Review: Elgato EyeTV 2 Software for DTT

Meets your Mac TV needs with form and functionality (September 21st, 2006)

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Product Manufacturer: Elgato Systems

Price: 99.95 Euro, s$79.95 US

The Good

  • Easy to use. Familiar interface. HDTV capable. Inexpensive.

The Bad

  • Remote doesn't access all functions. Newest package doesn't include remote. Antenna, although portable, may not be robust enough for your location. USB 2.0 only.

If you use a Mac and have decent reception, this is the ideal TV and Mac companion for you. The EyeTV for DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) is perfect to watch, record, and rewind live digital television. At 99.95 Euro, or $79.95 US; it's an inexpensive PVR (Personal Video Recorder) solution for your Mac.

I'm relatively new to the whole concept of TV on computer, so I was excited to check out this Elgato product. This Mac-only product includes the remote, aerial, and the digital TV receiver itself, plus the EyeTV software that enables the download of TV guides and the tracking of your scheduled and recorded programs. The software interface is similar to iTunes, so you'll be familiar with how it works straight away, which is always great news. Although I tested Eye TV 2 for DTT bundled with Cinergy hardware, Elgato has now released their own USB stick that is a television receiver and it is compatible with the Apple Remote.

An online service provides TV schedules (see below) and normally you have to pay extra for this, but a one-year subscription is included. I assumed that you had to pay for the online TV programming guide, but you can actually get the over-the-air downloads for a few days of TV guides for free.

Packed with Features

All the common found features in Media Centre setups on Windows can be found in this package. The concept is similar and essentially, you can do the same things as a full-blown Media Centre. Features such as Pause Live TV, Schedule Recordings, access to integrated TV guide, rewind, and fast forward functionality are easily accessed through the remote control. You no longer need worry about interruptions when you're watching your favorite episode of Friends.

Surprisingly Small Hardware

The size of the Cinergy miniaturized hardware is quite surprising. It is only 7.5 x 5 x 2.5cm, so this receiver is tiny in comparison to the others on the market. The infrared sensor is at the front of the receiver and a blue-lit LED shows its power status. No external adapters are required to run the receiver; it's completely self-powered from the USB 2.0 port. Do note, however, that the software refuses to work if it detects you are connected through the USB 1.1 port. Elgato's new Digital TV Receiver is even smaller, but now their remote is available separately.

Both receivers ship with the tiniest television antennas I've ever seen. My initial reaction was that given the required strength of signal required for digital TV reception, it wasn't going to work. It did work, but only in some rooms, and with help from my TV antennae.

Easy Installation

The EyeTV 2 software is very simple and quick to install. It follows the familiar method of dragging and dropping the icon in to your Applications folder. EyeTV 2 is now Universal Binary so you can run this on both PowerPC Macs and Intel Macs.

A setup wizard helps you activate the software as well as your online TV guide service. Service is provided by tvtv.co.uk, in the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and France, or TitanTV in the US. There is a yearly subscription fee of £14.90 but this is free for the first year with your Elgato EyeTV package. If you choose not to pay for it, you don't have access to the EPG (Electronic Programming Guide).

Another feature that the tvtv subscription offers is remote scheduling. As long as your Mac is connected to the Internet and running the EyeTV 2 software with the appropriate configuration, you can schedule your Mac to record shows whilst you're away. This is done through www.tvtv.co.uk website.

All you do is log on with your username and password and select the program you want to record from the web-based listings. Within a few minutes it is added to your Schedule list on your Mac system. The EyeTV software is set to check your online schedule frequently and downloads them automatically. So, you can do this from anywhere in the world and not miss a single show ever. Now that's a cool feature!

Familiar Interface

The EyeTV interface follows the iTunes philosophy with navigation through a sidebar on the left and information in the main portion of the window. The top bar has your function buttons and the Spotlight search bar. You tab between your personal recordings, scheduled recordings, list of available channels, and the online Program Guide in the sidebar.

All of these functions are available and accessible using the remote control, which is always handy. I'm not sure about the whole EyeTV software integration. It works, but it's just not as smooth and integrated as I'd expected. Maybe all Computer TV software works this way. I'm more used to the traditional all in one integrated video screen and menu system. I had expected the same kind of setup that you get through a TV set top box.

