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Creating custom recorded TV views in SageTV

SageTV version 7 added the ability to customise the existing 4 recordings views as well as configure up to 4 additional views, while this is covered in the SageTV manual (page 41), it’s not immediately obvious how powerful this feature really is.

Before we discuss customising the recordings views though, we’re going to create some custom user categories, which is also a new feature in version 7, so firstly navigate to your favourites: TV –> Schedule recordings –> Manage favourites, choose one of the favourites to edit and then navigate to the 'User defined categories' column and select ok.

Set User CategoriesSelected user category

From this screen, you can add a new category, you just need to give it a name that’s useful to you, in the screenshot above I’ve already created 3 user categories: Helen, Kids and Paul. Once you’ve created a user category you can assign it to a favourite (in the screenshot above the category ‘Helen’ is assigned to the favourite ‘The Vampire Diaries’), when you’ve assigned categories to the selected favourite, just select 'Done' and from now on all recordings of the favourite will be assigned your chosen user category. If you wish, you can then edit your other favourites and assign some custom user categories to those as well.

You can also assign user categories to existing recordings, just navigate to the recording you want to update, bring up its options menu and choose the 'Edit user categories' option as in the screenshot below, you'll then be asked if you want to edit the categories for the current recording or the favourite, in this case, choose recording and you'll be presented with the same 'Set user categories' screen that you've seen before.

Editing user categories on an existing recording

Now that we’ve configured the user categories, it’s time to start customising the recordings views, so navigate to one of your existing recordings views, such as ‘All recordings’ and bring up the options menu, either using the options button on the remote or by pressing Ctrl-O if using the keyboard. When the options menu appears, choose the 'Menu options' item, this will bring up the following menu:

Updating the number of views

On this menu is an option called 'Number of Views', by default this will be set to 4, go ahead and change this to a number greater than 4, but no more than 8 (in the screenshot, I've already got mine set to 8). Once done, close the menu and then bring up the options menu again, this time as well as the 4 default recording views, you will have 4 additional ones labelled 'Recording View 5' to 'Recording View 8' (again, I've already configured mine so the screenshot isn't exactly what you'll see).

Switching to your new view

Go ahead and select one of the new recordings views, if you’re currently in the 'All Recordings' view then it's unlikely you'll see any changes, except maybe the sorting of the recordings. Now this view is active, you can start to customise it, with the first thing you'll probably want to do is to rename it, which you can do by choosing the 'Menu options' item from the options menu. This will bring up the same menu we saw earlier when increasing the number of views. From here, you can select the menu item 'Rename the ‘Recording View X’ view' and then enter a meaningful name for your view, such as 'Kids Shows'.

Now that you've got a custom view, it's time to start filtering what's displayed in the view, so bring up the options menu again and choose the 'Filtering' item, which will present you with the screen below left (note: all of these screenshots are with the Diamond UI Mod installed, which presents a few more options than the standard UI, so don't worry if things aren't exactly the same). At the moment we're interested in the categories, so choose that option and you'll be presented with the screen below right, showing all of the categories available as well as all of the user categories you created earlier.

Filtering optionsFiltering categories

For this example I'm going to choose the 'Kids' user category and then back out of these screens, choosing 'Done' and then 'Close' to bring me back to my custom view, which should have updated itself to only display recordings that are in the 'Kids' category as per the screenshot below.

The filtered view

I could then go on to further customise this view by filtering out watched recordings for instance or changing the sort order to show the latest recordings first. It's worth noting as well that each view will maintain it's own settings, so setting the filtering and sorting options for one view will not affect any of the other views, which is extremely handy if individuals in your family prefer different sort orders etc.

This is really just a taster of what can be done, but hopefully, with the above information you're beginning to realise just how powerful the user categories and custom views can be. In my setup I’ve now got views setup specifically for me, my partner and one for the kids, which means I'm no longer getting nagged about where the better half's recordings are ;-)

Why I chose not to use SageTV

Visit SageTV.comDamn, I started writing this post over a year ago, much has changed since then, not least the fact that I’m actually in the process of switching to SageTV, whereas this time last year I had no intention of doing so.

