Saturday, July 11, 2009

GeekTonic Week in Review – July 11

GeekTonic was back to it’s normal pace with numerous posts this past week.  One of the more popular ones was the interview with SageTV CTO, Jeff Kardatzke, but there was plenty of other good stuff in there as well.

Below is a quick summary of the past week's news and stories on GeekTonic.

Stay tuned for more in-depth content for Media Gadget Fans at

If you’re in to the Twitter thing, be sure and follow me on twitter under the name GeekTonic.  Thanks for Reading GeekTonic!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Deal of the Day - Logitech Harmony 550 Remote $30

Wow, thirty dollars - that's pretty darn cheap for a universal remote control!  I don't really need one, but picked it up anyway.  I'll probably review it and either use it with one of those endless "friends & family" installs I do or give it away on GeekTonic.  Either way, it's worth checking out even though it's a refurb since it regularly sells for $130...

Amazon (affiliate) has the Logitech Harmony 550 Universal Remote Control - Refurbished $30 Free Shipping!


Thanks to andromeda_m31 on Twitter for the tip.

Guide Tool - Easy Guide Management for Windows Media Center

A nice, new Electronic TV Guide management tool was developed by fredx21 (you may know him from the dvblink for HD-PVR) for managing your Windows MediaCenter EPG.


Features Include:

  • Local and remote guide management
  • Channel name and number edition
  • Restoration of previously edited channel names and numbers
  • Modification of channels’ visibility
  • Automated subscribing to guide services (manually, by number or by call-sign)
  • Tuner merge (by channel number, by call-sign or by guide service)
  • DVBLink sources synchronization
  • Listing of tuners providing channel’s sources
  • Generation of lean MXF file (mostly for debugging purpose)
  • More fun stuff to do with your channels


The main Guide Tool window looks like this:

Guide Tool Main Window


The screen-shot below shows the Lineup Selection where you can subscribe channels to any guide services from any lineup available in your MediaCenter region.

Guide Tool Lineup Selection


Finally, this last screen-shot shows the Tuner Merge function where you can merge tuners based on various attributes shared by channels.

Guide Tool Tuner Merge


The program is a nifty tool to move your MediaCenter channels around and changing the listings outside of MediaCenter.  It works with Windows Vista MediaCenter (with TV Pack) and Windows 7 MediaCenter.  The program has two parts including a Guide Tool application and a MediaCenter background add-in that stores all of the tuner and channel info.

For more info and to get the download head over to 1geek1tool


found via GreenButton Forums

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Deal of the Day - SiliconDust HDHR Dual QAM Tuner $122.51 Shipped

My TV favorite tuner of all time, the SiliconDust HDHR Dual QAM tuner is on sale at Amazon/AntOnline(affiliate) for $122.51 Shipped.  This is the cheapest I've ever seen the HDHR so this might be a good time to pick one up if you're in the market for one.

SiliconDust HDHR-US HDHomeRun Networked Digital TV Tuner $122.51

I own 2 of these which give me 4 independent QAM HD tuners (can also be used for OTA HD) with no need for open PCI slots!  I really love this device and highly recommend it.

Thanks to Peter for the Tip!


The HDHomeRun works with the following Software:

  • Windows Media Center:
    • MCE 2005
    • Vista MCE
    • Windows 7 Media Center
  • SageTV - HTPC software for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Home Server, Mac & Linux
  • SnapStream BeyondTV - DVR for Windows
  • Elgato EyeTV - DVR for Mac
  • MythTV - DVR for Linux
  • MediaPortal - DVR for Windows
  • GB-PVR - DVR for Windows
  • VLC - Multi-platform media viewer
  • TSReader - MPEG-2 transport stream analysis

To check which channels are available to you through clear QAM, check out SiliconDusts Clear QAM database by imputing your zip-code and selecting your cable provider.

If you want to research the HDHR a little more before buying check out my review of the device from over a year ago

Windows 7 Preorder Deal - Ends Saturday

If you think you might need a Windows 7 upgrade and you live in the U.S. or Canada I have a low-risk deal for you.  Through Saturday, July 11th you can get up to 50% off on your Windows 7 upgrade.  I would pre-order through Amazon (affiliate) so that you can get in on the deal.  Then if you change your mind or you see a better deal before Windows 7 ships (October 22nd) you can always cancel the order.  After July 11th it reportedly goes up to full price so don't wait.

Amazon U.S. Windows 7 Upgrade Pricing (50% Off Preorder):

Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade  $49.99

Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Upgrade $99.99


Rumors of "Family Pricing" could mean you could get a better deal if you need multiple upgrades, but as I said you can always cancel your pre-order once those details surface.

Upgrading from Windows XP?

Oh, by the way I read yesterday at Maximum PC that if you're upgrading from Windows XP like I will be on one machine - remember that you have to do a clean install.  In other words you can't take all of your settings and installed programs and "upgrade" that information into Windows 7.  You basically start from scratch and will need to reinstall all programs and re-set settings.  Honestly this isn't a terrible thing as this is something I would recommend on a new OS install/upgrade anyway, but definitely something to keep in mind.

MeediOS Gets Three New Themes

MeediOS, the new open source HTPC program inspired by the old Meedio program has a few new themes to show off.  MeediOS is currently in Alpha and making great strides.


Evolution MeediOS theme

This is a new theme created by Duncan Harris and inspired by the XBMC AEON theme (not a direct port).

MeediOS Evolution Theme


Main Menu:

MeediOS Evolution Theme 2


HDeeTV Theme

This is the HDeeTV MeediOS theme ported from the older Meedio program

MeediOS HDeeTV Theme


Vintage Theme

Finally, this is the Vintage MeediOS theme ported from the older Meedio programMeediOS Vintage Theme


The MeediOS team seems to be making some nice progress.  It's on my list of HTPC programs to watch in the future - especially since it was Meedio that I first used for HTPC back in the day.

Read more about the new themes and MeediOS at the MeediOS blog

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Kindle 2 Price Drops to $299 & Drops the 2 from Name

If you've been holding out for the Kindle 2 for a little lower price you're in luck.  I paid $359 when the Kindle 2 first came out and my biggest negative in the GeekTonic Kindle 2 Review was the high price.  Since then the price has dropped twice and is now down to $299 with free shipping!  Still expensive, but so much better than before.

