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Elgato eyetv HD Review

Hardware Review

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#1 of 11 Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 24 2011 - 12:42 PM


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Elgato eyetv HD

Reviewed by Ronald Epstein

July 2011



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My very first Elgato purchase in 2009 was a product called eyetv hybrid, which was essentially a small USB stick with a coaxial connection that allowed you to run a signal from the cable company's standard definition box to your Mac.  With accompanying software I was able to watch television via an adjustable window with other open applications, or across the entire display.


For two years now I have been very happy with this simplistic USB device.  However, with the recent purchase of a second 27" Apple Cinema Display, I found the desire to move up from standard definition television to full HD, along with the ability to DVR certain shows directly from my iMac.




Elgato eyetv HD


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Essentially, what the Elgato eyetv HD allows you to do is obtain full access to your premium HD content, via your cable provider set top box, delivered to your Mac.  A full featured DVR allows you to watch, record and edit in full HD.


The Elgato eyetv HD comes packaged with all the cables you need for HD and analog hookup including an infrared remote and IR blaster to control your cable box with the eyetv HD unit.  The only requirements needed from the purchaser's end is a Mac with at least 2GB of ram, a USB 2.0 port, a cable box with analog video and audio outputs and/or HD component outputs for HD.  An internet connection to download the program guide is also required.



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Out of the box, the Elgato eyetv HD has the look and feel of what you would think was an Apple product.  The unit has a handsome, metallic silver finish.  It has a solid, unflawed build quality and it's small enough to be unobtrusive.  The unit is extremely lightweight which might usually cause balancing problems with all its cable connections.  Fortunately, rubber stoppers at the base of the unit prevent the module from sliding anywhere.



Setup and Software Installation



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An included Quick Setup Guide makes the hookup process a complete breeze.  Those of us familiar with setting up home theater components won't even have to rely on the guide.  The HD setup includes connecting the included component cables from the back of the cable set top box into the eyetv unit.  Included RCA cables are used to carry the audio signal.  The biggest disappointment thus far is the omittance of an audio digital input such as coax or toslink.  This is a rather surprising omission given the fact that we are dealing with a HD product.  However, this may be due to the same reasons there is no HDMI connection -- to thwart content piracy.



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With only 2' of assorted cable provided in the package you are forced to keep your set top box and eyetv HD module rather close to each other.  Fortunately, I was able to make this work on my desktop as you can see the unit placed just beneath my 27" iMac screen. As noted above, the silver metallic casing integrates well with the Apple display.



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Initial software setup has been made ultra-simplistic thanks to the EyeTV Setup Assistant.  During the setup the software will confirm your hardware connections and help you automatically pair your set top box using the IR blaster.


During the install process you will have the opportunity to register a free one-year account with TVGuide.  This will allow you to use their software programming grid to search for shows to watch and schedule.


One warning I do have for anyone upgrading from a previous Elgato product.  I had lots of problems with this install only because I did not uninstall my previous software prior to installing this new device.  Anyone upgrading needs to download the Eye TV Reporter (don't click link unless you want to download file), which enables you to totally uninstall all previous EyeTV software and preferences.  Again, this is only necessary for those looking to upgrade from an Elgato product they own already.  Once you uninstall the software, be certain to unplug your Elgato device and restart your Mac.



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If all goes well during the installation you will soon be rewarded with a beautiful, 1080i HD picture window in the corner of your desktop.  This picture can be moved and resized anywhere you wish or in glorious full-screen 16:9.


Pending how you size your windows, you should have plenty of desktop real estate to browse the web and watch eyeTV at the same time.  You can even go into software preferences and have the television display unit always placed on top of open windows so there is no obstruction.


A small onscreen controller (pictured above) can be used in conjunction with your keyboard to change channels, instantly record a television program or scan through material you have already recorded.  If you wish to go to, say channel 903, you simply type those numbers on your keyboard and the channel changes accordingly.



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The included remote is a total waste.  It serves no purpose other than being slow and confusing.  Totally nondescript, it's filled with buttons that will only have you trying to guess and remember their functionality.  Pressing the number keys to change channels is very slow.  Before I could punch in three numbers, the channel changed to the first two numbers.  There is a setting somewhere that allows you speed up the entry keys.  I saw it during the eyeTV Assistant installation, but have not been able to locate it since.   Before too long I ditched the remote and was back using the one that came with my set top box.



