Few people would argue that we’ve begun to see a fundamental shift away from broadcast television to online media in recent years. That said, there’s still a phenomenal demand for digital, cable and satellite television (and some great programming available).
Just because broadcast TV isn’t streamed over the Internet, doesn’t mean that your Mac can’t play a part in the experience. Today I’ll be looking at EyeTV, an application designed to watch, pause, record and convert television on your Mac. To use the application, you’ll also need a compatible TV receiver (I’ll be using the EyeTV Sat, which supports HD in the UK).
Choosing a Hardware Device
The first thing to note is that EyeTV requires a hardware TV receiver. Various different types are available – some receive standard analogue TV, some digital, one picks up satellite broadcasts, and another also includes composite/s-video inputs. You have several options, but be sure to pick one that’s appropriate for the type of broadcast in your country.
Setting Up the EyeTV Software
After setting up the device and installing the software, you’ll be walked through a very straight-forward setup and tuning procedure. You’re given a free subscription to an online TV guide, which provides regular updates to the software so you always know what’s on.
You may find that you need to manually tune a few channels if they aren’t picked up by default. This can be done by opening the “Channel Guide”, right clicking, and selecting “Manually Add Channel”. It’s particularly useful when using the EyeTV Sat.
The software is remarkably simple, but also packs a fairly impressive bunch of features.
The ControllerThe most notable part of the app that you’ll interact with regularly is the controller. It looks sleek, and features buttons to control the TV channel, volume, and playback (you can quickly record a programme, or fast-forward/rewind through the recent broadcast). EyeTV automatically records a “buffer”, so you can rewind television even if you’re not recording.
The two buttons in the top corners will open each of the two types of menu/guide:
- The Overlay Menu: Great for when you need to control EyeTV from a distance – this is similar to the TV menu you’d expect on a set top box.
- The EyeTV Software Menu: A more in-depth interface for managing channels, recordings and schedules.
Each EyeTV device also contains an infra-red receiver and comes bundled with a physical remote control. It makes for easy channel-hopping from the couch. If you’re already a fan of Front Row – never fear – you can also use the Apple Remote to control EyeTV and easily swap between the two media interfaces. Simply press the “Menu” button once to access Front Row, or hold it down for a few seconds to access EyeTV.
Schedule & Recording
The real power behind EyeTV becomes apparent for viewing TV schedules and setting up recording. The TV guide looks gorgeous, and is packed with information about each programme:
You can schedule any program to record simply by clicking on it and, if it’s a series, instruct EyeTV to automatically record all the future episodes (Tivo style). This worked well in my testing (the app hasn’t missed an episode of Peep Show so far). Obviously this will only work if you have the EyeTV application open, so it’s a good idea to leave it open even when not in use.
After recording a TV show, editing is a simple process (don’t worry – you won’t need to export into iMovie!). A straight forward edit window lets you crop out the beginning and end of a recording, remove advertisements, then save it back into EyeTV.
After you’ve recorded a program, EyeTV makes it easy to export it to various devices:
- Toast: You can burn the programme to a DVD using the popular application, Toast.
- iPod/Apple TV: The app can convert the show to iPod (or Apple TV) sized video and import it directly into iTunes
This process can happen completely seamlessly in the background, so a show is ready to put on an iPod next time you come back to your Mac.
On Your iPhone
The last few months have seen some fantastic improvements to the EyeTV iPhone application, which is now capable of streaming programmes you’ve recorded across a Wi-Fi network, scheduling new recordings, or even watching and controlling live TV:
The setup process works seamlessly, and the interface on the iPhone is remarkably easy to use. I was impressed with the quality of live TV streaming, though I’d also love to see this feature enabled for streaming video to another Mac connected to the network.
The iPhone app costs $5, and obviously requires a licensed copy of the desktop EyeTV software.
After using EyeTV regularly for a few weeks, I’m very impressed with the number of features packed into the software and the level of reliability. Despite doing some fairly heavy video lifting, EyeTV always remains responsive and snappy.
In a future version of EyeTV I’d love to see integration with online social/streaming video sites such as Hulu, Netflix etc. To have access to both broadcast and Internet video in one application would be superb.
The thing I find most remarkable is that, despite the lack of competition in this market, EyeTV are innovating at a phenomenal pace. Very few other companies produce similar software, but Elgato are not resting on their laurels. Not only is EyeTV a great piece of software at the moment, it seems to be improving regularly with new features and bug fixes.
If you’re looking for a TV solution on your Mac I can’t recommend EyeTV highly enough.