Also of note, Amazon dropped the "2" changing the name from the Kindle 2 to the Kindle 6".  I would imagine that the name change is just to signify that this version of the Kindle is the flagship with the KindleDX being the more specialized version.

You can get the Kindle from Amazon (affiliate) with this link Kindle: Amazon's 6 $299 with free shipping


Kindle DX price remains

NOTE:  The Kindle DX 9.7 remains  $489 which to me is WAY too much especially with the Kindle 6" down to $299...


More Kindle 2 Writings:

Kindle 2 Shortcuts, Tips, and Tricks

GeekTonic Kindle 2 Comprehensive Review 

The Non-Geek Tonic Kindle 2 review companion piece by my wife, Shelly

Kindle 2 Photos, Unboxing Video and 1st Impressions

Kindle 2 Text-To-Speech in Action - Video

GeekTonic on Kindle Chronicles Podcast

Deal of the Day - Hitachi 1TB Drive $70

If you're looking for an inexpensive 1TB drive, check out this Hitachi 1TB Hard Drive at Amazon (affiliate):

Hitachi 1 TB 16MB 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive  $70.67 with free shipping

The best deals on the 1TB drives seen to be in this range so $70 is about the sweet spot for purchase NewEgg's price for the same drive is $80.

Another Reason I Like Netflix

When I returned from a short vacation recently I had two Blu-ray's waiting for me from Netflix.  At first I though there had been a mistake or I somehow accidentally switched my Netflix subscription from one-out-at-a-time to two.  What I learned was it was just a little "bonus" from Netflix!

Here's what my queue showed for DVDs At Home:

Netflix Why do you have an extra DVD?

Now since I had been on vacation I didn't really realize my movie had been delayed, but it seems the policy for Netflix is to sometime send the next movie in the queue if the delivery of the top one will be delivered from a farther delivery point.


I did a little more searching and realized I had received this e-mail explaining all of this from Netflix:

Netflix E-Mail

HackingNetflix explained this policy on their blog and I had just missed the fact that Netflix was doing this - probably because it hadn't ever happened to me.

Really a nice little extra from Netflix.  I remember the day when it used to take 3 or 4 days to receive a disk so now that I receive it in one day I have to say I really love the service.  And I'm watching a lot of Blu-Rays these days streamed from my HTPC server to my SageTV HD200 extenders which makes renting a really nice, easy solution.

By the way, if you happen to go on vacation and are a Netflix subscriber - don't do what I did this time.  Instead put your Netflix service "on vacation" and save yourself some money.

SageTV Developing Effortless Linux Media Server on Flash Drive

USB Flash Drive

One of the more complicated things about setting up a Home Theater PC (HTPC) is the process of setting up the HTPC server.  Getting all the drivers, firewire setup and even the installation of the HTPC software itself can be daunting especially when you account for making everything work with the multitude of hardware configurations and operating system issues. 

SageTV is working on a solution for this problem that eliminates nearly all of that headache and makes the installation and setup as easy as booting from a USB drive.  You supply the computer and hardware and this product handles most of the setup.


Coming Soon: The SageTV Linux Media Server

In an interview GeekTonic had with Jeff Kardatzke, CTO of SageTV we learned of a new product coming soon - for now we'll call it the "SageTV Linux Media Server."  Basically it involves a USB flash drive that contains a complete "image" of the server software and all the drivers and programs needed to run a computer as a full-fledged HTPC server.  When I asked Kardatzke about availability he said this:

"we’re working on it [SageTV Linux Server] now so within a few months hopefully."

Kardatzke went on to say it should enter beta sometime in the next few months so it should be available for sale at some point after that.

SageTV Server With Everything "Built-In"

The SageTV Linux Media Server is designed to be used as with a "headless" (without TV/monitor) server.  So basically you would take a computer with all of its hardware installed, plug in the USB flash drive into the computer and boot the computer with that flash drive.  It boots up into SageTV and you already have your HTPC software there along with everything you need to make it work.  Also included is the ability to connect with Placeshifter, have all drives formatted into a raid array etc.

No Cost for Operating System

Since it will use Linux, there's no cost for the operating system either - and you really don't need much (if any) knowledge of Linux to run it either since everything is set up and handled by the USB drive.  Even better you won't need to use up hard drive space for the operating system so those hard drives will be free for storing and serving your media.

Hardware Support Should be Flexible

The Linux Media Server is being designed to accommodate as many hardware devices and configurations as possible.  Mr. Kardatzke said this to say about hardware support:

"It's going to be very flexible with regards to the hardware.  Pretty much any motherboards that work with Linux will work with it... we’re using the latest drivers on everything. So the only limitation is that the hardware has to work on Linux which is pretty open in terms of motherboards, hard drives, usb drives etc. The capture devices will definitely be limited somewhat, but the most popular ones such as the SiliconDust HDHomeRun, Hauppauge products and other tuners as well will all be supported."

Unanswered Questions about this are many as it isn't even in beta yet.  Here's a few of those questions:

  • How much will it cost?
  • What Linux Distro does it use as a base?
  • When?
  • Will commercial detection work?

Commercial Detection in Linux - How To

Regarding the commercial detection I asked a seasoned SageTV user "bcjenkins" who uses Linux with SageTV how he does it.  Here's how he handles commercial detection with the current Linux version of SageTV:

  1. Install Wine
  2. Install Comskip by decompressing zip file
  3. Run my comchecker script

I use it to process mpeg-2 files with no issue. I haven't tried with H264 in a long while, but could revisit again.  He said that he would upload the script to the SageTV downloads section and it's also available here

Not sure at this point what setup will be involved for commercial detection or if it might somehow be worked into the install, but it looks like it is certainly possible. 


Overall I'm very intrigued by the concept of the "server on a stick."  I think it definitely has the potential to make HTPCs more accessible to those who might be willing to try HTPCs, but don't like the hassle or are wary of the computing knowledge required.  The success of such a concept really depends on how effortless it really is.

