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February 06, 2006

User-Driven Innovation in Television - the creative ecosystem around SageTV

Want to slip TV programs over to your iPod (or other portable media viewer) automatically?  Read on...

PC Magazine last month published a feature called TV Transformed - Watch Anytime, Anywhere, on Any Device.  It's a great piece on the options now available for digital distribution and consumption of TV and video content.  One solution they didn't cover in their article is called  SageTV.  In the process of getting ready to buy a new home computer for the family, I'd done some research on Windows Media Center Edition and found the presence of DRM restrictions on recorded content to be unnecessary and unacceptable.  

I ended up deciding on Sage TV, bundled with the Haupaugge PVR350 video tuner card.  SageTV is like Tivo, but runs on your computer.  It's got all the usual Personal Video Recorder (PVR) features, like interactive program guide, recording of individual shows or whole seasons, recording things it think you might like, and pause/instant replay of live TV.   The hardware includes a remote control and audio/video outputs that let you use your computer like a TV and your TV like a computer - but that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

The delightful thing about SageTV is that it's architected to be a platform for user innovation.  It comes with a set of  published APIs for everything from controlling it via command-line scripts to full Java and native C/C# APIs for customizing the system or writing your own applications.  A wide range of tools and utilities have sprung up around SageTV as users leverage the power an open platform gives them. The development community has a wiki and busy discussion forums where users and developers share ideas, code, and tips.

For example, Geoff Gerhardt at the InveterateDIY Blog has created Sage-To-iPod, a terrific utility that will automatically take your chosen selection of recorded TV programming, convert it to MPEG4/H.264 and sync it to your iPod.  Now you can go to bed early and still get The Daily Show on your iPod in time for the morning commute on the train.  There are other examples: the UI tweaks on the Ruel.net PC-TV page,  or these custom modules to tie in imdb.com movie lookup, RSS feeds, or control SageTV via a web interface.  And of course, anything you record can be burned to DVD.  

I know there are other options - including the open source MythTV.  On the scale of effort  required to get up and running, MythTV requires more of an investment in time than many people are willing to make. The sweet spot for me is that SageTV combined the ease of a commercial product with the open interfaces and invitation to tinker that makes good software great.

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