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Coming off of a standard definition picture provided by the former Elgato Hybrid, I was absolutely amazed by the picture quality the Elgato eyetv HD provided.  The picture quality is quite striking.  Watching it fully displayed across my 27" screen revealed a picture with far deeper color saturation and detail than ever could be achieved with standard definition.  Does it look as good as as your home theater screen?  Not quite.  There is definitely a slight, but somewhat noticeable amount of picture noise and background shifting. Of course, quality of your playback will depend on the processing power of your Mac and type of installed audio and video cards.  On my 27" 2009 iMac with a 2.8 GHz i7 processor and 8GB memory, I was amazed at how how well detailed and fluently the picture displayed even at full screen .


The eyeTV HD records in high quality H.264 format -- the same used for iTunes and Apple TV.  This is perhaps why it is so easy to transfer recordings to these devices directly from the platform. You can even burn your programs to DVD with the help of programs like Roxio Toast.  Before transferring any of this program content, however, you have the ability to edit out any unwanted material such as commercials, thanks to the built-in editing tools.




Program Guide and DVR



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You will certainly enjoy your first year of free subscription to the TVGuide Program Grid.  It provides an instant look at what is currently available across your cable providers channels.  There are numerous methods of searching for specific content as well.  If you see a show you wish to record, you simply click on the small button beneath the program listing on the guide and it turns red to indicate it's set for DVR recording.  If you wish, you can even set up your recordings manually by creating a new schedule and filling in the program's parameters.



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The left sidebar of the programming guide gives you instant access to your recordings.  You can also create various playlists to store favorite recordings (much like you create playlists and store music on iTunes).  The creation of SMART GUIDES allow you to sort specific program content of the shows you want to see the most.  A perfect example is the second photo above of a SMART GUIDE I created for HARRISON FORD.  With the creation of this guide, any programs that are associated with the actor is filtered into that specific guide.  You can apply further filters to break down that content, searching by Title, Description, Actor, Content, Day of the week, etc.





Elgato iPad and iPhone App




 
If you own an iPad or iPhone, the experience of owning a device like the Elgato eyetv HD is greatly enhanced through the usage of the eyetv app available from the AppStore.  The application allows you to stream TV and recorded content from your home Mac directly to your iPad or iPhone over a 3G or WiFi connection.   This means that you can be in a store, at the office -- or just about anywhere a WiFi or 3G connection is available -- and stream content from your Mac to your device.
 
 
 
Nothing overly exciting about the app's interface, but remarkably, it does work well with a WiFi connection where I noticed minimal loading time and no hiccups during playback.  On the 3G network, there was a bit of a wait for the video to load and some stuttering was evident when the stream ran out of buffered material and was waiting for more to download.
 
 
 
I couldn't imagine anyone not being excited about being able to access live TV and recorded content away from home.  One thing that needs to be mentioned about this process is that your Mac needs to be turned on and your EyeTV software needs to be running.
 
If your Mac is running while you are away but you forgot to launch the eyeTV software, don't worry.  As soon as you launch the eyeTV app, it will ask if you want to launch the eyeTV software on your Mac.
 
I don't know if I am necessarily fond of leaving my Mac running all day when I am not home.   It will be interesting to see how many times I use this app because of that obstacle.
 
Finally, I do want to mention that I am rather saddened that Elgato is charging their customers and additional $5 for the app.  It really should be included with the product.
 
 
 
Final Thoughts
 
 
Elgato has made a pretty solid device here.  The eyeTV HD  does everything that it promises -- bringing HD premium content to your desktop from your satellite receiver while also acting as a sophisticated DVR.   
 
Alas, this device will never replace your Tivo or cable company DVR.  Those devices can be programmed to record content when the television display is off.  With the Elgato DVR units, your Mac must be left running. Be also aware that shows recorded to your hard drive will be immensely large in size -- so be prepared to have plenty of hard drive space.
 
Outside of a clunky, useless remote control, I found the Elgato eyetv HD to be an extraordinary device.  I am highly pleased with the quality of HD it delivers and the fact that content can be accessed anywhere using my iPad or iPhone.
 
A totally satisfying experience for anyone looking to bring HD content to their display.
 
Yet, I have only scratched the surface of what this device can do.  For instance, using the analog inputs, you can hook up an old VHS player and digitize your videotapes to burn to DVD.
 
I suppose I could complain about the $199 pricetag (reduced on Amazon at $155), but this unit seems to be one of the best solutions on the market right now for what it does.  The worst thing about this setup is having to place a large cable box near your computer.  However, Elgato has just introduced the HDHomeRun which eliminates the need for a provider cable box -and- streams content across your entire network using your router.  That device looks like the one to beat, and I will be reviewing it within the next few weeks.
 
 

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 11 Michael_K_Sr

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Posted July 24 2011 - 03:27 PM

Nice job, Ron. I've always been a big fan of Elgato's products.

