Review: EyeTV 250 plus and EyeTV iPhone app

Live TV over a WiFi connection with EyeTV iPhone app. (December 18th, 2009)

The USB-based tuner/digitizer EyeTV 250 plus turns your Mac into a DVR, so you can watch and record TV. It synchronizes with your TiVo, plus connects to a VCR or camcorder to convert old home movies to digital format. Pair that with their iPhone EyeTV app and access EyeTV on your Mac from anywhere.

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Elgato

Price: $199.99 and $4.99

The Good

  • Tons of preferences
    Very nice interface.
    Easy to use
    Many file formats to choose.
    iPhone app works perfectly after router configuration.

The Bad

  • Poor quality remote control

Elgato, manufacturer of video capture devices for the Mac, released a companion iPhone product for their EyeTV 250 that delivers live TV over a Wi-Fi connection. The USB-based EyeTV 250 plus is a tuner/digitizer that turns your Macintosh into a DVR, so you can watch and record TV. It synchronizes with your TiVo, plus connects to a VCR or camcorder to convert old home movies to digital format. Pair that with their iPhone EyeTV app and you can access EyeTV on your Mac from anywhere in the world. You can schedule recordings, watch live TV, or watch any of your previously recorded programs, no matter where you are.

The box contains the EyeTV 250 plus, a power supply, USB cable, break-in cable for connecting composite video, S-video, and stereo audio, plus a remote control, and the EyeTV software CD. It works with Intel Macs running Mac OS X 10.5 or later and is Snow Leopard compatible. The system requirements state that to view live TV your Mac needs to have at least an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. However, the iMac I used for the test has only an Intel Core Duo processor and it worked well, so your mileage may vary.

eyetv-contents.jpg


Package Contents


The 250 plus looks right at home next to any recent Macintosh because it looks like a Mac mini's little brother. The simple connections include power, USB, and a standard F connector for your antenna or cable on one end and an 8-pin DIN video input connector and power LED on the other. The 250 plus uses hardware based encoding, which simply means that it does all of the processing when you're digitizing or encoding, taking that burden off of your Mac.

Cute hardware design and multiple connectors are nice, but when you get right down to it, it's the software that matters and that's where the EyeTV really shines. From the easy setup to the scheduling and playback of recording, the EyeTV software is very easy to learn.

Upon launch a setup assistant helps you scan for stations. After you find your local stations, the Main window and a video window pop up with live TV playing. A small controller, very similar to the Mac OS X DVD Player controller, appears on screen and lets you surf through the channels, adjust volume, and record any channel you stop on with the push of one button.

eyetv-tunewremote.jpg


Setup Assistant


EyeTV's main window shows your pre-recorded programs, Schedules, Channels, and the Program Guide. Icons along the top include get Info for a program, a Play button, a Toast icon to send the selected program to the Toast CD/DVD burning application, included with the EyeTV software, and icons to convert the selected program to the iPod or the Apple TV format.

eyetv-main.jpg


Main Window


With a recording opened in its playback window you can click on the little oblong button to enter into a basic video editor. You can trim unwanted sections of the video, such as commercials or other unwanted bits. These basic controls are simple, and easy to use. If you've ever trimmed video in iMovie or QuickTime Pro you'll feel right at home with these controls.

eyetv-edit.jpg


Edit Window


If you want to save your video in a different format, you have plenty of options. Elgato includes presets for most anything you want to do with your video. The top of the drop down list includes options that anyone can understand, such as for Email, Web, iMovie, PSP, and iPhone. The middle and bottom of the list includes options for the video savvy editor, such as MPEG Elementary Streams, DV, HDV 720p, HDV 1080i, H.264, and DivX AVI plus many more.

eyetv-formats.jpg


Save Format Options


The preferences window gives you a ton of options for your recordings, devices, playback, and scheduling. This is easily one of the most extensive sets of preferences I've seen in an application and I like it. The default set of preferences is fine for most people, but the myriad of choices makes EyeTV very customizable.

eyetv-prefs.jpg


Preferences


With the TV abilities of the 250 plus and the EyeTV application it's easy to overlook the fact that this device serves another very handy function. It has composite video and S-video inputs, along with stereo audio inputs, which allows you to connect an external VCR or analog camcorder. This is extremely useful if you have old VHS tapes or camcorder footage that you want to convert to digital. You simply connect the playback device and choose the analog input from within the EyeTV application and you're all set to capture the old footage onto your Mac's hard drive. It works flawlessly and couldn't be easier. You can then make basic edits to your videos within EyeTV or export the files in many different digital formats for further editing in QuickTime, iMovie, and Final Cut Pro or Express.

EyeTV iPhone app

Elgato now has an EyeTV iPhone app, which interfaces with the EyeTV application on your Mac. No matter where you are, you can always connect back to your Mac and watch any programs you've recorded, schedule new recordings, or watch live TV, all through the iPhone's Wi-Fi, 3G, or Edge connection.

You need to configure iPhone access within the EyeTV software preference panel, before you can use the EyeTV app on your iPhone. You use the free My EyeTV service to find your Mac and setup is simple. Once you sign up and enter your login information the software tells you if it has successfully connected to your Mac. In my initial testing this failed, but a quick peek at the extremely detailed help section told me to forward my router port 2170 to my Mac, which resolved the problem.

eyetv-iphoneprefs.jpg


iPhone Preferences


The iPhone EyeTV app's main window has 4 tabs for Live TV, Recordings, Schedules, and Guide. Each of the functions worked well, although your options are very limited when compared to the EyeTV Mac application, but there are only so many options you can include in an iPhone app. The option I found most fun was the video playback so let me talk about that briefly.

eyetv-iphonecaps.jpg


iPhone Screen


The EyeTV app works from anywhere and over any connection, be it Wi-Fi, 3G, or Edge. Below you can see the differences in the same program as I watched it first on the Edge network and then on my home WiFi network. The iPhone app tells your Mac what type connection you're on and the EyeTV software on your Mac adjusts the bit rate, and therefore the quality, of the video stream accordingly. If you look closely, you can see that the Edge picture is quite blurry when compared to the WiFi picture, but it's still watchable even at the lower quality.

eyetv-edgevswifi.jpg


WiFi Comparison


The EyeTV iPhone app works very well and is a nice addition to the EyeTV 250 plus package. I really can't say enough about how well everything worked. The folks at Elgato clearly know their stuff. If you're a TV nut or want to transfer old VHS tapes to your hard drive you can't go wrong with the Elgato 250 plus. Plus, if you want to control EyeTV no matter where you roam, the EyeTV iPhone app is a top-notch piece of software. The only thing I didn't like was the cheap remote control they include, but I'm giving this package 5 stars anyway. The EyeTV 250 plus is perhaps Elgato's finest product to date.

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