I still think it’s worthwhile discussing why I chose not to use SageTV in the first place before moving on to why I’m now switching over.

SageTV Version 6 Main Menu The main reason I have never used SageTV as my media center of choice is because of the UI. In my eyes it’s always been too busy and has never had the same kind of polish as Windows Media Center, Media Portal or XBMC et al. The subject of Sage’s UI has come up in countless topics in the support forums, with many polarised views, some people love it, some hate it, some put up with it, the one thing that most users seem to be able to agree on however is that good or bad UI Sage is still a great media center.


SaveTV Version 7 Main MenuIn my opinion the problems with Sage’s UI is the one major stumbling block that’s stopping Sage from elevating itself from being *just* a great media center into a superb media center. In fact, Sage themselves must feel the same as version 7, which has recently been released, has a re-designed UI, albeit in my eyes it looks more like a coat of paint than a complete re-design. The main menu has been given a facelift and is now very similar to many of the skins you see for XBMC, however drill down into the various sections and you begin to see that it still has that same busy looking feel that the last version did.

While Sage may not be kings of the UI, the one thing they have always done well is the recording and playing back of content. Out of all the media center apps I’ve ever used Sage has always offered the most rock solid TV recording and playback experience (MediaPortal has been rock solid recording for the last year or so but playback can still occasionally be flaky), if that’s your main priority in selecting a media center then Sage is the perfect choice.

What is probably my most favourite feature of Sage though is its server/client architecture. Windows Media Center users have been asking for PC based extenders (aka SoftSled) for years and Microsoft have never delivered, Sage users on the other hand have been enjoying PC clients for a long time, not only that but Sage also has a client they call the Placeshifter, this is effectively the same as a PC based client (i.e. it’s software that runs on your PC) but you use it outside of your home network. For example, say you were stuck at work and didn’t want to miss [insert sporting event of choice here], you could use the Placeshifter client to connect to your Sage system at home and watch Live TV, no need to miss a thing. The Placeshifter will automatically adjust the bit-rate of the content your viewing so that it will stream nicely over your broadband connection, which is good in that you don’t have to have a super fast connection to use it but of course you will be sacrificing some quality.

A couple of years ago Sage also introduced hardware based extenders in the form of the HD100, these are low cost, low power devices that can either run standalone as a network media player or they can connect to a Sage server and act as another client. The latest of these extenders has just been released, called the HD300, it’s the 3rd hardware extender from Sage and now supports bit-streaming of HD audio which was one of the last things lacking from Sage’s extenders.

Why I’ve decided to switch to SageTV?

tmp108DIt just so happens to be that it’s this little box that has made me re-consider whether I use SageTV or not. Priced at $150, by the time you account for delivery and customs charges in the UK, it works out to be roughly £150, which is very good value when you compare it to the alternative of say an Atom/ION based PC. (You might want to also factor in the cost of a UK power supply as the HD300 comes with a US 2 prong plug, you can use a shaving adaptor just fine, however I picked up on of these from CPC).

What got me most excited with this extender though is bit-streaming of HD audio. I have bit-streaming working on my HTPC using an ATI HD5450 card, but it was one hell of a process to get to that point, so I was most intrigued at how plug-and-play the HD300 would be. I placed an order for the HD300 and SageTV server as a combined bundle so that I could try them both out.

I’d read reviews of the HD300 saying that it was smaller than the previous extender, what I wasn’t expecting however was just how small this device is. For what it does, it is tiny, I would say that it’s not much bigger than one of my hands and is perfectly suited to being attached to the back of a TV as you would never know that it was there.

