There was a buzz about Eye TV coming to the UK. It's been a big hit in the US, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.
Eye TV is a Digital Video Recorder that allows the user to record TV and play it back on a Mac. It you're familiar with TiVo or Sky+ then you know about hard-disk recording of TV. Eye TV aims to work in a similar way, but it's cheaper because there's no big self-contained box with a hard drive inside ? it uses a Mac's hard drive.
In the US, Eye TV gets information about available channels from the Internet, so using it as a video recorder is a real possibility. However, this service isn't available in the UK, though talks with a UK company are under way. El Gato is hoping to have this service in place by the time you read this.
There is another issue with Eye TV, in that you can record and watch TV on your Mac ? but watching TV on your Mac is a bit odd. For a start a computer screen is much higher resolution than a TV, which means TV pictures look a bit iffy when displayed at full-screen resolution. The other option is to shrink the picture to a more natural resolution in a window on your desktop, which isn't an ideal way to watch TV. So as far as using a Mac as a TV goes it works as well as it can, but it isn't really a match for a real TV.
Eye for detail
Setting up Eye TV is very straightforward: it plugs into a USB port (or powered USB hub), and you simply plug in a TV aerial or RCA video leads. The software can auto-tune any local TV stations, including cable, satellite or digital-terrestrial (FreeView). The output of the receiver appears as one channel, so you change channel with the control for your receiver rather than Eye TV.
The software works well, and you can do nifty things such as pause live TV, or even rewind it if you missed something. It can do this because it records a temporary file while it's displaying TV on screen. The image is sharp as anything at its natural size, 320-x-240 pixels, but displaying it larger makes it blocky and a bit fuzzy. If you were watching from any distance this wouldn't be a problem. But we tend to look at a computer screen rather more closely than our television.
To record programmes you set the time, and channel in the Eye TV software. It's easier than programming a normal video as you have a keyboard rather than a remote control.
Using hard disk recording will eat into storage space, so you'll need a fair bit spare. An hour of video will take up around 650MB in MPEG-1 format ? not a problem for a big beefy G4 desktop machine. However, if you have an iBook with a 10GB drive it's a bit of a squeeze. Once the video is recorded you can replay it at any time. You could fill a PowerBook with Emmerdale or MacGyver episodes, and watch them on long-distance flights.
One thing you might want to do is edit the recorded movies in iMovie. The problem is that the MPEG-1 format used by Eye TV isn't fully compatible with iMovie. There is a workaround, though. There are a couple of free utilities that will separate the audio track, allowing you to use QuickTime Pro to convert the file to a DV format. It's a bit of a kludge, but it'll work if you have the patience.
Another neat trick is a wireless connection to a PlayStation 2 from BroadQ (www.broadq.com) that allows you to watch recorded shows via AirPort. Unfortunately though, this is available only in the US at the moment, but a PAL version is in the pipeline.
The promise of Eye TV is somewhat marred by the absence of a TV guide. But the things it does, it does well. It isn't the answer to all your video-taping problems. It doesn't ?do everything a VCR does without the hassle of video tapes? as El Gato claims. For a start it doesn't allow you to watch the recorded shows on a normal TV. However, if you lower your expectations a little, Eye TV is a nifty gadget. Being able to keep up with the war or Wimbledon while at your desk is handy on occasion.
I can see students watching TV on their iMacs in dormitories, where space is short. In the right situation Eye TV is perfect, it just isn't TiVo.