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November 2008

Discount Item. Adapt, Adapt, Adapt — Elgato has had to muster all of its ingenuity amid changing times in the cable- and satellite-TV realms. Old ways of recording programs using EyeTV gear are rapidly being rendered obsolete, so Elgato has to come up with new approaches. Comcast, for instance, is in the process of phasing out most of its old-style analog service and nudging its customers toward digital offerings.

In other words, those long accustomed to using Comcast service with a coaxial connection directly into their TVs now have to get cable boxes. Double boo! Use a physical switcher to shift between the two previous options.

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I loathe this since it creates a mess of cables that is a far cry from the older, one-cable-into-the-EyeTV approach, and because it puts even more burden on me to avoid making mistakes. Elgato, thankfully, has come up with an alternative solution for those who have cable or satellite set-top boxes. Instead it plugs into composite and if available component ports on a set-top box to record whatever channel the box happens to be set to. Channel switching is done via an IR blaster, a zapper that sits in front of the box and works as a remote.

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IR blasters tend to work well, but are prone to error, when something is placed between the blaster and the IR receiver, for instance, or if the blaster is knocked out of alignment. The EyeTV HD solution is great in one key respect: All shows, HD or not, on all channels, are available for recording limited only by the channel packages to which you are subscribed. The device even bypasses copy protection associated with some programs, since recording does not occur over the HDMI connection that enables this annoying impediment.

Once this is done which is a bit of a headache, largely due to router-configuration complexities , EyeTV 3 recordings and even live TV magically become viewable as Internet video, streaming from your Mac to your iOS device not always smoothly, alas. You can access record settings and show listings from afar, too. Elgato keeps working on the encoding end, too. It provides a separate USB-stick device called the Turbo.

A software-only Turbo. I am dying to know what Elgato will come up with next. I dislike the remote that Elgato bundles with its tuners, for instance, and have long lobbied for a cooler one.

What about EyeTV software for Windows? Hey, that could happen. It would be fantastic for my Macs to be fully EyeTV-capable regardless of which operating system I happened to be using. Here in Europe it also handles the radio channels that piggy-back on digital TV, which is neat. A recent gripe is that transcoding for iPhone is incredibly slow on my i7 iMac because just one of the eight available threads is being used.

I balk at shelling out for Elgato's hardware dongle to speed things up when I've got all those unused cycles which a HandBrake conversion would just lap up. Potentially Elgato's new software accelerator would shut me up, but its price is sufficiently high that I'm not going to buy it on spec without knowing whether it will result in a worthwhile speed up. Macworld's review just used a dual-core processor; MacNN's used an i7, but gave no useful figures; the 3-minute limit in the trial version is too short.

Can anybody help me by telling me how much the software converter speeds up transcoding on a powerful Mac? Be aware that if you don't always want to timeshift and just want to surf the channels in realtime, it can be a little fiddly to get the EyeTV HD to do that; and to my eye, the quality being passed through the Mac doesn't look quite as good as the quality straight out of the cablebox. In my case with Time Warner however, connecting the HDMI outs to the cablebox disabled the component outs, making this option a non-starter. The potential is clearly there and for many who only want to watch on the computer it may work great.

I've added some refinements to this basic concept. Where EyeTV software always loses and where TiVo shines is that there always comes a time when you need to grab a keyboard or mouse, either because you need to dismiss a modal dialog box, or you need to type to search. It's just not possible to control it all with a remote. I use AirMouse Pro on my iPhone for that purpose. Good article--that's pretty close to my experience of EyeTV on a dedicated living room Mac as well.

I'm lucky to live in a city that built a municipal fiber network and isn't subject to corporate edicts. Actually we got two EyeTV tuners so we can double record. Theoretically we could have 3 or 4! The dreaded Comcast digital switch has hi here in St. It was easily remedied with a firewire connection from my iMac to the cable box and an application called "Channel Changer.