Review: Pinnacle TV for Mac HD Stick

Capture and watch HD TV on your Macintosh (June 29th, 2007)

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Pinnacle Systems, Inc., a division of Avid

Price: $129 US

The Good

  • Good price. Includes remote. Portable HD TV solution.

The Bad

  • EyeTV Lite strips away all of the most useful functions, including those necessary for diagnosing HD reception. Remote is poorly designed. Antenna is not very strong.

Sometimes interesting products roll across the MacNN reviews desk. The Pinnacle TV for Mac HD Stick is one of them. This small portable product allows you to watch and record HD TV right onto your Macintosh.

The product is similar in function to an Elgato Hybrid and uses their software. The Elgato Hybrid, for those keeping score at home, looks the same as a Hauppauge HVR-950, which Elgato links to on their compatible peripherals page.

What separates the Pinnacle HD product from Elgato's offering is that it comes with EyeTV Lite instead of the full-featured EyeTV 2.x software, plus it comes with an infrared remote control. This review covers some of the differences between EyeTV and EyeTV Lite, in addition to a discussion of the performance of the device itself.

New Features

One of the upgrades in the EyeTV setup assistant that wasn't seen in EyeTV 2.3.x, is support for a cable or satellite set-top box, in addition to an antenna. EyeTV now supports the iRed or ZephIR IR Blaster. This option is only useful if you use the COAX RF connector for Analog only, and ignore the HD capability of the device, or if you use the composite S-Video connectors on the breakout cable to connect to the set-top box. Using these connectors is the only way you can connect to HD over the antenna and still get analog programming at the same time.

You must read two FAQs on Elgato's site in order to configure IR blasting properly. The links appear at the end of this review. You must configure the blaster first, and then configure the EyeTV software to work with the blaster. This is not as convoluted as it once was, but it is fairly un-Mac-like, requiring you to jump between two applications to get the device configured.

Pinnacle TV Device

In autotune, it tuned both ATSC and NTSC in one pass. This is the way it should be done. The analog audio is mono, which is fine, but the HD side of the device is stereo, and it would be nice to have both.

Earlier, I mentioned the breakout cable. The cable is solid black, with no colors to indicate connections. It has S-Video, one RCA, and one 1/8" jack. It is unclear at first if their intention is to connect video to the RCA as if it were yellow, and a stereo 1/8" plug to RCA connector to get the audio in, but that's my best guess. This is an easily bought cable, but not included.

Remote is no bargain

The remote is not very good. It's about the size of the Apple Remote, but twice as thick to accommodate AAA batteries. The button layout is poor. It has a Pinnacle key that is a pinwheel icon for the full screen menu, which is bigger than the other buttons. The channel and volume buttons are ok, but the number pad doubles as navigation buttons, with the transport controls at the bottom. Other than the Pinnacle key, they're all the same size and this is annoying. When you use a remote, you want the layout to be such that all the buttons you use most often are conveniently laid out under your thumb, and you want them to be differently sized and shaped to indicate their use, or priority. For example, Pause should be large, since time shifting is one of the intended common uses. Thankfully, you aren't locked into using the Pinnacle remote, because if you have an Intel-based Macintosh, you can use the Apple remote with EyeTV Lite.

Reception by station

I tuned over the air (OTA), and it dutifully scanned HD and analog channels. These results are based on my location, which is 15 miles from the broadcast towers, in a two-story building with trees that are over 30ft tall between the tower and me.
  • 50-1 - Excellent reception.
  • 2 - This doesn't exist. Why did it pick it up OTA?
  • 3 - This doesn't exist. Why did it pick it up OTA?
  • 4 - Poor reception, but this is a notoriously hard station to lock onto.
  • 5 - Passable, but this is an easy one to receive in NTSC analog.
  • 6 - This doesn't exist. Why did it pick it up OTA?
  • 5-1 Works, but bad reception. It hiccups and in HD it stuttered.
  • 5-2 No problem (480p).
  • 11-1 and 11-2 Excellent.
  • 17-1 Notoriously difficult to pick up. Stuttered. Took a long time to lock.
  • 17-2 After locking for 30 sec, it worked well (480p).
  • 22-1 A 480 image with pillar boxing in 720 resolution. It took a while to lock, but still had weird black bars breaking it up.
  • 28-1 Same 480 in 720. Works perfectly.
Some of the unreliable reception is due to the quality of antenna that Pinnacle includes. The antenna is a portable one, but, a roof-mounted antenna would have better success.

no EyeTV Programs window

When I open Preferences, it gives me an advertisement to upgrade to EyeTV and dismisses the window without delivering any preference screen. If I press Upgrade now, it takes me to the website. This means there are no device preferences to tell signal strength for the Pinnacle device.

Thankfully, the Pinnacle TV is supported by the full version of EyeTV, which I have on my Macintosh. In the Preferences, Info area, I learn that the device is the Pinnacle TV for Mac HD Stick 800e with the following specifications:
  • xceive c3028 1.0 2.7
  • tv tvp5150
  • atsc decoder lg dt3303
  • usb controller empa em2880
Signal strengths are as follows:
  • 50-1 - 54-66%
  • 5-1 - 54-64%
  • 11-1 - 54-60% - Weird breakup on screen that corresponds to signal quality dropping to 97.8%, 37%, 6.1%, and then returns to 100%.
  • 17-1 - quality 0%, signal 36%
  • 22-1 - 91%, 56%
  • 28-1 - 66-70%
The behavior with channel 11-1 is synonymous with multipath. Multipath is when a signal gets to the antenna by two or more paths. How can one signal from a broadcaster's tower arrive in two or more paths? The signals bounce around, and if one arrives late, they're out of phase and throw the signal off. Since this is digital, it just cuts out completely. Some tuners deal with multipath better than others, and better antennae can also help. Depending on where the signals are broadcast from, it may not be possible to eliminate the multipath.

Using EyeTV Lite

I can record, but without an EyeTV Programs window, the only way to view recordings is in the full screen menu, which is viewable in a windowed mode. This menu is the only way to set up schedules, view the guide, and so on. It has no export function that I can determine, so exporting for devices like iPod or AppleTV is impossible without buying the upgrade.

There is no ability to set up repeating schedules. There is no editing capability. Set a schedule to record from the guide, and the only editing you can do is delete or disable.

Final analysis

The Pinnacle TV isn't all bad. The device itself is an affordable solution if you need HD and analog TV, but the remote seems like an afterthought. The price is right at $129, but the software limits you from some of the configuration items that really ought to be present, such as Preferences that allow you to see signal strength. If you don't need the remote, you may be better off buying the EyeTV Hybrid that comes with the full version of the software. This depends on how much value you place on the remote, versus being able to configure and export recordings. The other option is to upgrade the software that ships with the Pinnacle.

My assessment is that the Pinnacle TV for Mac HD Stick is one grade above average, but that's all. It suffers even more from bundling the product with EyeTV Lite instead of the full version.

Helpful Links and Related Product Reviews:

What IR Blasters can work with EyeTV for Set Top Box control? (US Only)
How do I configure EyeTV for Set Top Box support? (US Only)
Elgato Systems EyeTV for DTT Review on MacNN
Miglia TVMini Review on MacNN
Pinnacle Podcast Factory (UK edition) Review on MacNN

by Alexander Munro


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