The Linux Media Server concept would offer an additional solution for new users or existing users who are considering a new server build.  Possibly a good solution for an HTPC enthusiast helping a friend or family member with an install as well.  Bottom line, it's a good thing for the SageTV ecosystem and likely a step further towards plug-n-play HTPC hardware.


Disclaimer:  While all of this article is based on discussions with SageTV, this product has not been released to Beta yet so the details are of course subject to change.


Stay tuned to GeekTonic for more in-depth and informative articles and news about Media Gadgets, HTPCs and SageTV.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Pandora Now Safe - Some Cost Involved

Pandora Logo

The popular Internet radio provider, Pandora made a deal announced today where webcasters will get a "alternative set of rates and terms" from SoundExchange, the group who manages performers' royalties in the U.S.  This should put Pandora and other online radio providers in a much better survival position going forward.


Pandora was fighting crazy royalty rates where they would have to give up most of their revenue to royalties before, but now will pay about 25% of its revenue based on the new agreement.

Users of the free, ad-supported version of Pandora are now limited to 40 hours per month, but if those 40 hours are exceeded in a month users would have to pay $.99 to continue using Pandora through the end of the month.  If you use the paid version of Pandora you of course won't have to pay the $.99 fee.  If you use Pandora much, the "Pandora One" subscription service isn't a bad deal at $36 a year with a desktop app thrown in and this $.99 fee makes that even more attractive.

Seems like mostly a good deal for Pandora and even for Pandora users, but I fear it will cause Pandora to be more locked down and therefor some of the Pandora apps out there might run into more trouble making applications work with Pandora - we'll just have to see that one out.  Such is life with the current state of online media though.


via Gizmodo

VideoLan VLC 1.0.0 Arrives

VLC Logo

My very favorite non-HTPC media player released version 1.0.0 this week and includes some great new features.  If you're looking for a media player that can handle about any file you throw at it and is free, look no further than VLC.

ScreenShot of VLC Playing Dollhouse


New features include:

Major New Features:

  • AirTunes Streaming
  • Video Scaling in fullscreen
  • Frame-by-Frame support
  • More exact speed controls
  • Zipped file playback
  • Customizable toolbars
  • EXPERIMENTAL work for the winCE port has been done.

Playback Features:

  • Instantaneous pausing
  • Frame-by-Frame playback
  • Finer speed control
  • Live, on-the-fly recording for all medias
  • Timeshift for most medias
  • RTSP trickplay support
  • Subtitles core improvements and fixes

Decoders Added/Improved:

  • AES3 (SMPTE 302M) decoder
  • Dolby Digital Plus - E-AC-3 (A/52b) decoder
  • True HD/MLP decoder and parser
  • Blu-Ray Linear PCM decoder
  • QCELP (Qualcomm PureVoice) decoder
  • Improved Real Video 3.0 & 4.0 decoder
  • WMA v1/2 fixed point integer decoder
  • Closed Captions using the SCTE-20 standard are now correctly decoded
  • Improvement of WavPack decoder to support all integer modes and float mode
  • Corrections on 5.1 and 7.1 channel decoding and ordering


  • Support for Dirac, MLP and RealVideo in Matroska files
  • Major improvements in RealMedia files opening (.rm and .rmvb)
  • Improvements of the TS demuxer for M2TS files from Blu-Ray and AVCHD
  • Metadata for mod files are supported
  • GSM codecs in Wav files are supported
  • New raw audio demuxer supporting raw PCM streams
  • New Dirac demuxer for raw Dirac streams


  • Playback for video in uncompressed multi-RAR archives
  • DVB-S and ATSC cards support on Windows
  • EXPERIMENTAL Blu-Ray Disc and AVCHD Folders support
  • On-the-fly zip file decompression and browsing (MRL of the form
       zip://!/file.avi to specify the file - the development form of
       zip://|file.avi is not supported anymore)
  • CD-Text support on the cdda module (CD-Audio)


  • Export the playlist in HTML
  • Lua script for BBC radio playback
  • Better metadata handling and reading

Read about the VLC 1.0.0 release and get your download at

SciFi Channel Becomes Syfy with Warehouse 13 Premiere

SyFy Logo

Well the time has come for us to put up with the silly SyFy name instead of SciFi.  I was kind of confused by the need to change their name and sort of afraid they were trying to get away from science fiction.  But that wasn't the reason apparently.  According to an article in the Chicago Tribune the reason had to do with licensing:

And the name Sci Fi -- which also applies to an entire genre of film, books and other forms of media -- wasn't something the network could trademark.

So it appears this is about the money - licensing of SyFy branded media, items etc.  I guess I don't care that much about the name change as long as they continue the scifi shows.

Speaking of SciFi shows, the SyFy networks premiered the new Warehouse 13 this week which looks promising.  I haven't watched it yet, but plan to at least check it out.  Early reviews have been mostly good so I'm hoping it will be worth watching.

Warehouse 13

It seems to be a little Eureka with a little X-Files.  I'm liking the idea of lots of mythical and mystical gadgets that lead to promising new stories.  Check it out as it airs a LOT on SyFy this week.

Interview with Jeff Kardatzke CTO and Founder of SageTV - Part 2

 Jeff Kardatzke SageTV InterviewSageTV Logo

This is part 2 of the Jeff Kardatzke, SageTV interview, you will find Part 1 of the interview here.


I recently had the opportunity to spend an hour discussing SageTV and Home Theater PCs with Jeff Kardatzke, the CTO and co-founder of HTPC company, SageTV.  In preparation for the interview I polled SageTV users and Twitter users alike for things they would like to know about the goings on at SageTV.  I took many of those questions as well as some of my own and the result was some very interesting insight into the past, present and future of SageTV the product and company. 


The interview was a long one and talked about many interesting things related to SageTV and HTPCs.  Things like:

  • What is the status of Hulu in SageTV?  What about other Online Content?
  • What's next for SageTV?  Version 7 talk included
  • Wireless N coming soon at a SageTV HD Theater
  • Blu-Ray support on the SageTV HD Theater
  • The User Interface - What plans does SageTV have to refresh the SageTV UI?
  • A promising, new product coming soon to make setting up a HTPC server easier

Read on for that as well as other items of interest for Home Theater PC fans and especially SageTV users.

