It’s like a Slingbox for your iPad. The Elgato EyeTV HD is a small gadget that, when hooked up to your cable box, can record programs to your PC and let you watch them remotely, as well as live television, on any device connected to the Internet. This $199 device will let you watch all of your favorite television shows and movies whether you’re across the country or in the next room, and the video quality is quite good. At a time when broadcasters are being stingier with streaming their shows and Hulu is reportedly gearing up to charge for viewing past episodes, the Elgato EyeTV HD is a good value. However, there’s one important caveat to consider before you invest in this cool gadget.
The EyeTV box itself is reminiscent of an Apple TV; at 4.9 x 4.9 x 1.6 inches, it’s small, square and can be crammed next to your cable box. A thin black stripe running around the middle of the device is the only thing that breaks up the all-silver exterior; a small LED turns green when the box is in use, and amber when idle.
On the back are connections for component video, right and left audio, S-Video, USB, and an IR blaster. The company supplies cables for all, but we found the USB cable to be laughably short, even though the company’s website claims it’s 6 feet long. Unless you use your own USB cable, your computer will literally have to be next to the device for it to work. While not having an HDMI connection may seem like an inconvenience, it frees the device from DRM restrictions (more on that later).
The box also comes with an infrared remote (and batteries) to control your cable box, but it’s small, and offers no real improvement over a regular remote.
Installing the EyeTV HD was straightforward; just copy the folder on the included CD to your Mac. Setup walks you through configuring the device to work with your cable box. We hooked the EyeTV HD to a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and were up and running in about 5 minutes. The app automatically filled the screen with a TV show; you can adjust the aspect ratio to your liking.
A small floating control panel showed the station name and number, and had buttons for recording, volume, play/pause, and forward/back. A small icon in its upper right-hand corner brought up a menu where we could view details of the program, recordings, channels, a guide, and more.
The EyeTV app automatically pulls in station listings (in our case from Comcast), which it shows in another window; here you can schedule recordings and search for programs using Apple’s search utility. Scheduling a recording was simply a matter of finding the show, and clicking a little button next to the title.
In order for the EyeTV HD to work, it has to be connected to a Mac that’s on at all times. This has its advantages and disadvantages. If the Mac is your only computer and you have to take it on the road, you won’t be able to watch programs, such as baseball games, remotely. If your primary reason for getting the device is so you can watch shows while you’re across the country, you’d be better served with a Slingbox and a cable box with built-in DVR. However, the EyeTV HD has an edge on the Slingbox in that, after you record programs to your Mac—such as on-demand movies—you can export them to whatever device you like; the EyeTV app will even format the video for the iPad or iPod.
For remote viewing, both the EyeTV HD and the Slingbox will save you money over the long run; considering MLB.TV costs at least $80 per year, this device will pay for itself in two seasons—to say nothing of other sports, which aren’t even available over the web.
The neatest feature of the EyeTV HD is its ability to stream your TV to an iPad, iPod, or iPhone over Wi-Fi or 3G. We tested it using the iPad over Wi-Fi. With the EyeTV box connected to the MacBook Pro and the laptop and iPad connected to our wireless network, we were able to watch TV wherever we found a Wi-Fi signal. Better yet, we were even able to watch TV while in the office. (Ahem.)
Currently, Elgato sells the EyeTV app for the iPod and iPhone for $4.95, and is waiting for the iPad-compatible version to be approved. This app lets you watch TV remotely, schedule recordings, browse the program guide, and launch EyeTV on your home Mac. As a stopgap measure—and a way for customers to get a taste of the service—Elgato has a free stripped-down web version (live3g.elgato.com) that lets you watch live and recorded programming.
While the app’s interface is somewhat basic—a progress bar, volume slider, and back/forward buttons are all you get—it did let us easily change the channel of our cable box remotely and watch live TV, as well as programs we’d recorded. It also let us choose whether we wanted to fill the screen or view the show in its original size. Unfortunately, the web-based version doesn’t show program listings, so you have to know what you want to watch.
Recorded HD video was crisp and sharp; we could make out the details of players’ uniforms as they were running down the gridiron during an episode of Friday Night Lights. Live video, whether high- or regular-def, was a bit splotchy and pixelated, but still watchable. We could easily follow the action of a Yankees game, even though the baseball was slightly blurred as it flew from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s mitt. In both cases, action was smooth, and audio was synced up with video.
Even better, we saw no degradation in quality while watching video remotely versus over our local network. Programs sometimes froze, though, which we attribute to network congestion.
If the iPad is the future of mobile entertainment, then it’s devices like the $199 Elgato EyeTV HD that will help fully realize that experience. If you’re not interested in saving programs for posterity, the Slingbox Solo ($189) used in conjunction with a DVR makes more sense—especially when its iPad app is released—as it won’t tie up your computer. But if you like to save content and take it with you for those times when you’re not connected to the Internet, the EyeTV HD will prove invaluable.