Elgato EyeTV Software

Elgato EyeTV Software

I picked up the Elgato EyeTV as part of my experiment to see if I could cut out my DirecTV service entirely.  The short answer is… “no”, at least not quite yet.

The Elgato EyeTV 250 is a USB device for the Macintosh that allows you to watch and record TV broadcasts from over-the-air (OTA) or clear QAM (unencrypted digital cable) signals.  Setup was pretty standard fare — plug in USB connector and power outlet, install software, connect antenna or cable source.  I tested the device with both cable and antenna and the results were a bit mixed.  The scanning channels process took quite a while for both sources, but the cable source returned better initial results.  When using a smaller “digital OTA antenna” I wasn’t able to get all of my major network channels (CBS, NBC, ABC, etc).  However, after connecting to a larger antenna which is mounted in the attic, I was able to pull in all the major networks.  While this was great for my Mac Mini media center (which doesn’t really move), it did mean that it wouldn’t be easy to take the USB device as a travel companion and grab TV from different locations while on the road.

(Quick side note:  Elgato does sell another device which does NOT require a power adapter and some reports have stated that it is able to pull in OTA signals better.  However, the 250 Plus which I picked up has an analog input which in theory would let me record additional sources to the computer — such as converting old tapes or recording video game gameplay.  Recording video game snippets sounded like a cool option at the time, but if I were to do it again, I’d opt for the EyeTV Hybrid TV Tuner Stick).

The Elgato device comes with their latest version of the EyeTV Software.  This allows you to watch TV, schedule recordings (and “season passes”) and browse the program guide.  The app also allows you to edit your recorded videos in order to trim out unwanted sections (such as cutting out commercials from the recorded shows) and even save the output as a compressed format for portable devices such as the iPod or iPhone..  The software worked quite well on my Mac Mini when used with a keyboard and mouse, but the software suite just isn’t quite ready to be fully controlled by a remote control like I was hoping to do with the dedicated home theater Mac Mini.  The included remote control offers quite a bit of functionality, but I plan to use the Elgato with my Plex software and the Apple Remote and I couldn’t get everything dialed in to a point where I could get by on the remote alone (thankfully, the Snatch app on my iPhone was available in a pinch).

Elgato seems to have some decent developer support and I did come across two helper apps which were huge bonuses.  ETVComskip and PyeTV (both available via Google Code) added tremendous functionality to the EyeTV.  ETVComskip will analyze your recorded shows and automatically strip out the commercials.  While this worked pretty well most of the time, I did have one case where it output ONLY the commercials.  The other app, PyeTV, integrates EyeTV with Front Row to bring you a step closer to remote control unity.  Recorded shows worked fine with PyeTV, but switching to the program guide or live tv always made it difficult to return to the Front Row interface.  Hopefully the folks at Plex will come up with an integrated solution and it seems to be a top feature request.

For the most part, the EyeTV was a success.  The hardware worked great to provide an excellent HD picture and the automated recording,  scheduling, and commercial cutting features were a great bonus.  Unfortunately, the software still feels a little unpolished (a third party developer shouldn’t need to be the one to build in Front Row support).  The ability to customize the commands would be a big step forward, but what really needs to happen is the software needs an interface which can be fully controlled by the Apple Remote (and allow for more 3rd party development).

Once football season is over, I’ll try putting my DirecTV account on hold and see if I can get by solely on freely available content.  In order for that to happen the EyeTV is going to be a big part of my plan.  I just hope future software updates will make the transition even easier.