Just after I'd written about the many ways you can find broadcast television that
do not involve the use of "rabbit ears" or cable TV connections,
the folks at Elgato came along to show me some useful purposes for having the
aforementioned antenna. And it'll set you back far less than you might think.
The $149.95 Elgato EyeTV Hybrid combines an over-the-air (or cable) TV tuner
with DVR capabilities, and puts this all on a USB-friendly "stick" that plugs
into the back of an Apple iMac or any current Apple notebook. Add the antenna or
cable hookup and you're read for HDTV at your desktop. I'm not sure if the small
size or the great price are the more amazing facet here, but I'm also glad a
choice isn't necessary.
The EyeTV Hybrid is my second device from Elgato, which specializes in the devices
for Mac users; other makers offer similar products for the Windows side of life.
Unlike the EyeTV 200 unit I used earlier, the Hybrid is tiny, saving desk space, and
draws power from the USB port. Competing products require a separate power supply.
You can also use the EyeTV Hybrid to move recorded shows from your Mac to an iPod or
iPhone, or to an AppleTV unit connected to another set in the house. It will also
let you hook up a VCR and convert old tapes, such as family movies, to
computer-based recordings that can be burned to DVDs or CDs; a "basic" copy of
Roxio's Toast 9 software is included with the device.
The only "shortcoming" is that unlike Elgato's EyeTV 250 device, a stand-alone
box costing $50 more, the Hybrid doesn't have its own hardware encoder built-in,
relying instead on computer software and the Mac's processor to do the heavy
digital lifting. The 250 will produce somewhat smaller video files, and those doing
a lot of conversions will want to go for the more expensive product.
But the Hybrid should be good for most of us, and certainly good enough for someone
like me, who wants to watch more than record. I tried it with my Verizon FIOS cable
service, which meant I got standard-definition pictures, not hi-def, since the box I
used it with was of that caliber. I had previously used the older EyeTV 200 this
way, although I could use an external antenna to pull in high definition broadcasts
if I wanted.
The Hybrid did its job nicely, and the new EyeTV 3 software is better than the
predecessor. What I do (don't tell my boss, please) is sometimes watch while
writing. In default mode, the TV viewing window pops up in a size large enough to
watch, but not full screen. Click on a menu option and it'll zoom up to take the
full screen area.
Picture quality is excellent, due partly to the tuner and partly to the iMac I'm
using at home, which has a 24-inch display. Because it's hooked up to cable, I
depend on the cable remote, and not the one supplied with the Hybrid, to change
channels on the cable box. There's a small control window that pops up when
viewing television; you can (and I do) dump it quickly with the press of two keys on
the computer's keyboard.
Recording shows is easy, and can be programmed in advance using the TV Guide service
provided, for one year, with the unit, or on an ad hoc basis. You can also
"capture" a frame from video, something that bloggers in millions of basements,
among others, will likely applaud.
The basic reason for adding a TV tuner to a computer makes sense: you've got
processing power, you've got, almost always now, a screen that can easily display
HD broadcasts, and most homes are either cable- or satellite-wired and/or have
computers in rooms with good access to over-the-air signals. For those in studio
apartments or dorm rooms, having this device can add usefulness in small spaces.
I like the EyeTV Hybrid for its price, ease of use, performance and tuck-it-away
style. If your needs are similar to mine, you might enjoy it, too. Information can
be found online at www.elgato.com