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eyeTV 200

Elgato Systems http://www.elgato.com $329

What is the eyeTV 200? Technically, it’s a Macintosh-only hardware device that works as a FireWire digital video recorder, a TV tuner and a video encoder. For all practical purposes, it’s video magic in a box.

The eyeTV 200 box lets you watch, record, edit and archive television on your Mac. It offers more flexibility than most digital video recorders and rivals the features of integrated DVRs provided by Time Warner and other cable companies, as long as you keep in mind a few cable box “gotchas.” The eyeTV 200 can serve as a digital video recorder, a tuner for watching television or other video input on your Mac, and an analog-to-digital converter for transferring VHS tapes to DVDs.

The eyeTV 200 requires a 500 MHz or faster G4 or G5 with a built-in FireWire port, OS 10.2.8 or higher (10.3 is needed for the most recent software update) and several gigabytes of hard drive space for recording programs. Most recent Macs meet these qualifications. Watching, recording, and editing programs on your Mac requires only a video signal from an antenna, cable line, cable box or satellite receiver. If you want to record programs to DVD, you’ll need Toast Titanium ($99, not included). For analog-to-digital translation you’ll need to connect a VCR or camcorder to play the analog tapes.

I tested the eyeTV 200 on a dual 1 GHz G4 with a gigabyte of RAM and a LaCie 120 GB external hard drive. The external hard drive is not necessary, but with program recordings needing about two gigabytes per hour, I appreciated the extra flexibility. (The free space that should have been on my Mac’s internal hard drive had recently been filled with the entire contents of my CD collection, but that’s a story for another time.)

Setting up the eyeTV 200 is very straightforward. Connect the diminutive (8 x 6 x 1") brushed silver eyeTV 200 hardware box to your video source using an S-video, composite, or coaxial cable. You can hook up different devices to the three input ports and toggle among them if you wish. Then connect the box to your Mac with the supplied FireWire cable. Install the software from the CD, run the software setup assistant and you’re in business.
[Gotcha alert: like most VCRs and DVRs, the eyeTV hardware doesn’t communicate directly with a cable box or satellite receiver. You’ll need to change channels manually.]

Your Mac doesn’t need to be in the same room as your video input (in my case, the cable box) for the eyeTV 200 to work. In fact, having them in separate rooms can be an advantage. In my house, for example, computers and televisions are all located in separate rooms. After thinking through various unsatisfactory scenarios which involved moving a television, a Mac, a cable box or all three, I realized that all I needed was a length of coaxial cable to connect the cable box in one room with the eyeTV 200 box and Mac in the next room. (Living in an old house with plenty of clearance under the doors made running the cable from room to room fairly simple.) Being able to keep an eye on the Weather Channel or a breaking news story without having to leave my Mac is a real convenience.

The eyeTV software lets you watch live TV on your Mac’s display in window sizes from an unobtrusive 160x120 pixels to full screen. Live broadcasts can be paused, rewound or fast-forwarded using either the remote control that comes with the hardware (batteries are included) or the on-screen Controller. These features make it easier to deal with life’s occasional – or in my case, constant – interruptions. Live television is cached to the Library folder by default, but you can change the location to another hard drive if you wish.

Being able to watch television in a window on my Mac is cool enough. But the eyeTV 200’s recording and editing capabilities are what really makes it shine.
Recordings can be live or scheduled. Live recording is as simple as clicking the Record button on the remote control or the on-screen Controller. This “straight through” method is also used to record from devices like a VCR or a camcorder, which makes it a breeze to transfer your old videotapes to digital format.

To make a scheduled recording, you click the remote’s Guide button to launch the TitanTV programming grid in your web browser. Select the program in the grid and click Record from the pop-up menu; setup information is automatically sent to the eyeTV 200. [Gotcha alert – remember to change the channel on your cable box or satellite receiver.] You can set up to record one program, or on a daily or weekly schedule.

The TitanTV website lets you hide or delete the channels that don’t interest you to slim down the program grid, view a channel’s daily schedule as a list, and even create a separate grid of Favorites. Imagine, a program grid that displays only what you want to see! The TitanTV database can be searched by actor, title and genre over a two-week period to help you spot shows you might want to record.

The eyeTV Programs window lists all of your recordings whether they’re scheduled, in progress or completed. This is the window where you play, organize, edit or delete programs from your hard drive. If you’ve ever tried to edit or organize programs with a regular digital video recorder, you will be amazed at how easy and satisfying these tasks become with eyeTV. The Edit timeline lets you compact a recording by deleting unwanted material with near frame-by-frame accuracy. With a few swift clicks to the Edit timeline you can trip fifteen minutes of commercials and extraneous beginning and end bits from an hour-long program. That’s time well spent in my book.

Once your programs are edited and organized, you can store and enjoy them on your Mac. If you have Elgato’s $199 eyeHome digital media player hardware, you can also view and control them on your television. I recently added an eyeHome to my setup and my eyeHome recordings look every bit as good as professional recordings. It’s pretty darn amazing.

With the addition of Toast Titanium, eyeTV can burn your programs to DVDs or VideoCDs to play in most regular DVD player. The eyeTV software also exports to formats for email, the web, iMovie, iDVD or DVD Studio Pro and Toast, as well as QuickTime, MPEG-4 and various flavors of DV and MPEG streams. The EyeTV 1.7.1 update posted on the Elgato website allows EyeTV recordings to be exported directly into an iMovie HD project.

The interactive product tour video at Elgato’s website (www.elgato.com) is the best way to get a handle on all the things that the eyeTV 200 can do. For $329, the eyeTV 200 is an amazingly powerful, versatile and easy-to-use home entertainment manager

EyeTV 200 tips:
- If you have set parental controls on your cable box, be sure to disable the controls for a scheduled recording if needed. Instead of recording Lost in Translation, which I had not realized was rated R, I recently recorded an hour and a half of the “This program is blocked” notice. This is one instance where Time Warner’s integrated cable box and DVR has the upper hand – it alerts you to unlock the parental controls when you set up to record a program with a blocked rating.

- Coaxial is the easiest cabling to run over longer distances. WalMart sells it in both black and white; choose whichever blends better with your baseboards. And check for cable flexibility – if you need to wrap around corners, go for a more bendable cable.

–Elsa Travisano
eyeTV 200
System Requirements: Minimum PowerPC G4 500 MHz or G5 processor and built-in FireWire port; OS 10.2.8 or higher, 256MB RAM (512 recommended); @ 2 GB hard drive space per hour of recorded TV; internet connection for optional electronic program guide TitanTV; CD/DVD recorder and Roxio’s Toast 6 Titanium software (not included) required to create DVDs or VideoCDs (optional).
Copyright ©2005 by Elsa Travisano. This review appeared in the March 2005 issue of Newsbreak, the newsletter of MUG ONE - Macintosh User Group of Oneonta, NY.