SageTV HD Media Extender
At a Glance
SageTV HD Media Extender
Offers a handy way to view your PC content on your TV--if you can ever get it installed.
Hhigh-definition multimedia content that you downloaded or recorded with your TV tuner card may be sitting on your PC's hard drive, but viewing it on the HDTV in your living room can be a tough task. SageTV's HD Media Extender can handle the transfer, but setting up this device requires plenty of patience--and perhaps a very long ethernet cord, since the device lacks Wi-Fi capabilities.
The HD Media Extender is a slim box that connects to your TV via HDMI, S-Video, or component video and audio. Unlike the Apple TV, it doesn't have a hard drive or any on-board storage. Though it displays files that reside on your PC on your TV, it doesn't store them. The HD Extender connects to your router via ethernet; unlike some other media extender boxes (see our chart of Best Streaming Media Players), this one doesn't offer wireless connectivity. The advantage is that the HD video quality is consistently impressive. The drawback is that your TV must be located close to a router, switch, or other wired home-networking device.
To use the HD Media Extender, you must install the SageTV software on your PC. SageTV sells the HD Media Extender separately (with a remote control and component audio/video cords) for $200; a package that includes a copy of the necessary software costs $250. Without the HD Media Extender, the SageTV software turns your PC into a personal video recorder; if your PC has a TV tuner card, it can record programs that you schedule so you can play them back later. If you don't have a PC with a TV tuner, you can use the application to organize and play multimedia files, but you'll miss out on the hardware box's key features.
Once you've installed the SageTV software on your Windows XP or Vista PC (or on your Mac), you must configure the app to permit use of an extender and to act as a server. Accomplishing this isn't difficult, but configuring the application's many options can be time-consuming. A wizard leads you through the process, but some of the many options you must configure--which range from aspect ratios to the user interface overscan--aren't well explained.
Connecting the HD Media Extender to my network and my television was more challenging than it should have been. I connected the box to my router via ethernet (I had to laugh at the included 1.5-meter ethernet cord; if only my TV were that close to my PC), and then I connected it to my TV with the included component audio/video cord. I turned on the TV--and nothing happened. I checked all the connections and tried again. Still nothing. Then I switched from component A/V to S-Video. Same problem: Nothing happened. The power light indicated that the SageTV box was on, but my television didn't recognize it.
Finally, I used an HDMI cord to connect the box to my 32-inch LG LCD TV. At last I had a connection, but unfortunately it wasn't the one I had been hoping for. My TV displayed the SageTV interface, which told me that no SageTV server was enabled on my network. I ran back to my PC (trying not to trip over the ethernet cord snaking through my living room) to double-check that I had enabled the server option in the software. I had. I went back to the TV, but still saw the same error message. After fiddling with the firewall settings on my Vista PC and rebooting the SageTV box, I lucked into the right combination of settings.
At long last, I was sitting in front on my TV, browsing through the collection of multimedia files from my PC. The HD Extender supports AVI, H.264, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, VOB, and WMV9/VC-1 video files at resolutions up to 1080p, along with AAC, AC3, DTS, FLAC, MP2, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and WMA audio files. Using the included remote, I could navigate the software as if I were sitting in front of my PC; the interface on the TV is the same as the SageTV software interface on the PC. My library of videos--both HD and standard-definition--looked great. Photos were a mixed bag: Some looked superb, while others were distorted. Music playback was very good.
The HD Media Extender also allows you to browse various online video sources on your TV, including YouTube and Google Video. But though the interface was easy to navigate, most of the videos looked pixelated and blocky on the big TV screen, and some simply froze.
If you already use SageTV software on your PC and you have a collection of video and audio files that you'd like to view on your TV, the HD Media Extender is worth a look. If your situation calls for a wireless product, however, you're better off looking elsewhere.