Good, but Not Flawless

My main gripe is that when you press the EPG button on the remote and you're watching a full screen program, the video window shrinks and goes behind your EPG, which is essentially the EyeTV software. If, for some reason, that window becomes inactive, you've got to get off your butt and click it to make sure its active again. This is only a minor inconvenience and shouldn't be a problem most of the time though.

You navigate through the software using the remote control with the arrow keys. Up and down buttons let you select the different categories, and then you press the right arrow to get in to the window. Pressing left takes you back in to the Categories pane.

Mouse Required

You can playback recordings, view your recording schedule, select a channel from your channel list, and browse the program guide. Some features are not accessible unless you're using the mouse. For example, you cannot edit or change your recording schedule or your recorded programs. You also can't go to a channel that you've found in the Program Guide directly. If you're sitting near to your computer already, than use the mouse, which negates those problems. Then again, in that scenario you probably wouldn't be using the remote anyway.

These minor issues can be fixed quite easily through a software update. Overall, though, I am impressed with the functionality and usability of the remote and was glad to find that I rarely had to get up from my seat to get it working.

Video Editor Included

Extra functionality includes the ability to edit your recorded programs. A simple video editor is built in to the EyeTV software. Once you've completed your editing you can convert the file for burning to CD or DVD (providing you have Toast) and one click upload to iPod Video (lets you select H.264 or MPEG4)! That's another cool feature that you probably won't find on any other system and given the complexities and difficulties in converting video for iPod format, this is definitely a bonus. On the note of recording, EyeTV records in MPEG 2 format and will consume about 2GB of disc space for every hour of programming. When using the Editor you can use presets for saving your recordings to other formats such as PSP, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD, and DVD Studio Pro.

When using the Pause feature whilst watching live programming you'll find it a very smooth feature, with no pixilation or errors when you press the resume button. This is the same for your recorded programs. In other words, recordings are of the lossless kind thanks to its MPEG 2 hardware encoding. You can even select from the standard 4:3 aspect ratio or use full screen progressive scan. The Progressive Scan does help improve picture quality but it does require more resources from your Mac. I found that unless I put my PowerBook on the Better Performance mode, the video would skip or jump, as it was unable to keep up. However, if you're using a more powerful Mac such as the Intel Core processor models, this won't be an issue.

Intel Macs have HDTV 720p and 1080i support, so if you are HDTV capable, then the EyeTV can record and playback broadcasts in HDTV quality. This feature applies to regions other than the UK since over the air HDTV is not due to come out here for a few more years. The standard digital transmission that you get presently, I have to admit is superb quality. If anything it's just that bit smoother than what I get from my Sky set-top-box. When viewing from my PowerBook display, images looked clean, crisp, and smooth. When I connected it to my 26-inch LG HDTV screen (26LX2) via DVI cable, the results were equally impressive. The credit goes to Elgato for being able to reproduce such quality decoding through the software and hardware.

Tuning and Reception

Unless you live right next to a broadcast tower or have an aerial antenna, you're not going to pick up much using the included aerial. My initial reaction was correct when I saw the small included antenna, it is not very robust. I've yet to try other portable aerials but I know they're usually big and ugly, not something you want next to something as pretty as a Mac. So, unless you're going get a portable boosted aerial or plug in a dedicated roof aerial, you're only going to pick up some of the channels or nothing at all.

I found that in my office downstairs, I couldn't pick anything up. Moving up to the bedroom, things improved, but not much. The auto-tuning feature picks up some of the channels but I'm able to watch only a few of them and even then, the slightest movement of my body or the aerial loses the signal.

To review this unit, I had to unplug the aerial from my main TV and use that to boost my reception. That method gave me a good signal and full access to the range of channels. This is great if your Mac is near an aerial port or it's going to be your main television set. If you only want the EyeTV for DTT for portable use, you can pretty much scrap that idea. This applies to the UK, I'm not sure what kind of reception you normally get in other countries, but I can only assume it's similar.

The main strength of the Elgato EyeTV 2 software and DTT receiver is the ability to record your programs in a high quality format using the iTunes inspired interface. With a click of a button, you can export to a number of formats including support for the video iPod, which makes transferring movies to your iPod just that bit easier.

In short, the Elgato package is the ideal solution for your Mac TV needs with form and functionality combined into a neat and portable design.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

This article in its original format with photographs taken by the author can be found on The TechCast Network Blog: http://www.techcastuk.co.uk/?p=48

by Onwah Tsang, guest contributor


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