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Dr. Mac: Rants & Raves

EyeHome: A Must Have
March 12th, 2004
Episode #14

Rave On

Last week my Houston Chronicle column focused on a brand new product I think is cooler than cool, Elgato's EyeHome Media Player. Elgato Systems, for those not familiar, invented the excellent optical media burning software, Toast (published by Roxio) and one of my personal favorite Mac devices, EyeTV. EyeTV, if you don't know already, is the little USB (and now FireWire) device that lets you watch, record, and play recorded network or cable television programs on your Mac and store the files on your hard drive. I've heard it called a "Mac TiVo," a DVR (Digital Video Recorder), and a PVR (Personal Video Recorder). I don't have a TiVo so I'm not sure about that one, but the other two fit.

EyeHome is a small silver cigar box-sized device that plays media files from your Mac's Home folder -- movies, pictures, songs, and EyeTV recorded material -- on a TV and/or stereo even if it's in another room, over Ethernet or wirelessly over 802.11g (AirPort Extreme), It is plug-and-play over Ethernet, but requires additional hardware, namely, an Ethernet-to-Wireless Bridge such as the D-Link DWL-G810 I will talk about in a minute.

Setup and configuration are a dream; EyeHome uses Rendezvous and pretty much configures itself. You connect EyeHome to the television and/or audio system, shove a live Ethernet network cable into its Ethernet port, install the EyeHome software, and then turn the software on:


Eyehome's Interface

The EyeHome user interface couldn't be easier to use…

That's the entire Mac software interface, by the way. This button turns the server on or off on your Mac; the little box by your TV finds your Mac automatically thanks to Rendezvous, and then configures itself.

Five minutes after unpacking the box I had the EyeHome remote control in my hand and my eyes on the stupid QuickTime movies and my iPhoto albums appearing on the big screen. Then I played my favorite iTunes playlist.

How sweet it is. I can show movies and pictures, watch shows I've recorded with EyeTV, and listen to any song in my iTunes library, sitting in the den or living room. The television interface for choosing media is a little clunky but it's soooo cool you hardly mind a bit. Now, when the urge strikes, I can watch or listen without moving from the couch.

EyeHome has ports galore -- Component video (for the highest picture quality -- 1080i -- on HDTV ready sets); S-Video; RCA (Phono); and even optical digital audio out, and, of course, an Ethernet port.

It rocks, I love it, and I recommend it highly.

As I mentioned, add an Ethernet-to-Wireless Bridge (I tested the D-Link DWL-G810) and you can even use EyeHome wirelessly over AirPort Extreme (or other wireless 802.11g network).

Of course I had to try that -- the Ethernet cable I had stretched from office to den was not proving popular around here.

Configuring the D-Link device was a very different experience from configuring EyeHome. The D-Link was a total pain (which I describe in great detail today in my Dr. Mac column in the Houston Chronicle) where the EyeHome configured itself, which was a total pleasure.


D-Link's Documentation

What's wrong with this picture?

It didn't help that the documentation was just plain wrong. Still, once I got it configured it's worked perfectly, so I can only hope I never have to configure the damn thing again.

Speaking of incorrect documentation, we're going to have us a little contest here…. The first person who posts a message (at the end of the column) and clearly describes just what is wrong with this picture (from the D-Link DWL-G810 Quick Installation Guide), and why you're doomed to failure if you follow these directions, will win an autographed copy of my latest book, Dr. Mac: The OS X Files, Panther Edition. So hurry up and figure it out.

I'll be the only judge; all decisions are final. (I always wanted to say that!)

Back home with the EyeHome, I am quite impressed with the quality of Mac movies and pictures on the TV screen, which look even better when you connect the HDTV to EyeHome's component video outputs. I've only done it twice (I'll tell you why in a minute), but I'm sure all the Mac-based media looked even better in high-resolution.

EyeHome is $249 from Elgato Systems and an amazing bargain at that price. If you want to see and hear the media on your Mac on a TV or stereo elsewhere in your house, you'll love it as much as I do.

That concludes the EyeHome portion of today's delightful ditty. But before I go back to work on GarageBand For Dummies some more, allow me to relate the part of the story that concerns HD devices, HDTV systems, and connecting the former to the latter.

Before I put my big foot into my bigger mouth talking about HDTV, however, let me give you a little bit of background:

Last December our 17-year old big-screen TV died suddenly. It was healthy one day and dead as a doornail the next. We were quickly forced into New TV Buying Mode™ and decided that HDTV (High Definition TV) was a must-have feature. We realized there isn't much HDTV content, yet, but figured we'd be sorry if we didn't, and would grow into it.

So I'm an HDTV rookie, right? I mean, everything I know about home theatre and HDTV I've learned in the past three months. I didn't used to know that each HD device needs five separate cables -- that's three for component video (Red, Green, Blue) and two more for audio. Nor did I realize that using mere mortal cables like S-Video, coaxial, and/or composite video cables, will not allow the TV to use its highest resolutions. But that's how it works.

I know. I tried it: I watched the first part of Pixar's beautiful, colorful, animated Finding Nemo, with the DVD player connected via S-Video. It looked fantastic to me, so I replaced the S-Video cable with three component cables and the difference was clear and, to be honest, astonishing. Colors were richer and saturated with hues and blacks I'd never seen on my TV before.

If you haven't watched an animated DVD on an HDTV setup using component video cables (and 5.1 sound, of course), you haven't seen the DVD. It's hard to believe how much better it looked, and film and video look better as well, though the difference isn't as in-your-face as with animation.

And to think, all it took was using the right cables…

Which brings up another new issue: Why haven't I played with EyeHome in HDTV mode more than twice?

It's like this…The TV has one set of component video inputs, but we've got two component video devices (three if you count the Xbox, which has a component video connection kit available at additional cost that displays games at higher resolutions on HDTV-capable displays), but only one input. Three devices, and each one looks markedly better when it's connected via component cables.

I think you see my dilemma… I want to use the DVD player, EyeHome, and maybe even the Xbox, and do it without pulling plugs each time I want to switch devices.

So I know I need a component video switch box, but while I was doing research I heard about a device that acts as a switcher for up to three component video devices, as well as 7 devices connected with S-Video, coaxial, or composite video cables).

But here's the kicker: This switcher also (allegedly) improves your standard-resolution programming by converting it to a higher resolution (upconverting) with some kind of voodoo resolution enhancement-on-the-fly. It's HDTV UpConverter from ADS Tech , and mine got here a few hours ago, so it's still in its carton while I've got to wrap this column up now. I'll play with it very soon, and I promise you a rant or rave some other time.

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit www.boblevitus.com.

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