as well as storage. The Archos TV lets you place-shift videos to an Archos handheld device, but doesn't support true high-def. While we're not crazy about the complex software service with the SageTV, it does offer more flexibility with your content. Priced just a hair below both the Apple TV and the Archos TV+, the SageTV HD Media Extender is a worthy competitor. For those who want digital media anywhere in their home, without any pesky DRM limitations, the HD Media Extender delivers in spades.