EyeTV 250 Plus

Our house has always been a two tv house – that’s it.  We have one TV upstairs (which has all the good stuff attached to it) and then one downstairs that is just plugged into standard cable (2-72).  The problem was that the nicest screen (my 24-inch LCD monitor for my Mac Mini) lacks a tuner so it couldn’t act as a TV.  So I started looking at TV tuners and finally decided on Elgato’s EyeTV 250 Plus.  

Elgato makes TV tuners, acccessories, and software for Mac and is pretty much regarded as the best company for Mac TV accessories.  They have three models right now (The EyeTV Hybrid, EyeTV 250 Plus, and the HDHomeRun).  After reviewing all my options, I decided on the EyeTV 250 Plus.  

The EyeTV 250 Plus is an external USB based tuner that supports NTSC (Analog Cable and Satellite), ATSC (Digital Satellite) and QAM (Digital Cable).  It also has an adapter that can accept Composite and S-Video inputs along with analog stereo audio.  For my purposes I was most interested in the QAM capability since I am a cable subscriber.  The biggest difference between the cheaper EyeTV Hybrid and the EyeTV 250 Plus is that the 250 has an external MPEG-2 (Video)/MPEG-1 (Audio) encoder (The Hybrid model relies on your CPU to convert the signal into digital format).  The advantage here is that when you’re recording or viewing something off of either analog TV or the analog inputs all the encoding happens outside of your computer, so all the computer has to do is decode and display the video.  This takes a lot of load off your CPU so it becomes much easier to multi-task.  

The tuner itself is great.  The biggest plus (in my case) is the ability to pick up Clear QAM digital HD channels.  This confines you to only the broadcast channels (ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS in my case).  It does take quite a bit of CPU power to handle HD broadcasts however.  

More important than the tuner is the included EyeTV 3 Software, which controls the tuner.  EyeTV 3 is pretty slick.  It includes a TitanTV subscription so you can access TV listings and even remotely schedule a recording to your Mac.  The program also allows you set up favorite channels.  It also keeps the list of all the channels you have access to, which is my case is 461.  Keep in mind – that’s an analog and digital version of every basic channel, plus the five HD channels I can see plus all the other HD channels that I can detect but can’t watch (it just says encrypted).  The only other channels that show up are any non-encrypted digital channels such as the local school districts TV stations and On-demand channels.  

What I like best about EyeTV 3 (and I’m using 3.0.2) is that it offers a plethora of deinterlacing options.  My number one annoyance is interlaced content.  The beauty of EyeTV is that it does a great job deinterlacing content, which makes SD material look a whole lot better and removes some of the annoying jaggies in HD material.  While it has the standard motion-adaptive and always settings for deinterlacing, it also offers a progressive scan setting which doubles the frame rate from 30 frames per second to 60 frames per second.  The results is especially noticeable when watching SD material.  I have to watch Versus via the s-video inputs on the EyeTV and I can hardly believe the huge difference that the progressive scan setting makes for watching hockey.  It doesn’t make it look anywhere close to HD – but it makes it look a whole lot better.  It’s a bigger strain to use the progressive scan setting on HD content and it makes even more Core 2 Duo powered mini sweat (although I think this may have more to do with the poor on-board graphics) but with HD I don’t find progressive scan to be as big of a plus.  

The other great thing about EyeTV is that it functions as a super-DVR.  You can set up series recordings just like you can with a normal DVR and EyeTV records the program and saves it to your hard drive.  You can then use the built-in editor to remove commercials, etc.  While the editor isn’t iMovie, it’s pretty good and the preview panes down on the bottom can help you find the commercials quickly.  What makes EyeTV superior to a regular DVR is that you can keep your recordings around as long as you have disk space and you can edit them.  You can automatically have recordings exported to other formats – even directly for your iPod or Apple TV.  Many people have asked about a recording feature for the Apple TV, and the EyeTV is the closest thing to it.  You can set up a recording, and then tell it to export to Apple TV and add to iTunes.  Once the show is finished it’ll do the exporting and it’ll be available on the Apple TV.

So what isn’t it good at?  Well, I find the exporting feature the most frustrating.  It captures everything in MPEG-2 video and either AC3 Audio or MPEG-1 Audio.  My frustration is that the exporting feature is extremely slow.  When I do a recording sometimes I’ll get about 3 seconds of data on the beginning of the recording that I don’t want there.  Editing it out is easy enough, but then EyeTV insists on compacting the whole recording again.  Also, even though EyeTV can capture and play AC3 (Dolby Digital) tracks, it can’t output them to QuickTime files.  It’s AppleTV setting also lacks support for 24 frames per second so everything (even if its HD) is dropped to 960*540 if it has a frame rate of 30 fps.  (The good news is that the solution to this program is free!) I also find the lack of dual tuners annoying.  Although EyeTV 3 has a Picture-In-Picture function it can’t be used unless you have two devices because the EyeTV 250 Plus is a single tuner only.  This also means that if you’re recording a program you also have to watch whatever you’re recording.  So if there are two programs on at the same time that you want to record you’re out of luck. My final complaint is a pipe dream, but it would be really nice if the EyeTV 250 could accept component and digital inputs for the recording of HD material with digital audio.  

All in all I am extremely satisfied with the EyeTV 250 Plus, despite the few shortcomings.  It provides a great TV-on-you-Mac solution at a relatively low cost.  

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