The revision of the Apple TV to what company head Steve Jobs called "Take 2" shipped this week as a software upgrade to those who took a...
The revision of the Apple TV to what company head Steve Jobs called “Take 2” shipped this week as a software upgrade to those who took a chance and bought the first version in 2007.
An Apple TV connects digital music, video and photos stored in its internal hard drive or on Macs and Windows PCs with a high-definition television set, or a set that accepts high-quality component video.
The new Apple TV 2.0 software and hardware have an overhauled interface and support the company’s new digital movie downloads.
But while it connects to an HDTV set, it’s an output device: It doesn’t capture and record programs — you can buy and download TV shows — and the Apple TV has nothing to do with broadcast high-definition shows.
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That’s where eyeTV comes in, the homonym for the working title of the Apple TV — the iTV. EyeTV from Elgato is the name for a Mac-only product line for capturing and recording TV and other video inputs. The software also works with hardware sold by parties that license Elgato’s technology.
EyeTV lets you record programs on your hard drive, trim commercials and extra bits out, burn the shows to disc (with separate but included software), watch them over a network, and re-encode them to play on an iPhone or video-enabled iPod.
The problem? The most interesting and compelling programming available over cable and satellite television can’t be decoded by the tuner, requiring extra hardware and complexity. Transferring and burning programs isn’t as robust as one might desire, either.
I tested the eyeTV 250 Plus ($199.95). An external antenna must be separately purchased for as cheaply as $30 for DTV signals.
Elgato offers a cheaper, antenna-only unit without hardware compression (eyeTV Hybrid, $149.95), and a two-tuner networked device that any Mac on the network can access (HDHomeRun, $199.95). The three devices work with nearly all PowerPC G4 or G5 and Intel Macs.
The 250 Plus and Hybrid have been on the market for some time, but Elgato upgraded the hardware recently to add unencrypted cable-signal tuning via what’s called Clear QAM, which is usually local broadcast channels available via basic cable. Elgato also upgraded the software that records and processes programs.
For eyeTV to make any sense for you, you need to have either an abundant interest in broadcast TV, whether over the air or via a cable provider; or a set-top box from a cable or satellite service that doesn’t include a built-in DVR.
The set-top box is key, because the eyeTV software has to change the channel using an infrared (IR) remote-control signal sent through what’s called an IR blaster, just as other stand-alone DVRs have had to for years. The eyeTV functions as a channel changer and records an analog signal from your cable or satellite box. (This option isn’t available for the Hybrid, which lacks analog video inputs.)
Perversely, Elgato doesn’t provide or offer an IR blaster. I have asked the company regularly for years about this, and their answer is always that these are supported by Elgato’s software, but must be purchased separately. A typical blaster costs $49.95 (ZephIR 3.1, www.thezephir.com/ZephIR/Home.html). It’s shortsighted not to bundle and support these together.
I tested the broadcast-only side, and it is nifty to use a computer to pick up DTV signals — from low-resolution standard definition, which is still far better than analog TV, up to glorious high-definition.
Most computer monitors have a resolution higher than all but the most expensive HDTV sets, allowing you to see broadcast HDTV in its full quality, even though monitors are typically much smaller and not meant for viewing at a distance.
An industry site provides guidance based on your street address as to what signals you’ll be likely to pick up (www.antennaweb.org/); the information was completely accurate for the two locations in Seattle at which I tried the 250 Plus.
A program guide is provided through TitanTV after you enter relevant information about your location and sign up for a free account.
With the program guide, you can pick which programs to record manually, or set up Smart Guides, which can record anything based on keywords in program titles or show descriptions as provided by TitanTV.
Recording worked like a snap, even with the paucity of interesting programs available over the air; recording “Rockford Files” as bits didn’t seem particularly appropriate.
Storage may wind up an issue if you’re a magpie: The 93 minutes of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” broadcast in HD by ABC filled 12.5 GB of my drive; a more modestly medium-definition digital recording of “American Experience: Grand Central” from PBS was just 4.6 GB for an hour.
You can set the eyeTV software to convert recorded programs into formats suitable for other devices, such as an iPhone or video iPod.
The software can also be set to both encode into those formats, and then allow streaming over a local network using QuickTime, which allows an iPhone or another computer to watch the recorded program.
I found this process less rewarding because it isn’t true streaming. My iPhone kept losing the connection, too, even sitting near the Wi-Fi access point.
With the included Roxio Toast 8 Basic software, you can encode and burn programs to DVD, although this substantially degrades true HD content. DVD burning took a truly absurd amount of time. I took about 6 GB of source data, representing 90 minutes between two programs, and sent that to Toast.
A coincidental 90 minutes later, my quad-core Mac Pro — among the most powerful desktop Macs — was finished converting the video data, and then took 30 minutes to write to disc.
On playback, the DVD’s audio noticeably skipped every 20 to 30 seconds, even while the video image stayed constant, and the video was clipped left and right rather than resized correctly.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a TV addict, but I still look forward to a future eyeTV tuner that might be able to have better integration with set-top tuning, and have better facilities for archiving. For now, fade to black.
Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to email@example.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists