In recent years, the Mac has become a device capable of acting as a very powerful media center. iTunes, Front Row, and OS X in general, provide a plethora of features which justify the Mac as a living room device.
That said, one vital piece is missing as a standard: watching and recording live TV on your Mac. There is a wide variety of hardware and software which allow you to watch TV, and this post will cover some of the options available to you.
There are several different TV receivers available for the Mac. They all connect via USB, plug into an antenna socket (some include small, portable antennas), and are bundled with a piece of software. Many offer slightly different additional features which meet the specific needs of different users.
The most widely known company producing Mac tuners is Elgato. They develop a range of ‘EyeTV’ devices, and also the widely acclaimed EyeTV Software. The main competitors to Elgato consist of Pinnacle and Miglia. Interestingly, the majority of TV products are aimed at the non-U.S. international market. I’ll note which devices are international and which are U.S. compatible below.
EyeTV Hybrid – A versatile DVB-T/DVB-C/Analogue TV tuner and FM radio receiver. EyeTV Hybrid also comes with a video cable for composite (RCA) and S-Video to connect a set-top box to your Mac for satellite or premium channels. This is a very versatile device, which supports most connections (even allowing the use of gaming consoles). It comes with the EyeTV software, a remote control, and is available in European and US versions.
EyeTV Diversity – A dual TV tuner stick that receives Digital Terrestrial Television (DVB-T, or DTT). In “Dual-Tuner mode”, you can watch two different TV shows on your Mac at the same time, or watch one show while you record another. A “Diversity” mode can also be used, which amplifies the received signal through combining both tuners. Quite a formidable concept, with some great functionality. It’s Europe only for the moment.
EyeTV DTT (+ Deluxe) – A compact DVB-T TV tuner with either a full size antenna plug, or a compact version (in the Deluxe edition). You can opt for the standard DTT to receive the basic tuner with no extras, or the Deluxe DTT which comes bundled with a small portable antenna, a remote control and is small enough to fit snugly in the MacBook Air. As with the Diversity, it’s Europe only.
Pinnacle only offers one TV tuner product for the Mac, the HD Mini Stick. It’s a fairly basic device, with different versions for the US and Europe. It comes with a mini remote, a portable antenna and a carry-bag. Rather than being bundled with the full EyeTV 3 software, they come with a stripped down version called ‘EyeTV Lite’. This still offers most of the main functionality you’d need — basic features such as watching, scheduling and recording TV. It’s possible to upgrade to the full version at a later date. For the price, however, you’d be better off opting for one of Elgato’s devices in the first place.
- TVMini+ – A portable tuner with support for digital & analogue TV, as well as connecting composite and S-Video.
- TVMini 2 – Featuring a compact design, perfect for thin Apple laptops.
- TVMini Express – The budget version, with a relatively compact size and no frills.
- TVBook Pro Express – An unnecessarily long name, but this tuner fits into the ExpressCard slot in the MacBook Pro. Clever!
- TVMicro Express – The international version of the TVMini Express, working worldwide.
Miglia have an extensive line up, and you’ll probably find that only a few of their devices are available where you are. They all come bundled with Miglia’s own TV software, which supports recording, scheduling, integrating with an online TV guide and exporting into iTunes/iPod/Apple TV etc.
It is clear to see that the different companies producing Mac TV products are differentiating their lineup in a similar way. You’ll need to decide whether you want: (a) a compact and budget device; (b) one which supports composite and S-Video inputs; (c) one which fits into an ExpressCard slot; or (d) one with multiple tuners for simultaneous recording/viewing.
Software is also a very important consideration. The definitive market leader is EyeTV 3, which undoubtedly provides a wide range of features. However, if you’re looking to save a few hard earned pennies and don’t require the latest and sleekest software, opting for a device offering EyeTV Lite or MigliaTV could be a cheaper option.
Regardless of which you opt for, I hope this article has opened your eyes to the range of options available and will allow you to make a better informed decision!
Note: There are also a number of TV tuner devices which support hardware encoding of TV shows to a H.264 format. I haven’t covered these in this review (to keep it to a readable size!) but may do so in a future post.