Setting up the HD300 was very simple, plug in the various connections, switch it on and follow the on-screen prompts to choose your video and audio connections, you can then choose to run it in standalone mode or connect to a SageTV server, I chose the latter and was presented with the SageTV main menu. I navigated to my videos and proceeded to throw various Blu-Rays rips at it, making sure I tried various video and audio codecs (VC-1, H.264, DTS HD, Dolby TrueHD) which all played perfectly smoothly and my amp reported that it was correctly receiving the bit-streamed HD audio. Score a win for SageTV.

I then tried playing some DVD rips, unfortunately this is where things didn’t quite go to plan, after it breezed through the Blu-Ray’s I was expecting the DVDs to be a formality, but upon watching the opening sequence of Back to the Future I noticed that there was the occasional stutter, I decided to try another film and fired up Star Wars EpII and was horrified at how blocky the picture looked. It was at this moment I had a vague recollection of the Missing Remote reviewof the HD300 in which they mention that the HD300 isn’t particularly strong when it comes to upscaling content, hence why DVD rips don’t look so good. Since my initial trials, Sage have released a number of firmware updates for the HD300 and while I won’t say that DVDs look great, they do appear to be acceptable now and certainly the stuttering that I witnessed is no longer there.

Another issue I initially had with the HD300 was that the UI looked blurry on my TV, I eventually learned that the reason was because the extenders render the UI at a lower resolution and then upscale it to the output resolution, hence the blurriness. To me, this was so bad that I’d decided the HD300 wasn’t for me and I’d boxed it up ready to move it on but kudos to Sage, they released an update for the HD300 that bumped the UI up to 720p and once I applied the new firmware the difference in the UI was substantial.

One of SageTV’s greatest strengths are the community plugin developers who have produced a number of fantastic additions that have really raised SageTV to new heights. With the addition of the new plugin manager in version 7, installing and trying these various plugins is now easier than ever, which means that I’ve been trying quite a few to see how they fare. The following is a (short) list of my recommended plugins:

  • Metadata Tools (otherwise known as BMT/Batch Metadata Tools) – Provides automatic metadata and fanart retrieval for your SageTV recordings, ripped DVDs, Blu-Rays, TV Shows etc. which can then be used by UI plugins.
  • SageTV Web Interface – Provides a web UI that allows you to manage and schedule recordings, watch your recordings, control your clients and much, much more.
  • SageTV Mobile Web Interface – As above but for mobile devices.
  • MiniGuide – Provides a mini guide while watching live TV allowing you to see what’s currently on other channels and switch over without having to bring up the full guide.
  • Diamond Theme – This theme provides more than just a facelift for Sage, integrating the metadata and fanart that BMT retrieves and proving new views of your media (see screenshots below).
  • SageMyMovies – Provides integration of MyMovies in to SageTV. 

Here’s a few screenshots showing by current setup, with the above plugins installed:

Home Screen - Diamond ThemeImported TV - Diamond Theme Custom ViewTV Seasons View - Diamond ThemeVideos by FolderMy Movies - Sideways ViewMusic by Artist - Customised with 3 columns, reduced font size etc.TV Guide - Channel Icons from iconharmony.comMini Guide


























This post started off with the intention of telling you why I don’t use SageTV, however in the course of a year much has changed which is a testament to the continuing efforts of the SageTV team who have really raised the bar and come good with a fantastic new version of SageTV, let’s just hope that trend continues over the next year.

To finish off, here’s a short summary giving some pros and cons to using SageTV:

Why you would want to use SageTV:

  • Rock solid TV recording and watching
  • Integration with Windows Home Server
  • True Server/Client architecture – use a PC as an extender or a dedicated SageTV Extender device
  • Dedicated hardware extenders that support 1080p and Bitstreaming
  • Placeshifting – watch Live TV (and all your content) anywhere you are in the world as if you were still at home
  • Lots of community plugins
  • Cross platform – runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Why you wouldn’t want to use SageTV:

