When El Gato Software released the EyeTV last year (Reviews, November 2002), Mac users finally gained access to a computer-based digital video recorder (DVR) with features similar to those of the TiVo and ReplayTV. A slightly different take on the concept, the Formac Studio DV/TV delivers higher-quality video recording but lacks some of a DVR’s advantages.
All in One
The Studio combines an analog-to-DV converter, an FM radio tuner, and a TV tuner and capture device. To begin, install the software, attach your coaxial cable or antenna to the Studio’s TV input, and then connect the Studio to your Mac with the included FireWire cable.
Once the Studio is connected, you launch the AppleScriptable StudioTVR software, and a setup assistant guides you through creating a list of the channels you receive. By default, the list displays only channel numbers, but you can enter names manually.
Watching the Tube
The Studio captures programs in DV format (unlike the EyeTV, which uses MPEG-1 format). Because the Studio’s hardware box, and not the Mac’s CPU, compresses the video, we were able to use it successfully on a 466MHz iBook SE and on a dual-867MHz Power Mac G4. DV offers 720-by-480-pixel resolution, which lets you choose several window sizes, up to native DV size, without loss of quality.
The Studio TVR software, however, lacks some features you’d expect from a DVR. It has no on-screen remote. You can’t scroll through channels, and you have to access a drop-down menu at the bottom of the viewer just to choose a channel. Also, you can’t pause or replay the last few seconds of live TV — since DV format uses 215MB of disk space for each minute of video, the Studio doesn’t record a constant buffer of material to your hard drive.
As with DVRs, you press a button to begin recording a show while on a channel. But with the simple TVR Scheduler application, you can schedule individual or repeat recordings, schedule recordings automatically via TitanTV (www.titantv.com; registration and listings are free), or even schedule recordings remotely from another Mac. There’s no audio, and you see only a choppy video display while recording, but when you finish, you get high-quality video at the resolution of a standard (not wide-screen) DVD. Because of this, you can back up your favorite shows in DVD or SVCD (Super VideoCD) format.
The Studio DV/TV can also convert analog to DV, and it comes with composite and S-Video inputs and outputs, like its predecessor, the Formac Studio (Reviews, August 2001). In case you don’t need TV and FM tuners, Formac also sells the $289 Studio DV without these options.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Formac’s Studio DV/TV is unique in offering both analog-to-DV conversion and TV viewing and recording in DV format. If you want to watch TV in large format or record it for DVD, this device is a good choice. If you don’t need to capture such a large picture — and don’t need to convert old analog tapes to DV format — consider the EyeTV.