In Which EyeTV 250 plus Helps Dr. Mac Enjoy Television Once Again

This column is my opinion of my new Elgato EyeTV 250 plus, an analog/digital TV receiver and video converter that lets me watch, record, and convert TV shows among various file formats on my Mac. Before I tell you about it, though, here's a little background on my viewing habits pre-EyeTV 250 plus:

I'm not a huge TV watcher but there are a handful of (mostly cable) TV shows that I like to watch, including (but not limited to) The Family Guy, and Criss Angel: Mindfreak. I also have a penchant for HBO, which shows movies, specials and series I enjoy, such as Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Real Time with Bill Maher to name a few.

My two biggest TV-related issues prior to the EyeTV 250 plus were:

  1. I use a generic TimeWarner Cable DVR (because am too cheap to buy a TiVO box). So there is no easy way for me to get recorded shows into iTunes so I can watch them on my Mac, Apple TV, iPod, or iPhone.
  2. I don't have room in my office for a TV so I can only watch television-- live or recorded -- in the den or bedroom.

The Elgato EyeTV 250 plus not only resolved both of those problems elegantly, it's made watching television a more viable and pleasant experience.

Now, here's the scoop...

The EyeTV 250 plus itself is a tiny USB device you connect to your Mac and a cable TV or antenna cable as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The EyeTV 250 plus hardware, shown here in front of an iPhone, iPod, and Apple TV to provide a sense of scale, is not much bigger than a deck of playing cards.

Just install the excellent EyeTV software and in a few minutes you'll be watching, recording, and converting TV programming on your Mac.

Let's start by looking at something simple: watching TV. You do it in your choice of a window of any size (as shown in Figure 2) or full screen (not shown but also quite nice).

Figure 2: Watching TV in a window (left) and on-screen remote control (right).

The semi-transparent overlay (59, CMDY-E, Daily Show With Jon Stewart, etc. in picture above) appears for a few seconds after you change the channels. Speaking of changing channels, you can do it with your choice of either the on-screen remote shown above or the wireless remote shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The full-featured remote control included with EyeTV 250 plus.

Now let's look at some of the ways to record shows.

The first way is to start recording manually. To do so you'd click the red dot on the on-screen remote control or press the red button on the wireless remote. As soon as you do, EyeTV starts recording the show currently on-screen.

That's sweet but the second way is even sweeter: EyeTV maintains a live TV buffer so you can pause live TV anytime you like. That's nice but the buffer allows something even nicer -- you can record a show from the beginning even if you don't decide you want to record it until the end. Allow me to explain... in the picture below I have been watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It was a great show and as the closing credits roll I realize I'd like to save it and let my wife see it. No problem. I merely right (or Control) click on the live TV window and choose "Record Current Show" as shown in Figure 4:

Figure 4: I can record this episode of The Daily Show even though it's almost over... SWEET!

Now if you think that's cool, wait until you see the third and fourth ways you can record a show... The third way is by clicking the show in EyeTV's built-in Program Guide as shown in Figure 5:

Figure 5: I merely click a show -- Curb Your Enthusiasm in this case -- to record it when it airs.

One of the best things about the Program Guide is that it's searchable. So in addition to looking at listings by day and hour as shown in Figure 5, I can also search for shows or movies. So if, for example, I want to record some James Bond movies, I just type "James Bond" into the Search field and all of the James Bond movies in the next week or two appear as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: There are three James Bond movies airing on two different channels in the next few days...

OK... now for what may be the coolest way to schedule a recording -- from any Web browser on any computer (Mac or PC) anywhere in the world. EyeTV's Program Guide listings are provided by a company called TitanTV. So you can surf to and right (or Control) click a program to remotely schedule it to record on your Mac.

Figure 7: Scheduling a new episode of the Simpsons remotely via Web browser from anywhere in the world is a breeze...

Now if everything I've described so far was everything EyeTV 250 plus could do, I'd probably have been a pretty happy camper. But wait -- there's more!

While the capabilities you've seen so far are pretty cool, I saved two of the coolest features for last. The first is that you can export anything you record to your iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, or Toast (for burning to a DVD or CD) with a single click as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8: Just click an icon in the toolbar to export a show compressed properly for Toast (burn to DVD), iPod or iPhone, or Apple TV...

Exporting shows at the best quality (see Figure 9) is incredibly slow but the quality of the files when viewed on your iPod or iPhone is awesome.

Figure 9: It took over 3 hours to export this 2 hour movie using the best quality setting but the movie looks fabulous on my iPhone...

Last but not least, another very cool feature: You can publish your library of video recordings for playback on your iPhone or iPod over a WiFi network. Just turn on WiFi Access in EyeTV preferences and you can watch all of the shows in your EyeTV library on your iPhone or iPod Touch with Safari, as shown in Figures 10 and 11.

Figure 10: I can watch any program in the EyeTV library on my Mac in Safari on my iPhone.

Figure 11: And this is what it looks like...

Before I got the EyeTV 250 plus, I missed a lot of good TV. And it was either too expensive or too much trouble to get television programs and movies into my Mac and then onto my iPhone, iPod, or AppleTV. Now, I never miss a program I like and have the ability to take them with me wherever I go on my iPhone or iPod. I know there are cheaper ways to do some of these things, but I don't think there are better or easier ones. I'm enjoying the heck out of TV again and I owe it all to the EyeTV 250 plus.

I have had several video watching/recording systems in the past but this is the first one I like enough to use regularly. I give it my highest recommendation.

By the way, the EyeTV 250 plus also supports HD programming, but only the kind delivered "over-the-air" through an antenna, not the digital cable kind we get here. So I was unable to test HD on the product. If you receive over-the-air HD programming and use an EyeTV 250 plus, please let us know how it's working for you. Thanks.

EyeTV 250 plus by Elgato Systems. SRP $199.95

And that’s all he wrote…