  • UI isn’t as polished as alternatives (can really affect the Wife Acceptance Factor)
  • No out of the box support for the MCE IR blaster (I’ve always thought this was a bit strange, the remote is supported but not blasting! A third-party plugin does enable it though, so not a major setback)
  • Media Center aspects (Music, Pictures, Movies etc.) seems to take a back seat compared to TV functions (3rd-party plugins have improved this i.e. SageMyMovies.)
  • No true music visualisations and no support for 3rd party Windows Media Player or WinAmp visualisations, although the new HD300 extender does have a new visualisation, which is better than the stock graphics one you get in the client. While I do miss this, in our house we tend to like watching the pictures screensaver when it comes on anyway, so not a big problem anyway.

Choosing your preferred Media Center Software

Over the next few weeks I intend to post some new articles explaining why I did or did not choose a particular Media Center application, what I think are the good points and bad points and why you should or shouldn't choose one over the other.

The point of these posts isn’t to criticise any of these apps, indeed I think they’re all great in their own way, it’s more a case of fulfilling my own particular needs and hopefully I’ll be able to help others out in the process.

Here’s a list of the posts I’m planning which I’ll update as I post each one:

  • Why I chose not to use SageTV
  • XBMC and its offshoots (Plex, Boxee et al)
  • MediaPortal
  • The enigma that is Windows Media Center
  • Media Center apps that I haven’t already covered

Upgrade time - Quad core!

The Quad core machine todayBack in October of last year I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my main media center PC, I'd been speccing out components for months but since the current PC was working so well I couldn't justify the outlay, however since I was starting to watch HD content and I had a bit of money to spend it seemed like a good opportunity. 

I also decided to get a new case, while I'd been really happy with the Silverstone Lascala LC11 it was limited in that it only took micro-ATX motherboards and didn't have an LCD display on the front, besides I'd totally fallen for the Zalman HD135, which to me looked more like a piece of Hi-Fi equipment than any other HTPC case I'd seen before or since.

I went totally overboard in terms of the specs (my excuse was that it would last a while, but who am I kidding...):

  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Processor
  • ASUS P5K AiLifestyle Series iP35 Socket 775 Motherboard
  • OCZ 2GB Kit (2x1GB) DDR2 800MHz/PC2-6400 x 2 for 4GB total
  • MSI 8600GTS Heatpipe Edition 256MB DVI HDTV PCI-E Graphics Card
  • Seagate ST3160815AS 160GB Hard Drive x 2
  • Hiper 580W Type-R Modular PSU

Including delivery the total came to £643 (the case was another £170 on top of that!).

I arranged for next day delivery and it turned up on the Friday as scheduled, so once the kids were in bed I set about putting it together, this is when the first problem occurred. I'd bought a silent graphics card with heatpipes and without realising it the heatpipes stuck out from the top of the card meaning that it didn't fit in my nice shiny new case and being that this was the first PCI-E based GFX card I'd purchased I didn't have another one with which to get the PC set up with in the meantime. Argh!

I sent ebuyer an email explaining my mistake and they took the card back without any problems, I didn't order a replacement, heck I couldn't wait that long! At the time I was working just around the corner from Tottenham Court Road, so during my lunch on the following Monday I picked up another 8600GTS, I paid a bit more than I would have online but hey, I got it without any delays.

Problem solving So finally on Monday evening I got to put the new beast together and fire her up, unfortunately for me what you dread the most when putting a new machine together is that it actually boots up and in this case it didn't, it powered on and all the fans were running but nothing else, nada. I ended up stripping it all out and starting from scratch and testing each component as best I could in another machine, eventually it turned out to be something really simple, the CPU fan wasn't seated properly! When it finally booted up I can't tell you how relieved I was!

Finally booting and installing the OS

Once it was up and running I decided to leave everything hanging out of the case while I installed the operating system, just in case any more problems arose, it was only when everything was fully installed that I put all the components back in the case.

