Is SageTV 4 the path to Media Centre Nirvana?

At a Glance
Product SageTV Version 4.1
Summary Full-featured media centre software for Windows and Linux
Pros o Minimal hardware requirements
o Compatible with a wide range of hardware
o Runs on a variety of operating systems
o Multiple remote client options
Cons o Counter-intuitive menu structure
o Styling a bit too Spartan
o Initial setup difficult
o Buggy resume from Windows welcome screen and DVD autorun

The growing popularity of the home theatre PC (HTPC) has caused a lot of Media Centre programs to emerge. The typical media centre program allows the user to access the multimedia functions of an HTPC through the use of a simple, full-screen interface controlled by a handheld remote.

The selection of a media centre program is one of the most critical decisions that an HTPC builder can make, because programs that are cumbersome or difficult to operate can taint the whole HTPC experience. Since the purpose of owning an HTPC is to reign supreme over all multimedia, the media centre program must fit the bill. There are some underdeveloped and poorly thought-out media centres out there, so it's a good idea to be cautious when selecting a media centre engine for your HTPC.

I currently use Windows Media Center Edition 2005 in my own HTPC, but I have used several other media centre applications in the past, including: Media Portal; Snapstream BeyondTV; ATI's MMC; Imon Multi-Median and Linux-based MythTV. Over the years, I've become rather picky about media centre features

SageTV is a company that has been designing media centre interfaces since before many of us had even heard of an HTPC. The question is, can version 4.1 satisfy the needs of a slightly obsessive HTPC addict like me? Since I only had one week to find out, I decided to create a list of the attributes that I value most in a media centre program, and then, at the end of the article, score the unit under review in each category.

Without further ado, here are my top ten attributes of a functional media center:

Must be easy to set up and maintain, so I don't get fed up with it and quit. Must be compatible with the hardware that I want to use. Must have an interface simple and intuitive enough that less geek-savvy people are not intimidated by it. Must be able to schedule, record, manage and view live and recorded TV programs. Must be able to organize and play video files that have been compressed using DivX, Xvid, etc. Must be able to play DVDs. Must be able to and organize and play audio files in an easy and user-friendly way. Must be able to manage and display digital pictures. Must look nice. (This one is for making the neighbours jealous!) Must be reasonably priced
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