Elgato EyeTV Sat £180

9th Aug 2009 | 09:00

Elgato EyeTV Sat

Receive and record freesat television channels on your Mac, with a little work...

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Despite being an uninspiring-looking piece of external hardware, EyeTV Sat's capabilities make it a superbly designed product. Its interface is pleasant to work with and viewing, recording and exporting files are a real doddle once you've cracked the complications of configuration. At £180 it's not cheap, but it is a one-off payment and for Mac addicts it's easily the best solution to watching satellite channels on a computer.

Like:

Excellent PVR functionality; Exporting to iPod and Apple TV; Good image and sound quality, especially HD

Dislike:

Expensive; Limited sound adjustments; Complicated to configure Wi-Fi access

At just 14cm long and 10cm wide, Elgato's EyeTV Sat is a simple affair compared with other set-top boxes.

It has a power plug, a connector for a satellite lead, a USB output and a CI slot, which is irrelevant to the majority of users but useful for those who want to watch subscription adult and overseas channels.

Freesat and Elgato say you should be able to use any satellite dish that can receive UK channels including BSkyB's, so for our review we used the lead that normally runs from a communal satellite dish to a SkyHD+ box to provide a signal.

Strong signal

Configuration is simple: just drag and drop EyeTV from the CD to install it; then launch it and let the setup assistant tune in the channels. After a slightly baffling moment when we were given a highly technical choice of satellites, we were able to get EyeTV to scan for channels.

Since freesat uses a proprietary EPG system that EyeTV can't process, the EyeTV Sat also comes with a one year subscription to tvtv.co.uk to generate programme listings. The software was able to match up most channel names with tvtv.co.uk and give us an EPG, once we'd downloaded the relevant information off the internet (although the slightly patchy tvtv.co.uk didn't have listings for all the channels).

The EyeTV recording software is second-to-none. It's easy to use, records in the native MPEG2/H.264 format, can export to iPods, iPhones and Apple TV at appropriate resolutions. It also has sophisticated PVR features such as smart guides for automatically recording programmes that match certain rules.

It can even auto-start a shutdown Mac when a programme is due to begin. However, the PVR software isn't the problem. Although Elgato says EyeTV's auto-tune should find all freesat channels very easily unless there's bad weather, we had significant problems.

After autotuning, we could get BBC1, ITV1, Five and a selection of digital channels, including BBC1 HD in fantastic quality. But, to get BBC3 and BBC4 we needed to run auto-tune again after 7pm when the channels transmit. ITV1 HD is trickier still since it is 'frequency agile'.

You may have to retune the EyeTV Sat software each time you want to watch ITV1. However, to get ITV2/3/4, Channel 4 and E4/More4/Film4, we had to use the Manually Add Channel option and input no less than four separate transponder frequencies gleaned from www.lyngsat.com/28east.html – needless to say, people might not know how to do this.

We're unsure why this happened, since the channels came through clearly once we added them. Once configured, the EyeTV Sat is a great bit of kit. But it's far harder to use than it should be at the moment thanks to those tuning issues.

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