Online Video and Radio - The Hulu Question.  Online Radio Possibly Coming:

Brent: Moving on to Online Video/Radio, SageTV was one of the first HTPC programs to add online video to its product - you can browse and view YouTube, Google Video, podcasts and other content right within SageTV now.  But there are some very popular types of online content you cannot currently get from within SageTV without 3rd party plugins and extra setup.  How important do you see the role of online video and audio content support for SageTV now and in the future.

Jeff:  "It’s definitely important, but it’s something you have to be careful with in terms of what you try to promise there.  A lot of this online content delivery is going to change and be restricted as time goes on."

Brent: I know you demo'd Hulu playback within SageTV earlier this year at CES. Has the built-in Hulu playback been shelved for SageTV since the Boxee/Hulu war broke out?

Jeff:  "We are hoping there is some way to deliver Hulu content but we haven’t found a way to do it reliably and are not sure Hulu would support that."

EDITORS NOTE:  I got a clear indication that SageTV has stopped development on Hulu for the time being and it seems (my speculation) directly related to what happened with Boxee.  They left the door open that someday it might be added back, but for now don't expect anything further in my opinion.  Almost to further enforce SageTV's reasoning on this topic, Hulu blocked Playstation 3 Hulu playback after this interview took place - much like Hulu did on Boxee.

Brent: I know Netflix for instance has looked at putting their movie/tv streaming software on more and more consumer electric devices. Is Netflix Watch-Instantly, Amazon Online, Pandora, Slacker or any other popular online content providers possibilities?

Jeff:  "Yes we’re looking into some of that. Certain ones involve DRM (Digital Rights Management) which changes how some of this stuff would need to work possibly. The online radio we’re definitely looking into that more to add some of that at some point later this year.  We would start with some of the free stuff"

DRM, The move from Analog to Digital and More

Brent: You mentioned DRM (Digital Rights Management) - I'm not sure, but I think the hardware inside HD100 and HD200 can't handle DRM, is that a conscious decision to not handle or support DRM playback?

Jeff:  "Actually those boxes can do DRM since they have security processors in them. At some points along the way it has been a conscious choice and at other points it’s just been better for our consumers to avoid DRM in those ways. We try to empower the consumer to get access to their purchased media collection and when you have DRM involved there’s so much more complication you can create a lot of dissatisfaction from your customers... When we add that kind of stuff into the product, we need to do it in a way that doesn’t cause issues like this for our customers – because we don’t want people to have a negative experience and that in many cases is what DRM has caused... That being said we do respect DRM and copywrite law of course."

Brent: With the move towards digital from analog on CableTV networks like Comcast for instance are limiting HTPCs in a way that forces us to use QAM tuners or Hauppauge HD-PVRs to tune and record non-analog and encrypted content.  Microsoft's solution was the Microsoft MediaCenter CableCard although this solution limits you in many ways as well.  How does this move to digital affect SageTV in the long-term. Are there any possible solutions to make this easier for the end-user?

Jeff:  "I’m not sure what’s going to be happening in that area. CableCard is a tricky thing and can be quite costly. It's also not easy or cheap to do so it requires a company with pretty deep pockets like Microsoft to do that. "

"While we are always looking for more ways to solve this problem, the Hauppauge HD-PVR has been working as a good solution for many people – some have had some problems, but there are a lot of customers very happy using it – I use it myself and don’t have any problems. That is really the Hi-def recording solution now. When you take the Hauppauge HD-PVR Combined with what is available on clear QAM it usually works very well. But of course the QAM stuff is changing. It’s almost like the old days when everything was done with a PVR 150 or 250 recording off of the cable box. "

Brent: I use the Hauppauge HD-PVR and it’s taken me a little time to get it working just right and part of that was getting FireWire for channel changing set up.  It's an excellent solution with lots of flexibility, but its definitely more difficult to set up.

Jeff:  "Is the FireWire something that made it difficult?  Windows doesn't "like" FireWire but it is possible.  I should mention that the Linux Media Server coming soon will have FireWire support built into it.  Also we’ve re-written the IR blaster on Linux for it and that works better than the windows blaster software. When you do have FireWire working to change channels with the HD-PVRs it does work really well."

EDITORS NOTE:  I am using the Hauppauge HD-PVR to tune all digital content (including encrypted ones) and it has been working great.  I think some of the more recent updates to SageTV software, updates to the Hauppauge HD-PVR firmware and especially firewire for channel changing has made it mostly rock-solid.  As I alluded to, firewire was a pain to setup though - I'll have a post on how I did it in the future.

SageTV User Interface - What's Next?

Brent: You mentioned "User Interface" earlier and I wanted to touch on it a little more. As I was preparing for this interview I asked for suggested questions at the SageTV forums and you know what the most popular question was?  “What are you going to do with the UI?” was by far the one that nearly everyone wanted to know.  So what are your plans/thoughts for changing the SageTV UI to compete with other HTPC's flashy UI's?

Jeff:  "Why doesn’t everyone just go and use Studio and make their own UI?   Just kidding of course…  SageTV Studio does give you that ability but we are working on improving the UI look, feel and usability."

EDITORS NOTE:  For those that don't know already, I want to point out that there are certainly many UI choices available for SageTV today - and that is what Jeff was referring to above.  The SageTV Studio program built-in to SageTV allows developers to modify the UI and functionally in many ways and several add-ons do this already today such as Sage Movie Wall and SageMC.  But of course everyone wants to know what the main software, SageTV will do for UI going forward:

Jeff:  "We are definitely looking into addressing a lot of the concerns in the UI.  So many times I wonder, “what do people actually want?”  The current UI is very powerful and can do a lot of stuff really well. Yeah it’s not as flashy as Windows Media Center but that also is a very unfair comparison. Because Windows Media Center - especially Windows 7 Media Center runs on a Windows 7 box or Vista Box that has to be how powerful?  Compared to what has to run on the HD200 that has a 300 Mhz processor on it – not 3 Ghz, but 300 Mhz and uses a fraction of the power a PC uses."