#3 of 11 ArchMike

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Posted July 25 2011 - 08:02 AM

I've looked at their SilicondDust HomeRun offering; I assume it's just the HomeRun with their software. Now that everyone seems to be coming out with cable card network devices, I'm wondering if any will come to the mac. It'd be useful; I'm typing this up on the first new mac in a while in my house, a new iMac.

#4 of 11 Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 25 2011 - 08:36 AM

Mike,


If you are thinking about something like the HDHomeRun Prime that SiliconDust is

offering (which is a cable card device), I believe it won't be long until you see something

like that available for the Mac.  That is exactly what I am waiting for as well, because

quite frankly, I don't like this huge cable set top box sitting in my office.


For anyone not certain what I am talking about you can see the HDHomeRun Prime here.


It's essentially a device that takes your cable card (so no large set top box needed) and

then feeds the signal through your home network so you can receive a television signal

(and DVR functionality) on every computer in your home wirelessly.


Right now, it's only available for Windows, but I would bet a Mac version is coming.


Ronald J Epstein
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#5 of 11 Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 25 2011 - 11:22 AM

Having a lot of fun with the EyeTV App.


Apparently, you need to keep your Mac running, but your

Mac does stay asleep when connecting the EyeTV App to it

when you are on the road.


In other words, although it launches the software on your Mac,

your screen never turns on.


That's a great thing.


I have been watching TV at work today and I have access to

hundreds of my Fios channels including premium content.


Way cool.  I really love this thing.


Ronald J Epstein
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#6 of 11 MichaelLAX

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Posted August 25 2011 - 10:51 PM

I was hoping to find an Elgato product for this function, but the lack of digital audio input is a killer for me. I'll have to stay with my Hauppauge HDPVR 1212 and mac driver software...

#7 of 11 Cameron Yee

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Posted August 26 2011 - 05:34 AM

I just installed the dual-tuner HD HomeRun into my network and upgraded to EyeTV 3 from Eye TV 2. The only problem I had with the upgrade was the TV Guide program info not taking, but selecting "clear out the old" from preferences seemed to do the trick. The one thing that doesn't seem to be working anymore is the remote scheduling through TitanTV. It's not a big priority right now (and the iPhone app may be a better solution), but I may investigate further if it gets to be a greater need.


I like having the smart schedules. It will take some time for me to "set and forget" as EyeTV 2 required a measure of micro-managing to ensure I got the shows I was interested in. The other nice piece is being able to share the EyeTV archive with another computer running the application, which means I don't have to leave my office if I'm interested in watching something that's housed on my HTPC.



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#8 of 11 Cameron Yee

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Posted August 26 2011 - 09:06 AM

Found this bit of intriguing info:

Try before you buy: free Web App

Live3G is a stripped-down version of the EyeTV app which enables you to stream live television over a 3G connection to an iPhone or iPad. Elgato’s Live3G web app runs in the Safari browser on your iPhone or iPad so you can watch live TV and EyeTV recordings anywhere. It’s free, and it’s a good way to test your router’s compatibility before buying the EyeTV app.

The free Live3G web app is available at https://live3g.eyetv.com.


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#9 of 11 OzzieP

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Posted September 28 2011 - 04:06 AM

ElGato EyeTV Looks like a Fantastic device, my only dislike is the lack of 5.1 for the DVR. Maybe the next version will have HDMI with 5.1 and then it could replace my DVR. However the streaming feature via 3G or streaming to iDevices via wi fi is slick. Just hope users of the 3G have the old unlimited download contract with their cell company. Just curious about the DVR recordings. What type of file format does it record it as? HD HomeRun Regarding the HD Homerun, is that not only for free OTA content or clear unencrypted channels only? I do not think I can hook it up to my Verizon cable box and stream HBO.

#10 of 11 mattCR

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Posted September 28 2011 - 04:26 AM

The HD HomeRun is ClearQAM and OTA only, it will not decrypt nor do anything with cablecard... so it would never do HBO as an example.


Originally Posted by OzzieP 

ElGato EyeTV
Looks like a Fantastic device, my only dislike is the lack of 5.1.
Maybe the next version will have HDMI with 5.1 and then it
could replace my DVR.


HD HomeRun
Regarding the HD Homerun, is that not only for free OTA content or clear unencrypted channels only?
I do not think I can hook it up to my Verizon cable box and stream HBO.





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#11 of 11 mike90

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Posted April 30 2012 - 05:25 AM

Well i own one eyetv and find the quality superb. Well you have well detailed everything in the review. Thanks ! --- LG Cinema 47LM6700 Review