EyeTV brings cable to your computer

24 May

The EyeTV adaptor and software makes it easy to view basic cable on your computer. Not so easy, however, is working to deadline while watching playoff hockey. (Geoff Meeker photo)

May 24, 2010

By Geoff Meeker

In my last column, I wrote about my new iMac computer, with its lovely, 27” high definition screen. This week, I introduce some software that brings some new functionality to that screen.

EyeTV is a small piece of hardware, with supporting software, that enables you to watch TV on your computer (Mac or PC). It’s not cheap, at $179, but depending on your needs and interests, may be worth every penny.

The EyeTV adaptor has, on one end, a cable TV input and, on the other, a USB plug that connects to your computer (and an adaptor that plugs into the adaptor).  And, there is a piece of software on CD that makes it work.

The instructions are simple and clear. First you connect the cable to the computer, then load the software. You open the EyeTV program, it locates the signal, then you click the ‘auto tune’ button. Not too different from what you do when connecting a new TV set to cable, with the exception of one extra step – syncing the on-screen TV guide. This took a few minutes, but wasn’t too difficult.

What I have are the first 60 channels of analog, or NTSC, television. This is the unscrambled portion of the signal. There are another 20 digital channels that are scrambled, plus more than 50 digital radio channels that come through loud and clear.

If you plug the cable from your wall directly into your computer, expecting to receive hi def channels, you’ll be disappointed – more on that in a moment – but for my purposes, EyeTV delivers exactly what I wanted. In what’s left of my spare time, I write a blog about the local media scene. This involves watching one of the supper-hour newscasts on TV, and quite often, recording the competing newscast, in case I miss something.

EyeTV has turned my one terabyte hard drive into a PVR, enabling me to record any basic cable program I like. But it goes one better than a PVR, because the software includes a video editing function with tremendous utility for me.

Let’s say I want to analyze how media handled a certain story. I can now highlight that specific item, clip it right out of the newscast, upload to YouTube, then link it to discussion in my blog.

(At this point, we need to talk about copyright. I do not have the right to post that clip to YouTube, without the written permission of the broadcaster. It is not illegal to record programs for private viewing, but the moment you distribute it to others, whether on software or online, you are breaking the law.)

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but that is changing, now that I have the option of doing so on my computer desktop. The cable feed opens in a new window, which you can make as large or small as you like. I’ve found it great for watching playoff hockey, on a small screen off to one side, while I continue with my work. I love being able to record my own programs, and not have to compete with my boys for viewing time in the family room.

The coolest thing about this product is the EyeTV application you can buy for the iPhone. It allows the iPhone to access your computer from anywhere, wake up the EyeTV software, program it to record a show, watch recordings and even view live TV. I don’t use it remotely because it would quickly exceed my data limit (and I am not away from the house that much), but at home, on my wifi connection, it’s a real boon. I can set a recording from the kitchen table, or lie in bed and watch an episode of ‘Ghost Hunters’ on my iPhone. Pure heaven.

You can watch hi def channels with EyeTV, but this is a little more complicated. My computer doesn’t have inputs on back that would accept outputs from a hi def PVR. However, a second EyeTV adaptor connects PVR output cables to the first adaptor, funneling all that data into the USB port. However, this involves a configuration process, to sync the box to the EyeTV software – and frankly, I have better things to do with my time, since I have no intention of using such a configuration.  It can be safely assumed, however, that the hi def signal will look fantastic, displayed on a mid-sized 27-inch screen.

You can also buy TV tuner cards and software for your PC, though I have not tried these yet.

The real question to me is, why is the convergence of TV and computer taking so long? Why don’t computer manufacturers include hi def digital inputs on the back, and package the software under the hood? It makes total sense, and would be popular with consumers.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at www.thetelegram.com.


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