"The media extender mode has similar stuff where you have a server serving multiple clients/extenders simultaneously doing all of that work. So if we have to make more limitations maybe.  We don’t have 3D graphics processors in these HD200s, we do have hardware accelerations, but its 2D not 3D.  That’s a limitation we have to deal with that they don’t.  And that’s one of the things that we know we can’t go as far as they’ve gone, but we can definitely do more as we’ve seen with SageMC – SageMC runs on the HD200 just as well and has different effects on it.  But a lot of it is trying to figure out what really is everyone looking for."

"Also we want retain the things we like about the current UI in that transition. Some of that stuff we do know what people want, but other things we’re still trying to understand."

Brent: What I think a lot of people are looking for is an updated look and feel - something that significantly updates the UI, but keeps much of the powerful function in the current UI. That’s difficult to define in a conversation, but I think it is mostly what people are looking for. 

EDITORS NOTE:  I'll be walking through the UI discussion in more detail in future posts on GeekTonic with the hope that we'll see a lot of feedback from readers and provide some definite focus and suggestions to the SageTV team.

In the conversation, I definitely got the point that Jeff and therefore SageTV the company really does want to understand the main things that would make people happier with the user interface.


Easier Plugin Installation - Integration of Popular Plugins into Core:

Brent: One of the things I liked from the Meedio HTPC program I used years ago was a plugin manager that gave the user a list of plugins right from the UI. You could view the plugins, preview the plugins and download and install right from the UI. Is that something you’ve looked at?

Jeff:  "Yes we have, but there’s a fear associated with that. That if we give access to plugins that readily people will use them right away and they will create stability issues for themselves and in the end create a poor user experience. And I’ll tell you why I think that, Pablo from Meedio told me that was the biggest problem they had. Many of their problems was that feature."

"It’s a warning – you have to be careful there. If you make that stuff readily available you’re going to have to support it. And we can’t support everyone's plugins. We write all of our own code and deal with that. To support everyone else's code that they write – not always with the same level of standards (now some with no question write very good code, but some write it up and never support it again.)"

Brent: Maybe a simple installer as an alternative.

Jeff:  "There have been some developers in the community who have approached me about that...  there is some work in that area so there could possibly be something like that in the future"

Brent: There’s a lot of really good customizations available for SageTV.  Certain of these always I recommend as must-install plugins like the webserver. Has there been any thought of borrowing from those concepts and building into the core or getting permission to include in the SageTV core to make the install easier and better.

Jeff:  "We’ve looked into some of that.  We have to be mindful that once we integrate something like that we have to support, bug any code etc. Some of the stuff that’s written well and contained like Nielm’s webserver for example.  There’s also some GPL distribution issues where developers use code we can’t use, but mostly it’s maintenance as the problem we run into"

Brent: For international EPGs a 3rd party guide is used mostly. Have you looked into including any international EPGs into the software?

Jeff:  "Yes we have - unfortunately they are extremely expensive; we’re not planning on integrating with EPG servers outside of US and Canada. But we do have support for extracting EPG data from DVB-TS MC signals so depending on the country your in – like Sweden they have 2 weeks of the data in the stream. And that’s becoming more commonplace. Hopefully that’s going to be a trend worldwide and that will become less of an issue."


About Jeff's Home SageTV Setup:

Brent: A couple of quick questions about you. It sounds like you use SageTV in your home?

Jeff:  "I’ve been using SageTV in my home since 2001 - even before it was SageTV. And here’s the other thing - do you know who the first alpha tester was? It was my fiancé and we’re still together after that."

Brent: Now that’s true WAF (wife-acceptance factor) in play there.  So what is your most used SageTV feature beyond for testing?  Do you use SageTV to listen to music, movies or some other way?

Jeff:  "Watching TV is the most used feature...  I also use SageTV for music, movies etc. of course."

Brent: On your main setup how many tuners do you use & which ones?  How much disk storage?

Jeff: "I have a four-tuner system on the Linux usb raid-5 server. 2 HD-PVRs and 1 HDHR so all external. Raid 5 for the storage with 1.5 Terabytes and another array with 0.75 of a TB so 2.25 TB total."

Brent: Have you ever used the SageMC add-on?

Jeff:  "Yes, I used it for a couple of months. Because of testing for the default SageTV I can’t use it full-time."


In closing Jeff reiterated that SageTV "loves their users" and "keeping those customers" is extremely important.  I think for a small company, the people at SageTV work hard to meet their customers needs and wants and that's one of the really special things about their software and company.  Yes they do have limits on what they can or cannot do as all companies do, but their responsiveness to fixing/improving things and adding requested features on a regular basis is something you just don't see often with their competitors.

I want to extend my sincere thanks to Jeff for taking time to share with me and all GeekTonic readers - it is very appreciated.  And thanks to the folks on the SageTV forums and twitter for giving me many great questions to ask Jeff.


I'll be discussing/addressing many of the new features, news, UI discussion and other topics raised by this interview in the coming days at GeekTonic so be sure and subscribe so you don't miss anything.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Deal of the Day - Logitech Harmony 890 $99.99


One of my favorite Universal Remote Controls is on sale at Amazon (affiliate).  The RF version of the Logitech Harmony is selling for $99.99 with free shipping.  It's a refurbished one, but hard to argue with the price.

Logitech Harmony 890 Remote Control - Refurbished $99.99 free shipping!

Interview with Jeff Kardatzke CTO and Founder of SageTV

 Jeff Kardatzke SageTV InterviewSageTV Logo
I recently had the opportunity to spend an hour discussing SageTV and Home Theater PCs with Jeff Kardatzke, the CTO and co-founder of HTPC company, SageTV.  In preparation for the interview I polled SageTV users and Twitter users alike for things they would like to know about the goings on at SageTV.  I took many of those questions as well as some of my own and the result was some very interesting insight into the past, present and future of SageTV the product and company. 

