Elgato EyeHome Digital Media Player and EyeTV 200 Tuner/DVR Page 1

At first, it wasn't pretty. The newly added Macs appeared in the Connect menu, but I couldn't consistently access any of them. Sometimes I could sign out of one and enter another without a problem; other times, I couldn't. A few times, I'd enter one Mac, only to find the contents of another. After much investigation and a few choice exclamations, I found the problem: On one of the computers, the Internet Sharing function was turned on, and it was wreaking havoc on the network. Once I switched it off and rebooted the computers, I was able to access and jump easily between every Mac on the network without incident. Therein lies one frustration you must prepare yourself for when introducing computer functionality into your home theater—one errant setting in one computer can disrupt the entire network. But you know what? Once I got it working, my highly technical assessment was that this thing is pretty darn cool.

My review sample did have some minor quirks. The remote's buttons were a tad too responsive. Combine this with the lack of a consistent onscreen progress indicator that lets you know when the EyeHome is processing a command, and I often found myself accidentally canceling commands or going deeper into a menu than I intended.

In a bizarre design choice, the front-panel LED lights up when you turn the unit off and goes dark when you turn it on, but this has supposedly been fixed in the new EyeHome model.

Once I got past the minor technical difficulties, I thoroughly enjoyed using the EyeHome. If you're a Mac owner, this is an extremely easy, inexpensive way to acquaint yourself with multiroom and media-server functionality, as well as those dreaded computer terms that you've been trying to avoid.

The Eye of the Beholder
OK, you've introduced computer functionality into your home theater. How about introducing home theater to your Mac? The EyeTV 200 can turn your Mac into a tuner/DVR unit through which you can watch and record your digital or analog cable signals. Simply connect the EyeTV box (the EyeHome's identical twin) to your Mac via FireWire and to your cable system via the RF connection, then load the EyeTV software. EyeTV features time-shifting functions to rewind and pause live TV, plus an onscreen program guide—if you have Internet access to pull up the TitanTV.com Website.

If you only want to view unencrypted analog cable channels, you can run your RF feed directly from the wall to the EyeTV 200 and change channels using the EyeTV remote. If you want to view your encrypted or digital cable channels—and I suspect most people would—you need to run an RF cable from your cable box's RF out to the EyeTV 200's RF in, and you'll still need to use your cable box's remote control to change channels. I chose the latter setup, and it's worth noting that, during the setup process, I had to run the auto-tune function several times to pick up channel 3 or 4; only through one of these two channels did my digital cable signal look clean and not full of snow (this isn't clearly articulated in the QuickStart Guide). After you tune in a signal via the RF connection, you can switch to composite or S-video and stereo analog audio connections from your cable box to the EyeTV 200, if you wish. You can also connect the analog output from your camcorder, DVD player, etc., to record non-copy-protected content to your computer's drive.

Like TiVo, the EyeTV 200 automatically backs up whatever plays on the screen. You can record live programming, manually set future recordings, or select future shows via the TitanTV program guide. A recent upgrade allows for remote scheduling via the TitanTV Website, and you can even edit out commercials and burn the content to VideoCD or DVD, if your Mac has the appropriate equipment. Unfortunately, the EyeTV 200 doesn't have two-way communication with your cable box, so it can't automatically tune to different channels, which means you need to leave your cable box on the channel from which you want to record, and you can't schedule multiple future recordings on different channels—a big drawback compared with dedicated DVRs.

After I recorded several programs, I returned to the EyeHome in my living room, and the newly recorded content was waiting for me, listed in the order I recorded it, to play on my big screen. The audio and video quality were pretty much on par with a standard-def digital cable signal.

As for the A/V quality on the Mac itself, that's dictated by your monitor and your Mac's processing prowess and audio/video cards. The audio was distractingly choppy through my PowerBook's standard-issue audio card. The G5 comes with higher-end cards, and it reproduced everything smoothly and cleanly; however, my old-school Sony CRT display still gave the video that mushy quality most of us expect from a computer.

In other words, it performed OK but didn't compare with what I could get from a standalone device in my A/V system. If you're an average Mac user with an average system, you probably won't get much benefit from the EyeTV 200. However, if you're a Mac enthusiast who has endowed your machine with the best internals and peripherals that money can buy, the EyeTV 200 is an excellently affordable way to add cool (albeit limited) DVR and tuning functionality.

Combine it with the EyeHome, and you've got yourself a multiroom A/V distribution system for less than $500. Maybe there's something to this IP thing, after all.

• The only Mac-dedicated digital media player, with access to music, movies, and photos
• Inexpensive multiroom, server, and DVR solutions

HD on the Mac
Elgato also offers an HDTV version of the EyeTV, the EyeTV 500. When I attempted to pull in ATSC signals using the EyeTV 500 box and a Terk HDTVi indoor antenna, I never successfully tuned in all of the major over-the-air stations (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, PBS, the WB, and UPN) at the same time, regardless of where I placed the antenna in my apartment.

Once you do tune in signals, the EyeTV 500's functionality is basically identical to that of the EyeTV 200, with one important exception: While your EyeTV 500 recordings will appear in your EyeHome's menu, you can't view them. Buried in the FAQ section of Elgato's Website is the rather important fact that the EyeHome can't receive a video signal higher than 480p, so it's incompatible with HD signals. You can set the EyeHome's output for 720p to 1080i to match your display, but you can't receive anything higher than 480p.

As with the EyeTV 200, the audio and video quality depend on your Mac and display. As expected, I got the best results with my G5: The picture was smooth and clean, but it still didn't compare with the color fidelity and resolution I get in my home theater. The EyeTV 500 is definitely intended for the ultimate Mac enthusiast with the ultimate Mac system.

(415) 391-0310