EvolutionTV

One could argue that Elgato Systems’ EyeTV products (or hardware that uses EyeTV software) rule the Mac personal video recorder market. Miglia takes a valiant shot at EyeTV’s dominance with its EvolutionTV USB 2.0 digital video recorder, but falls short because its software simply isn’t as mature as EyeTV’s.

Great hardware

The EvolutionTV USB 2.0 unit is stylish, featuring an anodized aluminum case and an infrared remote control that lets you change channels while you watch live TV—something Elgato includes with its high-end models such as the EyeTV 200 (   , July 2004 ).

The 125-channel TV tuner connects easily via a small adapter to a standard analog cable TV connector. Digital cable users can use the S-Video or composite-video connectors to get a signal into EvolutionTV (but the unit cannot change channels).

Once a video signal hits the device, EvolutionTV shines. It can encode video to MPEG-2 (for traditional DVDs), MPEG-4 (including a setting that makes the video compatible with iMovie HD), and DivX formats. Both MPEG-4 and DivX offer great quality at lower data rates than traditional MPEG-2 (the EyeTV 200, for one, does not record DivX). Beyond simple recording of TV programs, EvolutionTV also can be used to archive old VHS family movies to DVD with its built-in analog-to-digital video converter.

Immature software

EvolutionTV’s software is roughly where EyeTV’s was two years ago, and users pay the price. In my three weeks of testing, I encountered several serious bugs, including scheduled recordings that recorded the wrong TV channel, missed recordings because the computer wouldn’t wake from sleep, and corrupt MPEG-4 recordings that wouldn’t open in QuickTime or iMovie. The version 2.5 software update addressed some of the issues (like recording the wrong channel), but some bugs remain. Many of them should be fixed in the recently released 2.5.1 update, according to the company.

On a brighter note, Miglia has added new components to the EvolutionTV package with each update. For example, the developers added time-shifting for watching live TV programs and integrated the MovieGate DVD-burning plug-in to the latest version.

Some important features, such as the ability to edit commercials out of MPEG-2 video, are noticeably missing—though Miglia says it hopes to include this capability in the next major update. Currently, the only way you can remove commercials from EvolutionTV-generated media is to use the MPEG-4 iMovie HD-compliant setting and do the editing in iMovie. This option requires re-encoding the edited footage to MPEG-2 if you want to create a traditional DVD, but that takes time and you will sacrifice some quality.

Plug-ins

EvolutionTV uses a plug-in architecture to expand its capabilities. To help schedule recordings, an iCal plug-in exports the recording time and channel information to iCal so that iCal can trigger the recording function. A TitanTV plug-in lets users use the TitanTV Web site to schedule TV recordings as many as two weeks in advance. The MovieGate plug-in makes it possible for users to burn DVDs from MPEG-2 recordings directly from EvolutionTV without any other software. Watching live TV from within EvolutionTV is simple and the unit feels snappy when changing channels.

If you are already familiar with EyeTV software, but find the Miglia hardware alluring, it is possible to buy EyeTV software for EvolutionTV for $79. For some, this might be a match made in heaven (though the EvolutionTV’s price then adds up to $358—$29 more than the EyeTV 200).

Macworld’s buying advice

At $279, Miglia’s EvolutionTV costs $50 less than Elgato’s $329 EyeTV 200. Both PVRs offer great video quality and both have an infrared remote control. But until Miglia releases its next version of EvolutionTV software, the EyeTV hardware-software combo is the better choice. And if you don’t need a remote control, the Plextor ConvertX PVR (   , May 2005 ) is the best value, at $229.

[ Anton Linecker is a technical video consultant and writer based in Los Angeles. ]

EvolutionTVEvolutionTV lets you record TV programs to MPEG-2 for DVDs, and MPEG-4 for iMovie and DivX.

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