Elgato EyeTV Netstream 4Sat full review

The promise of watching up to four different HDTV channels at any one time on your choice of Mac, Windows PC, phone or tablet is certainly tempting. Especially with the ability to record, edit and archive recordings to your media library. That’s exactly what Elgato’s latest product, the EyeTV Netstream 4Sat, can provide.

The Netstream 4Sat is a network TV tuner, meaning it connects to your home network rather than directly to an individual computer. This provides two significant benefits: it can be more easily installed where the satellite feed enters your home so long as you get a network cable there; and because the TV broadcast output is over your network, a range of devices can be used to watch and record that TV.

Elgato’s existing network EyeTV units, the Netstream Sat and the dual-tuner Netstream DTT, work in a similar way, but they have limitations: the ‘Sat’ version has only one tuner (an extra box may be piggy-backed to provide two tuners) while the ‘DTT’ still doesn’t support DVB-T2, so no HDTV – not in the UK at any rate.

The new Netstream 4Sat addresses all these issues: with four HDTV tuners, provided you have enough satellite feeds (or a suitable multi switch) you can watch and record up to four different channels on four different devices at any one time.

And the timing is spot-on: BBC3 HD and BBC4 HD have just joined the free-to-view-HDTV party so there is even more reason to get on board with HDTV viewing – trust us, you will not want to go back to standard-definition TV. Picture quality is superb!

A very neat trick, new to the Netstream 4Sat, is hardware transcoding. This allows you to watch HD channels on your iPhone or a similar device that is not strictly speaking HD compatible. The full-HD signal is down-sampled and sent to your device in a resolution that it can handle.

We found this a very useful feature – on the previous Netstream Sat we had to include both standard and HD versions of the same channel in our selected channel list, just so that we could watch them on our iPhone. The feature list – we’re talking useful and useable features, not just marketing ‘must-haves’ – already positions the Netstream 4Sat firmly at the top of Elgato’s EyeTV range. But there’s something else that confirms the flagship status: build-quality.

Built into a cast aluminium monocoque, the Netstream 4Sat feels and looks like the Bentley Continental of TV tuners. The recessed rear panel keeps everything neat and tidy and features four satellite connections, the power input and switch and the gigabit ethernet network socket.

Once you’ve screwed in the satellite feed(s), attached the external power adaptor and connected to your network via ethernet all you need to do is to install software for your devices: EyeTV 3 (for Mac), TerraTec Home Cinema (for Windows) and various apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android and Kindle Fire.

We found EyeTV best for personalising the channel selection, but an app-based device such as an iPhone is also needed to check for firmware updates. And here we have one small complaint: with the previous Netstream Sat you could upload your channel list to the device so that your personalised list is available on all devices (we use only 35 channels out of over 500 found in the channel scan). On the Netstream 4Sat whilst you can copy your personalised channel list from one computer to another, you have to manually delete and sort channels on your portable devices.

We tested the Netstream 4Sat with two generations of Apple Mac mini, a MacBook Air, iPhone 4S and iPad 2. The Macs can use the very slick EyeTV 3 software, which includes a three-month subscription to the Gracenote TV guide. This provides 12 days’ advance programming and is available to purchase for £16.95 a year (it claims to offer 14-day guide but strangely we only got 12). If you prefer though, there’s also the free EPG information provided by DVB, embedded in the Freesat signal.

Selecting programs to record is highly intuitive. Click a (very) small button on the program listing and the timer is set. Alternatively there is a search window allowing upcoming programmes to be searched for by name.

Editing recordings – to remove the adverts for example – works like a dream. Select the first and last frames of the section you wish to remove and the compact feature will remove them, to the frame. We found we could remove the advertisements and top-and-tail an hour-long 1080i recording in around a minute. Handy export buttons are also provided to enable exporting to Apple TV or similar, which usually transcodes the video to suit various devices. For archiving you can export as MPEG Program Stream or just drag the trimmed recording file in .eyetv format to your NAS drive without re-encoding.

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