EyeTV Hybrid television tuner

Elgato knocks one out of the park with its newest offering: the versatile EyeTV Hybrid, a USB stick TV tuner capable of bringing to your Mac both digital over-the-air broadcasts (including HDTV) and analog TV from cable or a traditional antenna. Supported by Elgato’s mature and ever-improving EyeTV 2 (   ) scheduling software, you really can’t go wrong with this product.

The minimum requirements for the EyeTV Hybrid are a single G4 processor or greater and OS X 10.4. It’s a good thing that every Mac sold today comes with a dual processor, as the diminutive Hybrid leaves most of the heavy lifting up to the computer. Decoding 720P or 1080i HDTV programming, for example, requires dual G5 or Intel processors. In addition, the Hybrid doesn’t have a hardware MPEG encoder like Elgato’s other PVR (personal video recorder) offering, the EyeTV 250, so your MPEG recording quality is dependant on your processing power. Users with a single-processor G4 computer can encode VCD (video CD) quality MPEG-1. For the best quality MPEG-2 format, you will need to have dual G5 processors or better. Encoding at this quality used up 135 percent of my processing power on a MacBook Pro 1.83GHz Core Duo computer (100% of one processor and 35% of the second).

The Hybrid’s tuner can receive both analog cable and free digital ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) signals. ATSC over-the-air broadcasts can be both standard-definition and high-definition. ATSC differs from traditional over-the-air broadcasts in that there is no static in the picture. If you have enough signal to receive a picture, it will be crystal clear. If you don’t have enough signal, you will see and hear nothing. With ATSC, you can watch digital TV, even HD, anywhere you can get a signal: on the road, in a park, and even at the beach. Since the Hybrid is so portable, taking it on the road is definitely appealing, although you will need to bring your own antenna, as Elgato does not include one in the box. When you’re at home, you can easily attach a traditional cable to the unit to view and record analog video (digital cable needs to be viewed through the cable box). However, the Hybrid only has one coaxial input, so you can’t tune analog and ATSC at the same time.

All recordings that the Hybrid makes, regardless of whether they originated as analog or digital, can be edited from within the included EyeTV application. This allows you to, for example, remove commercials. From the application, you can also burn programs to DVD via Toast 7 (not included with the Hybrid) or export the video to your video iPod with a click of button (other export options are available).

Elgato also includes an adapter video cable that allows you to hook up gaming consoles or other video devices to your Mac. You can also compress your home movies for DVD from your camcorder quite easily. The Hybrid has zero latency (lag time to account for image processing), so game playing on the Mac monitor is quite snappy and enjoyable.

After many years of development, Elgato has a mature scheduling program with EyeTV 2. The software works seamlessly with TitanTV to help users schedule their recordings. In fact, you can remotely schedule recordings when you are away from home via TitanTV’s Internet interface, so you’ll never miss an episode of your favorite show. The EyeTV software now offers a full-screen mode that lets you navigate, schedule recordings, and play video with a supplied remote control or with Apple’s mini remote. It is similar in feel to the way Apple’s Front Row works.

Macworld’s buying advice

The EyeTV Hybrid has many benefits and few drawbacks. It’s a clear winner—especially if you want to take TV viewing on the road. If you have a slower, single-processor Mac, however, the EyeTV 250 may be a better bet.

[ Anton Linecker is a writer and video technical adviser living in Los Angeles. ]

EyeTV Hybrid television tunerEyeTV lets you schedule and watch your programs in full-screen mode, in the style of Apple’s Front Row.

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