My first days with the EyeTV Hybrid

by Erica Sadun

I reviewed the Miglia TV Mini HD unit this summer and liked it. So when it came time to lay out my own money for a TV tuner, I decided to take advantage of the $99 EyeTV Hybrid Macworld special. I'd been waiting to buy one for a few months because I was uncertain whether Apples iTV/AppleTV would contain an onboard tuner. It did not.


I chose the Hybrid because (a) it was affordable (unlike a Series 3 TiVo); (b) it did both Analog Cable and ATSC tuning (the Mini doesn't do analog cable); and (c) it was shipping now rather than at the end of February (like the new plus version of the TVMini, which will do analog cable). Yes, it's a bit of a pain to have to switch cables to access both cable channels and my HDTV antenna. And yes, I would have liked onboard ClearQAM tuning, a la the TV Mini HD, but when I tested the QAM capabilities this summer they were...iffy. So while they might have been a nice plus, they weren't an essential part of my decision. Since I live in a big city with excellent free-to-air local HDTV signals, I chose to forgo the QAM.


I learned the hard way that my Intel Mini hates the latest software update of EyeTV. (Version 2.3.1 works fine.) And I can't seem to export to the iPod at all. (I can on my 733 G4, but it's so slow that it's not worth it.) Every time I try on the Intel Mac, EyeTV rolls its eyes backwards and gives up the ghost. (Which is better than version 2.3.2 which will not run at all without crashing.)


The MPEG-2 files, which play back fine in VLC do not open properly in QuickTime Pro (even with the MPEG-2 plug-in). I suspect something in the raw nature of the data. And when I try to transcode in VLC to MPEG-4, the aspect ratio of the recorded video keeps getting mucked up. On the other hand, the video plays back fine in the EyeTV software and the goal is (in theory) to act as a TiFaux PVR to play back on TV. But if I can't get the videos transcoded into some form that iTunes will accept, I'm going to be out of luck in the AppleTV department. Any hints or tips from the reading public will be greatly appreciated.


Scheduling recordings work great--even if I'm sucking up two gigabytes per hour of standard TV. (I'm doing my first scheduled HDTV recording of Idol later tonight, which will give me an idea of the actual space and quality of HDTV recording beyond the 5-minute test-runs earlier today.) The EyeTV software is easy to use and integrates well with TitanTV. And the playback of recorded shows is also friendly. However, I have yet to find a way to extend the EyeTV library to add folders from an external disk and my main Mini disk is rapidly running out of space due to the quickly increasing number of SpongeBob episodes demanded by my 4-year-old.


More as this all develops.


Update: I've just downloaded and started using the most recent version of MPEG Streamclip which is fabulous for editing and exporting the EyeTV video. The edit features are much easier to use than the built-in EyeTV editor, it's way way faster, and it works brilliantly on my Intel Mini. Forget about VLC. This is way better. Thanks Randy Stewart!


16 Comments


2007-01-23 17:53:18
A few thoughts on my EyeTV Hybrid.


- The latest version of EyeTV is 2.3.3 and it seems to run fine with my Intel iMac. I have taken shows and chosen "Export" from the actions menu and then "for iPod (best)" as the format. This has yet to fail on me. Then again, I didn't have problems with version 2.3.2, so your mileage may vary.


- The preferences allow you to select an alternate location for your EyeTV Archive. Just check the "Recording" section of preferences and set your new location. Admittedly, I haven't done this but I'm assuming it works.


- HDTV typically takes about 6.5 gigs of space per hour. If you then edit out commercials and convert to MPEG-4, you can get a full show (which works out to about 42 minutes or so) down to the 450 meg range. Generally speaking, converting from HDTV down to the best iPod setting creates a file that is about 10% the size of the original.


All in all, I think it's a great little product. However, my TV viewing is limited to free-to-air signals as I don't have cable. So this thing allows me to get free HDTV (great for sports especially) as well as giving me DVR capabilities and I don't have to pay any monthly fees to anyone. Not bad for the price, really.


You're right, though, that it is a bit limited beyond that given that it won't pull HDTV from anything but the air. That's my understanding, at least. I would love to find out that I'm wrong on that but I don't think I am.


Hope it gets better for you.

Erik
2007-01-23 22:11:24
I too have no problems on my intel mac mini. 2.3.3 runs fine.
Spot
2007-01-23 22:59:40
ffmpegX has no problems processing mpeg2 output from EyeTV - I use it to convert ElGato mpeg2 output for my Palm pilot using ipod format (mp4/aac) and tcpmp as the player.
Jonathan
2007-01-24 00:41:56
Note - with EyeTV 2.3.3, you can no longer be in a different user account while EyeTV is open and recording (or starts recording due to its schedule). If you are, the EyeTV process will beachball in the inactive user account and it won't stop recording - the end result is that the disk will become full unless you log back into the inactive account where EyeTV was open and force quit the process.


I have an EyeTV DTT and on the whole it is a great product. The EyeTV software is OK as well except it has some fundamental problems. These are:


1. You can't use a password protected screensaver with the software - although EyeTV will wake the Mac up, because no password is inputted it will go back to sleep again after 20 seconds of inactivity and you won't get a recording. (Hence the reason why I was logging in to a second account - I had deactivated the screensaver and was instead logging into a user account with limited permissions as a means of protecting my Mac while I was absent - and hence the reason why EyeTV 2.3.3 is so annoying in this regard). This is probably an Apple problem, but EyeTV makes no mention of this in their FAQs, Manual or Help.


2. While watching the programme you are recording, you should be able to hit a "Don't record this" button which will pause the recording during e.g. the ads, but once released will continue the recording to the same file. At the moment if you hit the stop button, you end up with two or more separate recordings that can't be united.


