The elgato EyeTV Hybrid is a beautiful little USB 2.0 TV Tuner for Mac or Windows computers. It’s “hybrid” in that it will tune just about anything you’ve got: analog cable/tv, Digital/HDTV, and Clear QAM digital cable. It even has adapters so you can hook up a Composite or S-Video source (such as an analog camcorder) to capture standard definition video. The EyeTV is fully supported without additional drivers under Windows 7, via Windows Media Center. If you’re a Mac, the included EyeTV 3 software enables viewing and recording for you.
The photo above shows you everything in the box: the EyeTV receiver, a USB extension cable, the breakout cable for connecting analog sources, Mac software, and the IR Remote. For the review I set the EyeTV up on a couple Windows Laptops (an HP “entertainment” class laptop with Core 2 Duo CPU and Windows 7 Home Premium, and an Acer Aspire One netbook with 2GB ram, running Windows 7 ultimate) and one MacBook.
A Closer Look
Before we get to the nuts and bolts, let me show you the reviver and remote up close.
The device itself is roughly the size of your average USB memory stick. The large antenna/coax adapter on the right is often not shown in promotional/web shots on the elgato web site, but the review unit arrived with it attached and I wasn’t able to remove it with gentle tugging. Not that you can use it with it removed, anyway – but we’ll get back to that later.
On the right edge is the dongle port. The left edge has the IR receiver for the remote.
The remote is one of those standard gray slabs we all know and love. I did not verify this, but I expect the IR codes used are compatible with/the same as Hauppauge-based tuners/remotes, so it may be fairly simple to use a universal remote.
Setup/Install (Windows 7 Media Center)
This isn’t a review of Windows 7 or the Windows Media Center, so I’m going to breeze through this pretty quickly. If you have any version of Windows 7, you should have (or can install) Windows Media Center. Getting the EyeTV to work with WMC is a two step process. First, insert the USB receiver. Wait for Windows to install the drivers, which it should do automagically:
After a while, Windows will tell you it’s ready to use. Fire up WMC and it will walk you through the configuration for your TV source. One of the many many windows you will see is:
This is showing that, when plugged into my very large HDTV antenna coax cable (we’ll get back to that at the end, I promise!) WMC and the EyeTV agree that they can see lots of HDTV over the air channels. Very promising! Continuing on for another few setup screens finally leads to victory:
The EyeTV remote is fully supported under WMC and, assuming you can see the dongle itself with the remote, works fine from normal “couch” distance of 6-10 feet.
I tuned to a couple of HD channels and verified that both 720p and 1080i HDTV works fine. Windows 7 can’t take a screen shot of a full-screen video overlay, so first here is a shot of PBS in a window.
I captured a few seconds of our local NBC and ABC stations to get 1080i and 720p video. A small clip of the ABC nightly news (720p) is available here. Below are two frames from recordings made in WMC with the EyeTV of 1080i and 720p programs:
As expected, digital TV captures (and live viewing) work beautifully.
Setup/Install (Mac – EyeTV 3)
Phyiscal installation on the Mac is identical. Plug in the USB tuner. On the Mac you’ll need to install the EyeTV 3 software to get to the point of viewing/recording video. Installation went without a hitch:
As in the case with Windows, the setup detects the device and walks you though setting up/detecting channels, and determining what guide you should be using based on your service. I used the same Digital over the air antenna, and (not surprisingly!) found the same channels. After a few setup screens, success again:
As with Windows, the EyeTV remote fully controls the software. You can also use your Mac remote, if your Macintosh has one.
EyeTV 3 DVR
The EyeTV 3 software is a full featured DVR, with built in program guide, scheduler, series recorder, and timeshifting/pausing live TV. It performed as expected during the review. Navigation via the keyboard, on screen remote, or physical remote was straightforward, and the software worked equally well in windowed mode (in case you wanted to work with the TV on in the background) or in full screen mode.
In full screen mode, the on-screen remote disappears after a few seconds. It pops back up if you move the mouse (that’s why its in all my screen shots!) but it does go away if you’re using the IR remote.
You can change settings in full screen mode as expected. For example, let’s get subtitles going.
Subtitles are Muy Bueno:
I was able to record digital sources even on a very underpowered Macbook without difficulty. A small clip from the opening of a world cup game, recorded via EyeTV 3, is available here. I actually don’t have any analog sources left in the house to test the analog recording, but it clearly states on the elgato site that analog recording is encoded as mpg2 via software, and not on the EyeTV hardware itself. This shouldn’t be a problem for any Mac with a Core 2 or better CPU.
Tuning, Antennas and Other Small Details
As promised, this is my big problem with this nifty little adapter. Without a fairly decent sized antenna, or a Cable TV source, you’re not going to be seeing anything with it. It seems silly to have to point that out, but you could get the impression that an antenna isn’t needed. What you have here is a really small TV tuner. Depending on where you live (or where you want to watch TV) you’ll need anything from a small set-top antenna to a large rooftop one. I went through this dance in the early 2000s when I got my first HDTV – before the digital transition, and before Comcast even offered HD. From my home to the big HDTV broadcast tower in San Fransisco, I needed not only a full-sized rooftop antenna, but also a 10 foot poll to mount onto the chimney, to put it up high enough. From there, I got a great signal. Fast forward to 2010, and Comcast gives me all the HD I want. The antenna still sits, neglected, on the roof.
When the EyeTV arrived for review I tried it naked, with no antenna, and as I expected got no channels at all. Plugging into that monster on the roof got me upwards of 40 digital channels. I also had a Winegard SS-3000 indoor amplified antenna handy (I seem to collect antennas) and sure enough, it only pulled in the closest couple of stations from inside my house – and it’s nearly three feet across.
So, what’s this mean to you? If you’re expecting this EyeTV to get a picture over the air with no antenna, forget it. Unless you are sitting under the broadcast tower, you are going to need some kind of HDTV/Digital antenna. If you need a big antenna, then that’s going to limit your portability much more than the EyeTV tuner itself.
So, what do you gain from the portability of the EyeTV? Well, if we lived in an analog world, being able to take a small analog capture device with you might be quite handy. I’m not sure that the need to capture analog video comes up much these days, but if you have that need this is a great device for that. Also, it’s possible you’d like to add digital recording to a device that doesn’t support internal expansion. Certainly this is true for many Macs, and for any Laptop device. Being able to set up a system for casual recording, or for regular recording/viewing via the EyeTV is fast, simple, and once completed doesn’t require much more than plugging in (or pulling out) a USB cord.
The EyeTV Hybrid is a good, small TV Tuner/Video capture device. It’s ability to tune and hold a channel lock is comparable to that of “full sized” external or expansion card-based tuners, and it works equally well for Mac and PC based machines. The USB-based device is ideal for all-in-one machines, Laptops, and even Netbooks. If you’re buying the EyeTV for a Windows machine, you’ll pay a premium over Windows-only USB tuners since you’re also paying for the Mac EyeTV 3 software.
Out of the box you’re not given everything you need to watch over-the-air TV, and from personal experience getting an internal antenna to work even from the near-in suburbs can be tricky, so be sure you understand the requirements for an antenna, or a cable box, before you decide the EyeTV is for you.