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Review: El Gato EyeTV 200

by on August 19, 2005

Although there are quite a few TV tuners that connect externally to most Macs, they require USB 2.0. Because of this, many users are left out, especially since FireWire is more common. Elgato, one of the first companies to offer a TV solution for OS X, offers FireWire connectivity and a bit more in its EyeTV 200.

The EyeTV 200 retails for around $330, which makes it slightly more expensive than comparable PVR products, like Miglia’s EvolutionTV. What you do get, though, is a device that can be plugged into any free FireWire port, with no need for an external power supply. Also included is a remote and the highly-praised EyeTV software.

EyeTV 200 Front

EyeTV 200 Back

The Remote

I wouldn’t want to cross him in a dark alley!

The On-Screen Remote

Recordings Window

Basically, the EyeTV turns your Mac into a video recorder and TV, like a TiVo, but without the subscription costs. Because of this, we can forgive the price difference between this and a TiVo, especially if you plan on keeping it for a long time.

About the size of an external hard drive, the EyeTV is one of the most minimalist TV products we’ve tested. Encased in silver plastic, the only things on the front of the EyeTV is the logo, and a silver window. The window receives the IR remote signals, but also has a small LED in it. This LED indicates the status (if you can record or not). On the back of the unit are a set of RCA connectors, an S-Video connector, and an RF connector. Two FireWire ports allow daisy-chaining, and a connection for an optional AC adapter is present, if you need to use the EyeTV with unpowered FireWire ports.

The EyeTV takes the video signal (usually TV) and compresses and converts it into a format that your computer can deal with, and still not eat up your hard drive space. The formats it can natively encode in include MPEG-2 (the same as digital satellite and DVDs), MPEG-4, and a VCD-friendly version of MPEG. Unlike many other devices the 200 doesn’t support DiVX, a format gaining popularity in many places for its small file sizes and ability to be played on many cheap DVD players.

The software, also called EyeTV, is quite nice, especially since many quirks of the earlier versions have been fixed. After running a setup tool, the EyeTV automatically finds all the channels in your area and adds them to the list. One thing that we didn’t like was that channels cannot be added or removed at a later date without running the assistant again (you can hide channels you don’t want to use, though). An on-screen “remote control” features many of the same functions as the actual remote, but is a bit simpler. One window shows live TV and can be scaled from very tiny to full screen. Another window shows all the things you’ve recorded, but haven’t deleted.

Speaking of recording, the software integrates with TitanTV for scheduling and recording. We found this to work flawlessly about 95% of the time. Once shows are recorded, they’re added to the list, with a time and date stamp. If you scheduled a recording using TitanTV, other information, such as the name of the show, a brief description of the episode, and guest stars is also filled in.

One drawback with recording is that the EyeTV cannot control satellite receivers or digital cable boxes, so you must use the timer features on there to make sure they change the channels when you can’t. Analog cable or over-the-air broadcasts won’t have any problems. If channels are weak, the EyeTV had trouble picking them up, often having garbled video.

When you watch previously recorded shows, the software remembers where you left off, so you can start watching something, and come back to it days later, even after restarting or shutting down your computer.

You can watch things while something is recording (either what’s being recorded or a previous recording). Since there’s only one TV tuner, you can’t watch something else that’s live or record two things at once.

The EyeTV also features timeshifting, or the ability to pause live TV and have an instant replay if necessary. You can specify how much space is devoted to timeshifting, but unfortunately, you cannot record things from it (so if you saw something cool, you cannot hit the replay button and then record).

Some other notable features of the software include the ability to decode closed captioning, displaying TV data (many TV stations send out their call letters or TV ratings), editing, and the ability to export into many different formats. Editing mode allows you to trim out any unwanted content (such as the end credits for a show before the one you want or commercials), and is pretty easy to use, as well.

We tested the EyeTV 200 with many of our different Macs, all running Mac OS X 10.4.2, and found no problems, except for one one account on the Mac mini. On dialup, our internet connection would randomly hangup while the EyeTV software was open. We couldn’t reproduce it on any other accounts on the mini or any other Macs, and after further investigation, trashing the network preferences fixed it. Being able to use its feature-packed, yet easy-to-use software is what makes the EyeTV a good choice, despite its higher price tag.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

The EyeTV is about as good as TiVo-features on a Mac gets, just as long as you’re willing to shell out a bit of extra cash over the competition.

Pros: Very good MPEG-2 recording, remote control, integrates with Toast, can be used to edit recordings
Cons: Pricey, no recording from timeshifting, no DiVX support
Rating: 8/10

The Facts

Product: EyeTV 200
Company: Elgato Systems
Platform: Mac
Price: $329 (list)

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