The interview was a long one and talked about many interesting things related to SageTV and HTPCs.  Things like:

  • What is the status of Hulu in SageTV?  What about other Online Content?
  • What's next for SageTV?  Version 7 talk included.
  • Wireless N coming soon at a SageTV HD Theater?
  • Blu-Ray support on the SageTV HD Theater
  • The User Interface - What plans does SageTV have to refresh the SageTV UI?
  • A promising, new product coming soon to make setting up a HTPC server easier

Read on for that as well as other items of interest for Home Theater PC fans and especially SageTV users.
NOTE:  Because of the length of this post the interview has been broken up into a part 1 and part 2

The Birth of SageTV - History

Brent:  I thought we could start off with you talking a little about the history of SageTV to help get a feel for where the popular Home Theater PC (HTPC) program we know as SageTV came from?

Jeff: "Before SageTV I worked at a company called where we did a lot of video capture work.  That job gave me experience with video recording and TV capture cards.  I left that company and started working on the beginnings of SageTV software program back in the Fall of 2001.

"I wanted to start my own business so I decided to to build my own DVR system.  So using ATI All-In-One capture cards I wrote an application called "TV Master" which was my first one – a really simple DVR application.  After working on it for a while I realized this concept was something that could be pretty powerful.  I took it to CES in January of 2002 and received positive feedback."

"In early 2002 my brother (Dan Kardatzke) joined me as a co-founder of the company in early 2002 and we incorporated in the Spring of 2002 as Frey Technologies LLC.  I wrote the first version of SageTV which was released in March 2003.  From there the company grew, added a bunch of employees and an investors.  Over time we added the client, extenders, placeshifter, a Mac version, online videos – all the features you've seen added to SageTV over the years...."

Jeff went on to explain that SageTV has been his full-time job for the past seven-plus years.  His brother Dan moved back into the finance industry a few years ago and Mike Machado became the CEO at that point and continues as the CEO today.

Brent:  Have you ever considered exploring other business somehow related to HTPC - similar to the way Snapstream did with their enterprise product?

Jeff:  "Yes we have explored some other markets like this but our core business has been and continues to be the home media experience."

Focus is on Home User - And Evolving to Decrease Setup Complexity

Brent:  You mentioned SageTV's focus on the “home experience.” Based on that, what is your vision for HTPCs and SageTV?

Jeff: "We see SageTV as “the” solid solution for distributing your digital media around the house as well as PVR.  A lot of people want to have their digital music, pictures, videos, DVD, Blu-ray and all of their TV content in one location and want to have access to all TVs in their house as well as remote access to remote PCs. And that’s really what we’re more committed to - that and making that solution even easier to obtain."

Jeff talked about how the SageTV extenders have made the setup and use of SageTV easier and more trouble-free.  All of these things have translated into happier SageTV users while making the process of adopting SageTV as the home media device of choice in their homes an easier process.  The main thing remaining that can be difficult for the new HTPC user is the process of setting up the "server" computer - the computer that records the TV and typically stores the media being served to the various HTPC extenders or "client" computers.

"A lot of people have SageTV systems that are really cool, their friends see the setup and want to do the same thing at their house, but trying to build one for themselves might be too much of a task for them.  Some people might run into configuration and setup issues as HTPC setup is semi-complex no question about it.  So we at SageTV are working to simplify those things – making them easier and also come out with a solid, easy install-and-run server platform as well.  Doing these things will solve the "how do I set up a good SageTV server" problem some new users run into. Because the best solution that SageTV has is the solid server and the media extenders. The customers that have that kind of setup are the happiest customers because it’s a very solid and reliable system."

Later on in our conversation Jeff went into a little more detail about how they intend to make the process of "setting up the SageTV server" easier.  It is obvious, the guys at SageTV are working to take those things that make HTPCs complicated and make them easier and less work.

Brent: Who do you consider your target market? In the past the target market has been the more technically inclined people - many with programming or computer backgrounds etc – is that still who you see as your main target market or are you trying to move SageTV towards a wider acceptance to more mainstream consumers?

Jeff: "We definitely are trying to expand our market to more mainstream consumers.  On the forums you'll hear a lot of people that have SageTV servers and say oh yeah I built one for my parents or cousin or friends. And yes if everyone had a friend who could build them a SageTV server, then they are happy when using it after its done.  But for those that don't have that person to do all of the setup for them?  That's where we think we can improve the process."

"So by simplifying that part of the process we can sell what essentially are appliances for home entertainment.  This would enable us to expand the market from something that is currently relegated to those willing to take on the setup of a full-blown Home Theater PC to someone who needs more of a powerful plug-in-and-go system.  We want to help make HTPC and whole home entertainment setup as easy as a DVD Player."

SageTV Linux Media Server

Brent: Can you tell me a little more about this "server" concept ?  Are you talking about some sort of disk image process or something else?

Jeff: "A little different than that. It’s actually a USB drive that contains an "image" of the server software.  You plug in the USB drive and the computer boots from that usb drive right into the SageTV server.  Without any additional installation, the SageTV server is there with everything set up for you.  Built-in is SageTV, the ability to connect to placeshifter, media extender web browser - most of the components you'd put on your HTPC server.  It includes the ability for all hard drives to be formatted into a raid array and is designed to work as a "headless server" not for straight video playback, but instead would function solely as a HTPC server to serve the content to the HTPC extenders and client computers."

"Another advantage is that it runs Linux which is a free operating system so you just pay for the software itself.  Since it's using all the drives to format the raid partitions it doesn’t waste a drive on the Operating System."

Brent:  This SageTV Linux Media Server sounds pretty interesting.  So do you have a rough timeline of when it might become available?
Jeff:  "Yes we’re working on it now so within a few months hopefully.  This product would essentially allow people to run the same server that I’m running at home and the same server our employees are using as well.  With this SageTV Linux Media Server you would be using the same drivers and same configuration – most everything will be the same. The lineups and devices will be different of course, but generally it should be the same versions of things so it should be very consistent and solid."
Brent:  With this SageTV Linux Media Server would you be limited by a certain set of hardware configurations? 
Jeff:  "It's going to be very flexible with regards to the hardware.  Pretty much any motherboards that work with Linux will work with it... we’re using the latest drivers on everything. So the only limitation is that the hardware has to work on Linux which is pretty open in terms of motherboards, hard drives, usb drives etc. The capture devices will definitely be limited somewhat, but the most popular ones such as the SiliconDust HDHomeRun, Hauppauge products and other tuners as well will all be supported."

