Works great with SageTV servers; fanless and quiet; very customizable.
Doesn't work well without SageTV server; remote lacks a real keyboard; fiddly.
Streaming boxes are a mixed bag these days. With super-polished commercial offerings like the AppleTV, as well as streaming functionality integrated in every other consumer electronics device—from the Xbox 360 to the TiVo—we thought the age of the dedicated streaming box had passed. However, the SageTV HD Theater offers something a little different than the typical UPNP or DLNA streaming box—but it’ll cost you.
Starting with the additional $80 for SageTV’s Media Center app, which should be a requirement for using the HD Theater. If you install the SageTV software on a PC equipped with an HDTV card, it turns that PC into a fully functional PVR, complete with an onscreen guide and basic scheduling functionality. SageTV’s Media Center is an acceptable PVR, offering more customizability than Windows Media Center and none of its annoying DRM, albeit in a less-polished product. The software’s 10-foot interface is incredibly customizable, but can be a little unwieldy and slow to browse, even when run on a fast PC.
The HD Theater effectively extends the capabilities of your SageTV Media Center to other rooms in your home. Connect the HD Theater to a wired network, and you’ll be able to stream recorded TV, live TV, music, movies, and photos from the host PC to the TV and/or stereo you have hooked up to the HD Theater. We were able to play our test files using many different video and audio codecs, without problems. While it was initially tricky to hit the file we were looking for when browsing large libraries using the remote, we eventually got the knack of it and were able to select the appropriate content without too many over- or under-shot menus. When paired with the SageTV Media Center, the HD Theater is a competent, if unpolished piece of hardware.
Without Media Center, though, you’re stuck with the stand-alone mode, which lets you stream content stored on standard network shares or UPNP servers. Unfortunately, the HD Theater doesn’t have the horsepower to work with large libraries. We also had problems streaming several common video types—including ones that worked when we viewed them through the SageTV Media Center. And if we thought the interface was slow when connected to the SageTV Media Center, it was positively pokey when in stand-alone mode.
The remote control is a fairly standard OEM design, similar to ones that ship with Media Center machines. It’s infrared only, meaning you must maintain line of sight to the extender. Button placement is OK, but as much as the SageTV software requires you to type things in, it would be beneficial to have a QWERTY keyboard accessible, instead of using the numeric pad.
For anyone who has already bought into the SageTV lifestyle, the HD Theater is a great way to connect more rooms to the media hub. However, we can’t recommend the HD Theater if you haven’t already purchased SageTV. We’d rather run the more-polished and less-fiddly TiVo PC software, and use inexpensive TiVo boxes to stream content throughout our home.