Elgato EyeTV for DTT £99

31st Aug 2006 | 23:00

Elgato EyeTV for DTT

Watch digital TV on your Mac

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A great gadget for viewing and recording Freeview on your Mac. Perfect for those of you who can't go without TV when you're away from home

Like:

<p>Pocket-sized</p><p>Easy to set up and use</p><p>Use Mac HDD to store programs</p>

Dislike:

<p>Strong Freeview reception essential</p><p>Need powerful Mac</p>

At some unspecified point in the future, the UK's analogue TV stations will be switched off for good, and the UK will have finally embraced the future that is digital broadcast technology.

By 2012, Freeview (the name given to the UK's free Digital Terrestrial Television service) will be available to 98.5 per cent of the population, beaming over 30 TV channels and 20 radio stations into people's homes via a regular rooftop aerial.

Besides offering the usual BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4, Freeview also pipes a batch of other 'exciting' channels. Frankly, most of these are sub-standard, but there are a few gems in the mix: the extra BBC and ITV channels, the excellent E4 and the newly free FilmFour, for instance.

The EyeTV for DTT from Elgato is a lightweight USB DTT receiver that enables you to watch all the aforementioned Freeview TV channels on your Mac, provided you live in an area that receives the Freeview signal. Right now, though, UK coverage is pretty patchy, which means we had to up sticks from our offices in Bath and head over to the busy metropolis of Bristol to put the hardware through its paces.

Thankfully, it's straightforward to use from the word go. In the box you'll find the USB stick, software CD, mini aerial and short USB extension lead. You need the latter so that you can plug other devices into your Mac's USB ports, since the stick is chunky enough to obscure them if plugged directly into your Mac.

Live TV

Now all you have to do is insert your TV aerial into the USB stick, launch the fantastic EyeTV 2 software (which comes with all Elgato products) - and you're free to enjoy live TV beamed directly to your Mac.

The EyeTV software borrows a few tricks from iTunes, including video playlists, so any Mac user will intuitively understand how it works. However, with this new DTT product, Elgato is introducing an exciting new feature that uses a Front Row- like interface for watching television. More on this later...

The Elgato can do everything you'd expect from a PVR-style (Personal Video Recorder) system. You can pause live TV and time-shift it, record on the fly, set up a recording schedule and, of course, play back your recordings later on.

EyeTV also makes it easy to edit recordings and bring them into iMovie, or convert them for use on your iPod with a single click. We tested the EyeTV for DTT on a new 2.0GHz MacBook and it recorded live television without any noticeable slowdowns or frame loss.

The time-shifting was as smooth as silk. We could even do other tasks, like mess about in iTunes or Mail, without interfering with the evenness of the recording. Clever stuff.

Instead of providing its own remote control, Elgato has decided to hijack the Apple Remote supplied with all new Macs. You usually use this to bring up Apple's Front Row media-playing interface, but hit the Menu button when the EyeTV 2 program is selected and you transition into a Front Row-style EyeTV interface, whose menus you can navigate using the Apple Remote.

With television added to Front Row, your Mac finally feels like a proper media centre.

Of course, there are limitations to using the Apple Remote. First, older PowerPC Macs (with the exception of the last iMac G5 revision) don't have a Remote, and Elgato doesn't provide an alternative in the box. There's a workaround using a program that enables your mobile phone to act as one, but it's all a bit messy for our liking.

Then there are the constraints of the Apple Remote itself. With its five buttons, there's only so much you can do once a programme is playing. Pressing Play/Pause obviously starts and stops the programme, while the Volume up/down buttons control the sound levels. Pressing the Menu button just takes you back to the EyeTV menu.

Back and forth

That just leaves just the Forward and Backward buttons, which are used to fast-forward and rewind through recordings. Annoyingly, this means that there are no buttons left to change channel without you having to return to the menu system first, which is a little cumbersome. It's not a huge problem, but it demonstrates how the Apple Remote wasn't really designed for controlling television programmes.

At least the set-up procedure with the DTT is refreshingly simple. Once you've installed the software, you're asked to connect the USB stick to your Mac, then plug in your TV aerial. Simply hit the Auto Tune button and the Elgato software finds all the channels available and in seconds you're watching live TV.

We have to say that the supplied mini-aerial proved pretty ineffectual; we couldn't pick up any TV signals using it. This is probably due to the weak Freeview signal that we use in the UK, compared to other European nations, which have smaller areas of coverage for DTT, but stronger signals.

Plugging a rooftop aerial into the Elgato proved to be the best solution, although even then we can't say that the device was entirely trouble-free. Most channels played fine, but mysteriously it seemed to struggle on a small number of channels, which (annoyingly) included FilmFour (channel 31). Sound was fine, but the picture kept juddering to halt and ended up looking like bad streaming video on the internet.

It's pretty impressive that Elgato has managed to squeeze a whole Freeview box down into a little USB stick like this. Being able to plug it into a USB port on your Mac and watch live TV instantly is the height of convenience - so long as you live in an area that receives a good enough Freeview signal, that is.

The problem is that at the moment not everyone in the UK can get Freeview, but you can visit www.freeview.co.uk to check the coverage in your area.

Once again, we are impressed by the ease of use and pure functionality of Elgato's kit. The new Front Row-like features of EyeTV 2 are a real innovation. With them Elgato has finally filled in the missing piece of the media centre puzzle for Mac users everywhere. If you can get Freeview in your area and you own an Intel Mac with the Apple Remote, then you'll love the new EyeTV for DTT.

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