Talk of The Next Version of SageTV - SageTV 7 - and the plan for SageTV 6

Brent:  I know currently SageTV is on version 6 of the software.  Are there any plans for SageTV 7?
Jeff:  "The next really big update to SageTV we will have will be SageTV7.  We don't have a final list of features or anything like that, but we know everyone wants the main update to be the user interface. That’s something we’ve been talking about for a while.  We've had a bunch of designs tossed around and we don’t have anything finalized yet, but it is something that has been in-process for a while."

Jeff went on to talk about the current focus - for SageTV 6:

Jeff:  "What we decided to focus on more for the current version of SageTV (SageTV 6) is reliability, fixing and cleaning up things in the software.  We're trying to focus on any little things that are not necessarily right or little issues you could run into during setup are all things we want to take care of now and make this version as solid as possible.  For instance, you might have noticed recently things like:

  • system messaging stuff we added,
  • the complete re-write of channel setup
You'll notice that these types of things have been added to the beta in the past couple of weeks while we really focus a great deal on improving stability in those areas.  This is so we can get to that point where it this version is consistently solid and everything works perfect.  We want to get to the point where you could hypothetically take a baseball bat to one of your tuners, remove that tuner and easily recover by dropping in a new tuner and everything just works."

Extenders - An Important Component to the HTPC

Brent: The third party companies that make Microsoft MediaCenter extenders seem to be ending production of those extenders leaving Microsoft MediaCenter users with only one option for extenders, the Xbox 360.  I'm curious about your thoughts on that development.

Jeff:  "I'm curious about what Microsoft is doing there.  It could be they called it off themselves and are just promoting their Xbox 360 or (this is complete speculation of course) they might have a new version of the Xbox 360 that is slimmed down and has more of an HTPC extender focus.... I'm just guessing there though."

"It could also be they weren't selling enough extenders but I don't know their numbers either.  I do know many weren't really excited about the MediaCenter extenders in comparison with ours (SageTV HD200 and HD100) in terms of performance, User Interface and just doing the device correctly...  Anyone who has used the SageTV HD200 extenders will notice that they are nearly as fast as a computer - something that compares well against the 3rd party MediaCenter extenders"

Brent:  Do sales of the SageTV extenders help SageTV the company directly or only by making more SageTV software sales?

Jeff:  "Both products help each other and even more importantly, that customer is much happier with the extenders compared to computer-client users overall so we’re giving them more of what they want."

Brent: so are there any plans for new versions of extenders?

Jeff: "There are always new versions of chip-sets (hardware used inside the extender/players) that we look at. We are looking at having another extender version at some point in the future – there’s nothing set in stone about when its going to be available or even what exactly it is yet as there are a few different options. The HD200 has a good amount of life left in it and we’re getting more SageTV HD200’s in stock so definitely not running out.  We are not planning to deplete our inventory or anything like that."

Wireless N coming to SageTV HD Theater (HD200)

As we discussed the SageTV HD Theater Jeff dropped a new feature surprise on me - something that has been missing from the HD extenders that should be a very welcome new feature:

Jeff:  "So one of the things you’ll be seeing soon on the SageTV HD Theater (HD200) is Wireless N support - I was using this actually yesterday myself. The current beta program will finish up to release first and then another beta will come out shortly afterwards with wireless support."

I took this to mean support on the HD200's with a wireless-N USB dongle much like you see available for the PopcornHour devices.


Blu Ray Support on the HD Theater and other HD Extender Topics

Brent: One other thing I’ve just started using is the Blu-ray support on the HD200.  The SageTV HD Theater (HD200) can play back movies from Blu-ray disks (streamed from the server Blu-ray player to the extenders) as well as from Blu-ray disks "ripped" to the server hard drive and streamed to the extenders which is really nice.  Is SageTV adding anything for Blu-ray full menus or full-HD audio playback?
Jeff:  "We’re looking at doing more with the Blu-ray menus etc. but it’s further down the road because doing this is not trivial – not as easy as with DVD and information is not as readily available either.  We are going to look at adding bluray playback on clients (HTPC clients are like softsled or "computer-based extenders") like we already have on extenders, but its more difficult on the clients due to different hardware from computer to computer. Whereas the HD200 does it all for you and it does it pretty well."
"This (Blu-ray support) is something I would like to see brought up soon in reviews – the fact that SageTV can stream blu-rays at 50 mbps-plus from a NAS (Network Attached Storage Device) where aother media players like the PopcornHour can’t break mid-30’s. We’ve done a lot of work on our HD200 to get it to really stream stuff at higher bitrates from NAS devices in terms of the blu-ray stuff.  Right now on the HD200s we support all audio formats. DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD we can break it down to the 5.1 audio version and we pass that through."

HD Audio on the SageTV HD Theater

Brent:  Is the need to convert the HD Audio down to 5.1 a hardware limitation on the HD200's?

Jeff:  "Yes it's a hardware limitation as the HD200 does not have HDMI 1.3 so it cannot pass through DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD without "downing" it to 5.1. Of course unless you have those extra speakers it isn't going to matter to you. And even then its not going to matter that much."

Brent:  Has there been any consideration for developing for third party players for use as SageTV extenders?  Something like you did years ago with the Hauppauge MediaMVP for instance?

Jeff:  "Not really because such a device wouldn’t be able to run our media extender clients effectively without us supporting the whole thing to run on their box.  That would cannibalize our own hardware and add to the devices we would have to maintain."

Brent:  At CES a few years back a Blu-ray player with SageTV “embedded" on the device was spotted.  Can you explain what exactly that was?

Jeff:  "We worked together with Pioneer and DishNetwork on that. It was a Pioneer Blu-ray player running SageTV software streaming by DLNA and UPnP dtcpip-protected, real-time satellite stream from a DishTV receiver. So the Blu-ray player would connect by UPnP to the DishNetwork box and you could access the entire EPG as well on the Blu-ray player.  It was only a demo for CES and that was that.  We hope satellite and cable operators will support protected streaming of TV from their set-tops."

Brent: Any chance we could see the HD200 get compatibility with other HTPC software like GBPVR, Meedios, Windows MC or something like that

Jeff:  "Well the SageTV HD Theater has playback with Network-Attached Storage Devices or UPnP servers but that's all we support for now.  If someone wants to write an STV (replacement UI) to work with one of those programs they could certainly do that with SageTV Studio, but we don’t plan on writing a client to integrate with their back-end. SageTV has a very good media-extender experience. Really no other software compares with how that experience works so spending resources on this sort of thing doesn't really make sense for us."

Brent: On the extender I've had several people ask why the included remote controls don't have the ability to control power and volume of TVs or receivers as well as the HD extender.  Many use a 3rd party Universal remote control in place of the HD200's remote because of this.  Is it possible SageTV might have a remote like that in the future?

Jeff: "You guys can help me with this one.  We are looking for a source of a great universal remote that's affordable.  You can custom design a remote that has that functionality, but that’s a fairly expensive remote which would increase the overall cost of the extenders and we didn’t want to do that. The one we chose for the extenders is affordable and does most of what's needed.

"We had other options that had universal power and volume integrated, but getting the right other buttons on there was difficult. If we happen to find one that fits the requirements and has that functionality of "universal power/volume" we would definitely get it labeled and working with the HD200 and use it, but so far we haven’t found one yet. That’s really the blocker there - we just haven’t found the product. So if someone could find a link to great source I'd be interested to hear about it."

Brent: As you guys have moved to the extenders, how does it compare with adding features compared to the media center product itself?

Jeff:  "It just depends. Some stuff is easier on computer products just because its on the computer itself you don’t have to integrate with the extender client. But in many cases it's easier on the extender because they can do cool things, like decode Blu-ray content for instance and you know all extenders will handle things the same way.  Then again while it's a little different on extenders versus computers, they both use the same back-end SageTV software so it depends on whether the hardware is going to help us or if hurts us.  Extenders have their advantages for sure, but some applications you have to accommodate the fact that they aren't fast enough like a PC is."

Brent:  I would guess just because on an extender you don’t have to deal with different video cards and other internal hardware differences the extenders are easier.

Jeff:  "Its very predictable in that environment yes."

Brent: there for a while there was some talk of the older version of the extender, the HD100 with capacitors that went bad. I know you had a post on the forums, but could you review what happened with those and how SageTV has responded to it?

Jeff: "Yes, we did have some power supply failures on some of the HD100s.  The failure rate was near typical industry rates, we've done better on the HD200s.  We tried to provide an affordable fix for that issue and only charge $39 with US return shipping for out of warranty service for that particular problem"

Brent: Any kind of mobile app like for iPhone or others for placeshifter for instance?

Jeff:  "Yes we have looked at that, but with Sling thrown out by Apple for 3g [referring to the fact that Apple/AT&T blocked the use of the Slingbox app for the iPhone to Wi-Fi only]  it sort of means the same thing would happen to us. If we’re going to write an iPhone app for SageTV Placeshifter, it would be limited to WiFi. So while we’re definitely looking at the option, we haven’t done it yet. The placeshifter is something someone could write a 3rd party app for, but nobody has yet."


 More Talk with Jeff Kardatzke Available in Part 2 of the Interview

This is part one of two

In part 2 we go into Online Video including Hulu talk, Digital Rights Management (DRM), the move from analog to digital and the effects on HTPCs, a discussion about the SageTV User Interface and more so be sure and read part 2 of "Interview with Jeff Kardatzke, CTO and Founder of SageTV"


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Sunday, July 05, 2009

TV Premieres: What To Watch 07/05 - 07/11

A handful of TV premieres arrive this week.  Read on for all of the details.

Note:  Download the free, PDF of all summer 2009 TV premieres



                Eureka returns to SyFi on Friday Sunday Night


NOTE: All Times are Listed for EST

Tuesday 07/07/2009

10 Things I Hate About You (8pm on ABC Family - Available in HD) - A new half-hour series based on the movie from 1999.  Newcomers Kat and Bianca Stratford attempt to navigate the popular crowd and the opposite sex while dealing with their overprotective dad.

Great American Road Trip (8pm on NBC) - The basis of this new reality TV series is this:  Seven families from around the country take the vacation of a lifetime, competing against each other for a dream prize.  Sorry, but any reality show like this had better be recorded in HD or I'm very unlikely to even check it out.  I watch reality shows sparingly and if the network doesn't think it's HD worthy... 

Warehouse 13 (9pm on SyFi - Available in HD) - A new series on SyFy (did I ever mention I hate the new spelling of that name?  I mean seriously if you're going to give up on Science Fiction just say it)  Anyway, this series goes like this:  following an abrupt transfer, two Secret Service agents find themselves in the middle of South Dakota at a massive, top-secret storage warehouse that holds every strange artifact, mysterious relic, out-of-this-world object and supernatural souvenir ever found by the U.S. government. Lattimer and Bering's new task, as directed by the warehouse's caretaker, longtime agent Artie Nielsen, is to investigate reports of unexplainable and paranormal activity in an effort to secure more peculiar and dangerous objects.


Wednesday 07/08/2009

Ghost Hunters International (9pm on SyFi - Available in HD) - Season 2 of the "International" variety of Ghost Hunters.


Thursday 07/09/2009

Big Brother (8pm on CBS) - Why oh why is this show so popular.  And did I mention it isn't even HD worthy?


Friday 07/10/2009

Eureka (9pm on SyFi - Available in HD) - One of the more entertaining SyFi shows.  Enough story to humor the regulars like my wife and enough supernatural for folks that like that sort of stuff.  Check it out if you never have before - it's a decent one.


Season Finales this Week:

  • 7/8 10pm "Pitchmen" on Discovery
  • 7/8 10:30pm "Reno 911" on Comedy
  • 7/9 8:30pm "In the Motherhood" on ABC
  • 7/11 9pm "Harpers Island" on CBS
  • 7/11 10pm "Eli Stone" on ABC


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