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EyeTV Wonder USB 2.0

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The EyeTV Wonder USB 2.0 is the result of a collaboration between Elgato Systems and ATI Technologies. At first glance, this concept seems to be a slam-dunk--an EyeTV-branded digital video recorder at less than half the price and half the size of the EyeTV 200 (   , July 2004 ), combined with an ATI TV tuner. Unfortunately, the EyeTV Wonder is far from wonderful.

Viewing vs. Recording

When it comes to watching TV on your Mac, the EyeTV Wonder truly delivers. The ATI hardware transmits raw uncompressed video across the USB 2.0 connection to the computer. So compared to other EyeTV models, the viewing experience of live TV is the same or better with the Wonder 2.0. That’s the good news.

Recording video, however, is another story. The EyeTV 200, EyeTV USB (   , November 2002 ), and even the co-branded Plextor ConvertX (   , May 2005 ) all have MPEG compressors in the hardware; the Wonder USB 2.0 does not. So the onus of compressing the incoming video in real time to MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 falls on the Mac’s processor. In my testing, while recording video with the Wonder USB 2.0, it was not unusual to tax the processor in excess of 60 percent of its capacity. As a result, while the EyeTV 200 can record DVD-quality MPEG-2 on a Mac Mini, the Wonder USB 2.0 can record only VCD quality MPEG-1 on the same machine. In fact, it takes a dual-processor Power Mac G5 to achieve the same MPEG-2 quality that the EyeTV 200 or the ConvertX can achieve on a Mac Mini.

And that’s if it works. I was able to record VCD quality MPEG-1 with the Mac Mini, but ironically I was unable to record any usable MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 over a three-week period with a top-of-the-line, Bluetooth-equipped iMac G5 with 2GB of RAM. The engineers at Elgato tracked most of the problem to a software conflict with Bluetooth and an additional issue with Panther’s processor setting in the Energy Saver system preference. They vowed to address the issue quickly, but it was unresolved at press time.

Apart from the recording limitations, the EyeTV scheduling software remains solid. Adding the ability to choose the recording quality on a program-by-program basis would be a welcome future improvement.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

If you just want to watch TV on your Mac, and not record, the EyeTV WonderUSB 2.0 is terrific. But if you want to record TV, we don’t recommend this product. Unless you have a dual-processor Power Mac G5, you can’t get the full recording quality you would want out of the unit. Owners of single-processor Macs would be better served by buying the higher-priced EyeTV 200 or the mid-priced Plextor ConvertX.

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

[ EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been edited since its original posting to clarify information in the buying advice section. ]

EyeTV Wonder USB 2.0EyeTV Wonder USB 2.0 lets you watch high quality TV on your Mac.
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