Elgato EyeTV for DTT

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If you got a Mac and you’re able to get reception this is the ideal TV/Mac companion for you. The EyeTV for DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) is perfect for watching, recording and rewinding live digital television and coming in at around £80 if you shop around; it’s an inexpensive PVR solution for your Mac.

Being relatively new to the whole concept of TV on Computer, I was excited and happy to check out this latest product from Elgato. In the box you get the remote, aerial and the digital TV receiver itself. This Mac-only product comes with the EyeTV software which allows for the download of TV guides and the tracking of your scheduled and recorded programmes. The interface is similar to iTunes so you’ll be familiar with how it works straight away, which is always great news.

Your TV scheduling is provided through an online service called tvtv.co.uk and normally you do have to pay extra for this, but a one year subscription is already included. One mistake I made was assuming that you had to pay for the online tv programming guide. You can actually get the over-the-air downloads for TV guides but this is limited to just a few days ahead at a time.

Should you choose not to pay for the tvtv subscription you can still get access to the basic functionality that tvtv offers. This is limited to just programming information for dates and times. Without the subscription you won’t get access to program descriptions or images. So all in all this is excellent as their are some providers out there who rely solely on a subscription based service for the downloading of tv programming guides. This isn’t the case with the Elgato EyeTV software and thus provides a cost free solution to your EPG.

All the common features you often find in Media Centre setups on the Windows side can be found in this package. The concept is similar and you can essentially do the same things as a full blown Media Centre would be capable of doing. Features such as Pause Live TV, Schedule Recordings access to integrated TV guide, and rewind and fast forward functionality can be easily accessed all through the included remote control, so no more need to lift yourself up from the couch when the phone rings and you’re watching your favourite episode of Friends.

It’s quite surprising how miniaturised the unit is. Coming in at 7.5 x 5 x 2.5cm this receiver is tiny in comparison to the others on the market. The infra-red sensor is at the front of the receiver and a blue-lit power 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 will refuse to work if it detects you are using a USB 1 port for connectivity.

Next to the USB 2.0 cable is an antennae-in port. The receiver does ship with what I can only describe as the tiniest television antennae 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. Read on to find out if I was right.

Installation of the EyeTV software was very simple and quick. It follows the same method of dragging and dropping the icon in to your Applications folder. The files then get copied across to your system. EyeTV 2 is now Universal Binary so you can run this on both PowerPC Macs and Intel Macs.

First run will prompt a setup wizard and will allow you to activate the software as well as your online TV guide service. For the UK this is provided by tvtv.co.uk. There is a yearly subscription fee of £14.90 but you get this free for the first year with your Elgato EyeTV package. It’s optional, so you don’t have to pay for it; it just means if you don’t, you won’t get access to the EPG.

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 the www.tvtv.co.uk website. All you do is log on with your username and password and select the programme you want to record from the web-based listings and within a few minutes it gets 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!

The EyeTV interface follows the iTunes philosophy with navigation through a sidebar on the left and main information on the main portion of the window. The top bar has your function buttons and the Spotlight search bar.

The sidebar lets you tab between your personal recordings, scheduled recordings, list of available channels and the online Program Guide.

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 it to be. Maybe this is the way all Computer TV software is? I’m more used to the traditional all in one integrated video screen and menu system. I’d expect the same kind of setup that you get through a TV set top box.

My main gripe is that when you press the EPG button on the remote and you’re watching a full screen programme, the video window shrinks and goes behind your EPG which is essentially the EyeTV software. Now if for whatever reason that window becomes inactive you’ve got to get off your bum and click it to make sure its active again. Only a minor issue and shouldn’t be an issue most of the time though.

Navigation through the software using the remote control is done through the arrow keys. Up and down buttons lets you select the different categories then you press right to get in to the window for it. Pressing left gets you back in to the Categories pane.

You can playback recordings, view your recording schedule, select a channel from your channel list and browse the program guide. Some features can’t be accessed unless you’re using the mouse.

You can’t edit or change your recording schedule

You can’t edit or delete your recorded programmes

You can’t add to your recording schedule using the Program Guide

You can’t go to a channel that you’ve found in the Program Guide directly

A few minor gripes but if you’re sitting near to your computer already, then the above problems are solved using your mouse. Then again in that scenario you probably wouldn’t be using the remote anyway.

Some of the above I can live without. But if this is going to used quite a lot, then these gripes can be quite annoying, especially if you’re not near the machine itself. The main issue that I had was being unable to add to my recording schedule using the remote in the Program Guide, or go directly to a channel that I’ve found is showing a program I want to watch.

These are minor issues that can be fixed quite easily through a software update. On the whole 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.

Extra functionality comes from the ability to edit your recorded programmes. 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 a cool feature that you probably won’t find on any other system and given the often 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, DVD Studio Pro or just choose your own settings.

When using the Pause feature whilst watching live programming you’ll find it a very smooth feature. No pixelation or errors when you press the resume button. This is the same for your recorded programmes. In other words, recordings are of the lossless kind thanks to its MPEG 2 hardware encoding. You can even select from standard 4:3 aspect ratio or go 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, you wont find this to be an issue.

Intel Macs have HDTV 720p and 1080i support so if you’re lucky enough to be able to get over the air HDTV, then the EyeTV will be able to pick this up and record and playback broadcasts in HDTV quality. This feature probably 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 at the moment 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 and that’s probably down to the hardware decoding and progressive scan feature. When viewing from my PowerBook display, images looked clean, crisp and smooth. Connecting it up to my 26-inch LG HDTV screen (26LX2) via DVI cable and the results were equally impressive. The credit goes to Elgato for being able to reproduce such quality decoding through the software and hardware.

Now for tuning and reception, unless you live right next to a broadcast tower, you’re not going to pick up anything using the included aerial. My initial reaction was correct when I saw just how small the included antenna is. I’ve yet to try other portable aerials but I know the’re usually big and ugly, not something you want next to something as pretty as a Mac. So unless you’re going to go dowyn that route and get a portable boosted aerial or plug in an actual dedicated roof aerial, you’re either going to pick up some of the channels or nothing at all.

I found that in my office downstairs, I can’t pick anything up. Moving up to the bedroom, things do improve, 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 will lose the signal.

So do this review I had to unplug the aerial from my main TV and use that to get my reception. Using that method naturally gave me good signal and full access to the range of channels. This is great if your Mac is either near an aerial port or it’s going to be your main television set, but other than that, if you want it for portable use, you can pretty much scrap that idea. This however does only apply 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 programmes in a high quality format using the iTunes inspired interface and then with the easiest click of a button, you can export to a number of formats including support for the Video iPod, making transferring movies to your iPod just that bit easier.

To put it short, the Elgato package is the ideal solution for your Mac TV needs with form and functionality combined in to a neat and portable design.


2006-04-26 Onwah Tsang

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