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Miglia’s TVMini HD is a stylish looking and compact device that enables Mac users to watch, record, and edit over-the-air digital HDTV ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) content and unencrypted digital cable TV programs. It is a great way to get HDTV content onto your Mac. Since the TVMini HD is a bus-powered USB 2.0 device, you can take it anywhere you go. So, you can watch Lost or Desperate Housewives while camping, if you wish—provided you are in range of an ATSC broadcast tower.

The TVMini HD package includes a USB tuner, a small TV antenna, a handy remote for changing channels, a small carrying pouch, and a CD with Elgato’s EyeTV 2.1 television scheduling and editing software (   ; June 2006 ). While the system requirements necessary for recording incoming video are quite low (a 500MHz G4 processor), to properly view 1080i high-definition programming, you’ll need an Intel core duo Mac or a dual processor PowerMac G5.

Over-the-air HDTV

The TVMini HD’s primary purpose is to capture ATSC transmissions. ATSC is the North American standard for digital TV and uses MPEG-2 transport streams to encapsulate the video data and Dolby Digital for audio. ATSC content can be both standard-definition and high-definition, and it is transmitted over-the-air, like traditional analog TV. The big difference between ATSC and traditional TV for the end user, though, is that digital TV never has static. The audio and video quality is always crystal clear, provided you have a sufficient signal. The downside to digital TV: if your signal strength drops below 50 percent, you lose your picture completely.

Miglia includes a basic telescopic television antenna with the TVMini HD. At my home, nestled in the hills of Los Angeles, I was able to pick up only five digital TV channels with the antenna, and occasionally, the signal would drop out. After a quick trip to the electronics store, I had a better indoor antenna for around $30 and 16 solid channels—all the local channels, with five in high definition. At my office in Hollywood, I was able to pick up 24 channels. (To find out which digital channels are available in your area, visit the Consumer Electronics Association’s Web site.)

Once I tuned the TVMini HD, it reliably recorded my scheduled TV shows in both standard definition and high definition. The included Elgato EyeTV 2 software is the premiere digital TV recording software available today for the Mac platform. TV recordings are easy to schedule via EyeTV’s integrated program guide. All recordings can also be trimmed of their commercials and burned to DVD, or exported to the iPod video format.

The cable experience

As I found out, ATSC reception can vary significantly by location. The hills around my house blocked a number of TV channels. The TVMini HD also lets you capture digital content from your cable connection—but you can’t get the normal analog or digital subscriber channels. Instead, the TVMini HD tuner has a decoder for Clear QAM.

Clear QAM is a feature available to most cable subscribers, whereby the free, unencrypted digital channels (including HD channels) that are available in a given area are rebroadcast on the cable band alongside cable TV channels, but at a different frequency.

You often don’t need digital cable to receive Clear QAM signals. With most cable companies, basic cable is enough. (For example, with my analog-based Adelphia cable plan, I receive 34 digital TV channels—including five in HD—and more than 40 channels of digital music via Clear QAM.) You won’t get HBO or Showtime via Clear QAM, but getting high-definition programming through the most basic cable package is still very nice—and economical. Another benefit to Clear QAM, compared to ATSC over-the-air content, is that the signal never drops out.

The one catch about using Clear QAM with the TVMini HD: you will need to manually build your channel lists because Clear QAM frequencies are not registered with TitanTV, which supplies EyeTV’s programming information. To make the PVR (personal video recorder) scheduling work, you must make the names of your channels match TitanTV’s database. This information was not covered in the EyeTV user manual that shipped with the Miglia TVMini HD—a key omission. Since our testing, Miglia has remedied this by posting a new FAQ and a revised manual on its Web site. The updated manual will also be included on a new CD in future TVMini HD packaging.

Macworld’s buying advice

The Miglia TVMini HD is a portable PVR device that lets you capture, record, edit, and archive digital TV and HDTV via ATSC and Clear QAM cable. If you want to view and record analog or encrypted digital subscriber cable programming, check out Elgato’s EyeTV 250 or Plextor’s ConvertX (   ; May 2005 ).

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

Miglia’s TVMini HDWith the TVMini HD, you can capture and watch high-definition video from over-the-air ATSC or unencrypted digital cable. You can even edit out the commercials.
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