3. Some channels here in the UK have an annoying habit of putting half an hours worth of news in the middle of a film (yes, that is you ITV!). I should be able to schedule the recording of that film so that it ends up as one concatenated file rather than two separate ones. What would also be wonderful would be for EyeTV to be able to recognise the " symbol that indicates that adverts are about to start in 30 seconds time and for the software to pause recording until they are over ;-)


4. The Recordings folder should be better organised - I should be able to e.g. collapse recordings by month (i.e. similarly to the roll concept in iPhoto, except the "rolls" in this case are all the recordings that were made in e.g. January) to simplify the view.


5. The schedule display should be zoomable. If I want to see the whole day's schedule, I shouldn't have to scroll left and right all the time, I should have the option to zoom out to show more of it or all of it at once, and then zoom in to the section I want to see, if I need to.


6. View persistence - if I am looking at a future date in the programme guide or in my Favourite channels folder, then switch to my recordings or schedule folders, when I go back to looking at the guide it reverts back to showing the "Now" view, rather than remembering that I had been looking at a future date and/or time. This is particularly annoying if you want to check if you have already recorded or scheduled the recording of e.g. a film (for instance, Film 4 often repeats the same film every few days, and sometimes I can't recall if I have already scheduled one of the earlier or later viewings to be recorded or not).

Jesse Barnum
2007-01-24 05:01:33
I am waiting for the MiniHD plus to use with my Mini - please keep up the reviews, it really helps me know what to expect.
Dogzilla
2007-01-24 06:40:55
I also own the EyeTV Hybrid. I have an Intel Mini connected to a 42" plasma. I'm frankly not so interested in HD yet, and am using the system as a large monitor/SD TV. One of the most frustrating things about it is its lack of an SD live TV buffer. Annoying enough in itself, but for me the bigger problem is that it precludes the use of CyTV (live streaming of EyeTV input).


What I find confusing about this is that CyTV *will* work perfectly if you start recording an SD TV show. Perhaps I'm missing something obvious, but is there any real reason why EyeTV couldn't do a rolling recording of an SD show? I understand the limitation on dumping uncompressed analog video, but it seems a simple enough fix to turn on recording to create a rolling buffer of, say, 10 minutes worth of compressed analog video.


Is anyone aware of a way to hack around this limitation?

spot
2007-01-24 14:20:40
EyeTV has a live TV buffer (First thing under EyeTV/preferences) - you just need to
set it large enough..
hdtv geek
2007-01-24 22:34:10
What HDTV resolution is taking 2GB per hour? Is it 720p? The problem may be exacerbated as you go to 1080i and become even worse for 1080p ...
Mel
2007-01-24 22:59:16
I'd like to add a vote for the Plextor ConvertX for Mac. I've purchased one recently, and had no problems with it. It uses the EyeTV software, too, but it does record in mpeg-4 format, so that's a plus. I'm running version 1.8.5 of EyeTV on a Dual 1.8 G5.
Dogzilla
2007-01-25 06:46:27
"EyeTV has a live TV buffer (First thing under EyeTV/preferences) - you just need to
set it large enough.."


Yes, while this does work for HD content, it does not work for SD content. The prefs dialog states that it only works for digital TV or devices with a hardware encoder, which the Hybrid lacks. The manual states that this is because uncompressed analog video is huge - which I understand. What I don't understand is that the analog video is compressed in real time and written to disc if I initiate a recording...which is basically all you need for a live buffer. The only missing function would be to trim the size of the buffer/recording to a predetermined size in realtime, which is also already being done for HD content (hence the ability to specify a buffer size).


Again, I may be missing something, but this seems like an odd omission on ElGato's part. I can't figure any technical reason for it - CyTV works perfectly if I record an SD program, because it can use the recording itself as a "buffer".

jw
2007-01-29 01:45:52
i have found one way with my eyetv 200:
1. use mpeg4 encoding for recording (not available for all eyetv hardware)
2. export the recorded tv show/movie via the export menu using the "export without re-encoding" feature (i exported it to AVI) in eyetv 2.3.3 (this takes practically no time as it doesn't re-encode anything)
3. move the resulting avi file to the movies folder
front row recognizes and plays the recording without a problem at the highest possible quality.
caveat: it uses the same storage space on your hard drive as the original file. and you can't move it to itunes/ipod. (but all we wanted was front row (and thus hopefully apple tv) to recognize the file)


i'm still working on other options (if this stays the only one, i will automate the process either with applescript or with automator)

alison
2007-02-07 02:53:37
I love my mini, but my main niggle with it is that often it only has a few days of schedule for a certain channel even when other tv guides have at least a week. And if I could presave searches for my favourite shows, or set up a regular save schedule for weekly programs, that would be very handy, and ensure that I don't forget to schedule a recording when I am not in.
Stephen
2007-02-19 06:23:59
I'm using the Hybrid with my Mac Mini, and 2.3.3, and the only real frustration I have is that when I play back the recording the image breaks up and stalls erratically throughout the recording. It doesn't seem to do that with the commercials. Any ideas?
Erica Sadun
2007-02-19 06:29:31
Stephen: That is happening to me more and more. I thought it might be signal quality, but I'm connected directly to an excellent cable connection. I'm leaving plenty of space on the hard drive too. Very frustrating!
Stephen
2007-02-19 10:20:33
I'm on cable also. Do you think 2.3.1 might be better?
Robert
2007-02-22 10:36:28
If you want to extend the EyeTV library to add folders from an external disk, all you have to do is make an alias to the other folders and place it in your EyeTV archive folder. EyeTV recordings will show up in EyeTV normally (you cannot record directly to another folder, you have to record to the archive and then move the file manually, but an AppleScript could probably do this for you). Also, if you move any recordings, you'll have to restart EyeTV for it to see them