Running the software for the first time involves the customary channel search. In Reg Hardware's notoriously TV-unfriendly office, I didn't find many, but at home the bundled antenna was able to pick up rather more, though by no means all, of the channels pumped out over the Freeview network. Removing the antenna and hooking up the feed from the aerial in my roof yielded the full, 75-strong list. Again, that's good news for the set-top Mac Mini users.
Whatever aerial you use, the channels EyeTV can detect are listed in the app's Channels pane. You can re-order the channels and uncheck ones you don't want to view when you're surfing through the list using the on-screen remote control.
Other panes include Program Guide, which provides a horizontally scrolling programme schedule. Elgato's bundled a year's subscription to the online EPG (electronic programme guide) TVTV, which will cost you £14.90 if you want to continue with it past year one. EyeTV will also pick up over-the-air EPG info it it's available. US- and Japan-specific online EPG services are supported too, and apparently the software supports remote scheduling instructions sent via your EPG services.
Adding a programme to your recording schedule locally is just a matter of clicking on it. EyeTV will extend the start and end times by up to 30 minutes to ensure you don't lose part of your programme because an earlier show has over- or under-run. You can record programmes on the fly using the virtual remote.
All the other customary DVR features - pause, rewind and fast-forward live broadcasts; a chase mode for watching recordings already in progress - are present and correct. You can set up any number of favourite-channel folders, each selectable from the remote control. And the software's smart enough to adjust the window size automatically to suit the broadcast aspect ratio. In all, it's very nicely done.
Recorded programmes are stored on your hard drive in an internal format that essentially packages the broadcast MPEG 2 stream with EyeTV-friendly metadata. You can extract the video data and play it in an app like VLC, but it's not ready as is for burning to DVD for playback on your living room DVD player. You can at least archive the EyeTV files, and the app ties in to Roxio's Toast, if you have it, to streamline the disc burning process.
Likewise, EyeTV will convert recordings into an iPod-friendly format, though not as yet to 640 x 480, the resolution introduced by the latest 5G iPods. Conversion complete, EyeTV even slots it into iTunes ready to sync across to the player next time you connect it.
Regressive Software Development
Unfortunately, the latest version of the EyeTV software (2.3.1) contains a number of problems that were missing in it's previous incarnation.
Gone are the asthetic-sensibilities of Front Row, replaced by a theme that absolutely REEKS of Windows Media Center Edition (Royal Blue, etc.).
The option to move to Front Row from within the EyeTV menu has also been done away with, leaving people sans Apple Remote no way of actually accessing the program.
That access is now exclusively via a fragile "hold-down" click of the Apple Remote's menu button. Unfortunately, this button is used extensively during EyeTV's normal operation and it's frustratingly easy to activate Front Row (and shut down EyeTV) when your intention is otherwise.
Menu Navigation has been made frighteningly fast - overuse of the Quartz Composer's capabilities was sighted as a problem by so many EyeTV customers that the company has since posted a set of instructions on removing this unnecessary gilding.
EyeTV also makes the very odd choice of removing channel navigation from the Apple Remote and requiring users to jump back into the navigation menu to move up or down a channel. This effectively removes "channel surfing" as an available function of EyeTV...something television enthusiasts have enjoyed since the birth of the remote.
It is heartening to hear that people are getting performance increases from the new version. But I caution consumers looking for a sensibly-laid out program to lower their expectations significantly until EyeTV chooses to correct these major oversights.
Nice kit, software still needs some work
Simon has hit the nail on the head with his post I think. I've been running EyeTV on my Intel Mini since May, and although I'm generally pleased with the set up, EyeTV isn't anywhere near as user friendly as Sky+.
The most annoying problem in my mind is the lack of a good 'series link' feature. The only way you can do it is select the prog you want to record, and set it to record at the same time every day/week/weekday/weekend etc. This is fine except when the series end or the times are moved. Everything went very wrong around the world cup as so many series had the time moved.
The mini can also become quite noisy, especially when it is recording something and playing back something else. My other annoyances are all well described by Simon's comments.
So, all in all not bad, but I'm going to ditch this set up once NTL #finally# release HD in my area, or I can find a aesthetic place to put a dish on my house. I can put up with the failings of this set up, but my wife isn't half as patient, and wants Sky+ back..
Nice stuff indeed
I've been using their Firewire digital tuner for some time, and quite frankly it's changed the way I watch TV - much to the disgust of the TV execs I imagine. I no longer look at whats on and sit down to watch it - instead I go to the online tvtv.co.uk site and see what's coming up in the next week or two and record anything that looks like it might be of interest. I also have stored searches (Macros in tvtv speak) for all my favourite series.
I now watch TV when it's convenient for me, watching stuff that the system has happily recorded for me. Skipping the ads is a matter of just hitting the jump forward button a few times.
Performance isn't bad. I run my setup on my old 700MHx G4 laptop with broken screen - using the S-Video out on a widescreen telly. It can cope with playback of a recording while recording something else - and if you set it up manually can cope with recording four separate cahnnels from one multiplex without losing data (but it sure can't cope with decoding them and displaying them in separate windows)
The software really has improved over the last year or two, but it still needs some tweeks to deal with particular deficiencies :
1) It still doesn't really handle multiple tuners or multiple simultaneous recordings. It should be capable of using more than one tuner, and it should be capable of displaying/recording more than none channel from a single digital multiplex. Whilst you can do both of these, it's clunky and can't be done via the timer.
2) If you do "chase play" (start watching a recording before it's finished recording) tehn part way through you find yourself watching live TV as the timer ends and the system switches you to live TV. You then have to get up and use the mouse to position yourself back to where you were (or sit there with the remote jumping through the first hour of the film at 30s per press of the jump button !).
3) There's still too much that is either impossible or difficult to do with the remote.
4) Whilst you can set you Mac to keep it's clock correct, that's more than can be said for the TV stations ! I'm still puzzled by how f***ing clueless our government were by not insisting on PDC equivalent functionality - I know it's putting a few people off going digital. This isn't really a problem with EyeTV, more a problem with the definition of the underlying digital TV system.
5) Related to the above (and again not Elgatos fault), there's no way to tell either EyeTV or tvtv.co.uk to "just record all episodes of <insert favourite program>". Again I think this is a limiation of the underlying data as it's quite clear looking at the TVTV information that some TV channels really pay lip service to the idea of a TV guide - the data they provide is quite frankly crap !