The machine when it was first installed I put the machine in the equipment rack and connected it all up, downloaded some 1080p test videos and enjoyed the show. I ran a few more tests to see what the quad core could do, specifically I started encoding four mpeg-2 videos to xvid at the same time, in comparison to any of my other machines it chewed through them like a hot knife through butter and I was a rather happy bunny. :-)

Since I built the machine last October I've added a Blu-Ray drive, replaced the GFX card heatsink and fan with a quiet Zalman model, added in a large 12cm fan to increase the airflow through the case and done a few other minor mods to keep the noise down. It now runs whisper quiet, all fans are at their lowest setting and the CPU idles at about 40 degrees, only going up a few degrees when watching HD content.

Here are a few more pictures of the machine and the TV setup in the lounge as it is today, the picture above was taken around October last year when the machine was first built, the two pictures with the machine in pieces were taken in the kitchen when I was building it.

The Quad core today running MediaPortal with the Aeon skin MediaPortal's TV Series plugin MediaPortal's MovingPictures plugin LCD The complete setup as it is today

Building a media server/bedroom HTPC

IMG_4182 After the success of my first file server I thought it was about time to upgrade to something a bit more meaty. The other half had also suggested about having a TV in the bedroom, need I say more... ;-)

As per normal I really didn't want to spend too much money on building this machine, my main criteria was to make sure the cost was no more than buying a standalone TV, at the time (December 2006) the cost of a reasonable 19" TV with a built in freeview tuner was around the £300 mark.

I'd just built a new PC for a friend and luckily for me he said I could keep everything from his old PC, which included a Lian-Li PC60 case, I already had some spare hard drives and a keyboard and mouse lying around as well.

The system didn't need to be particularly meaty, so the following is what I ended up ordering for a total cost of £293.59 including delivery:

  • Belinea 1925S1W 19" Widescreen
  • AMD Sempron 3000+ 64Bit (1.8Ghz) Socket 754 Processor
  • ECS 755-A2 SiS755 SKT 754 motherboard
  • Corsair 512MB DDR 400MHz/PC3200 Memory
  • Microsoft OEM Media Center Remote Control Inc Reciever
  • Hauppauge WinTV-Nova-t PCI Freeview Receiver
  • Belkin G Wireless USB Adapter

The Hauppage card does actually come with its own IR receiver and remote, but I prefer the Microsoft media center ones, mainly because they're USB and can bring the PC out of standby.

When all the bits came I built the machine and also attempted to use MediaPortal's TV Server for the first time, which is a client/server based TV app, unfortunately this was in the reasonably early stages of development at the time and didn't work too well, so I stuck with the standard MediaPortal TV engine.

Once everything was up and running I then wanted to put the machine into the loft and just have the monitor in the bedroom, so that the PC was tucked out of the way and we wouldn't have to put up with the noise. The loft itself didn't have any power points, so I spurred off of a point in the kids bedroom, went through the airing cupboard (which as stated previously in my last post already had cabling running through it) and put in a single socket, which I then plugged in a surge protected 4 socket extension lead.

IMG_4179 The power was now sorted, but I then had to think how I was going to get the cabling from the loft down into the bedroom to the monitor, luckily for me we had yet to decorate (and we still haven't!) so I could afford to be a little messy and then worry about clearing it up at a later date, so I just punched a hole in the ceiling and dropped the required cables through. It doesn't look pretty but it does the job!

I was now able to put the machine in the loft and connect everything up, this is when I realised that perhaps going wireless wasn't such a great idea as I couldn't get a signal with the USB receiver in the loft, so I ended up having to drop this through the ceiling as well using a USB extension cable.

At this point I was able to decommission the old file server and transfer the 2 external hard drives to the new server, re-adjust the sharing folders on the kitchen and lounge media centers and that was it, the new file server/media center was up and running and has been for the last couple of years. It's since been rebuilt and had lots of storage added, but I'll talk about that in a future post, in the meantime here's some more photos of the system.

TV Series Browsing the TV guide Watching TV Music The PC in the loft