Using the EyeTV

The EyeTV is a great little device that brings digital TV to your Mac.

It works very well for what it is, but we found some usability issues in the real world.

Getting started

The EyeTV comes with two aerial inputs for the two receivers. I was not able to get more than 2 out of 5 local stations using the supplied antennas, even from the second story of a house on a hill in direct line of sight of the transmission towers!

A trip to the local electronics store for a boosted TV antenna fixed that.

Once all channels were being received I took up the IceTV (in Australia) electronic program guide (EPG). There is also an EPG which is transmitted with the digitial TV signal that gives you 7 days worth of program schedeule. The paid EPGs give you more forward planning as well as things like season passes, etc.

So far so good. I was now able to receive both SD and HD channels and they displayed perfectly on the iMac.

Recording

Recording from the EPG is very easy. Just click on the program you want, add a few minutes at the end to make sure you don't miss anything and away you go.

Watching

So I've recorded a show and want to watch it on a real TV. What do I do?

We have an Apple TV hooked up to our HD testbed, so I thought I'd try that.

  • Step 1: Export to Apple TV from EyeTV. This is simple enough but takes about twice the show's duration to export.
  • Step 2: Watch on the Apple TV. This was fine, although you do have to fast forward through the ads. This is simple enough using the Apple Remote. You just press Pause (centre button), then the fast forward button to skip forward.

Note: Elgato make the Turbo.264 compressor which offloads the Exporting to hardware on a USB stick. We'll be trying this out soon using the new Turbo.264 HD compressor. The standard version of the compressor won't handle HDTV recordings.

Ad Removal

There are two options for ad removal under EyeTV - Manual and Automatic.

Manual Ad Removal

The EyeTV manager has a simple editor built in where you can simply right click on a recording and select "Edit". This pops up a simple movie editor which seems to have been designed expressly to remove ads. If you really want to remove the ads from a recording you just set the appropriate markers on the timeline, then 'Compress'.

The "Compress" step removes the marked segments and creates a new recording. This takes about the duration of the recording. If you want to then send it to AppleTV, allow another doubling of the duration.

While this workflow works technically, it takes a while. The other major drawback is that if you recorded this movie to watch yourself, you will inevitably see the ending while you cut out the ads!

My opinion of the manual ad removal is that technically it does work, but its not practical.

Automated Ad Removal

This has been made possible by a Google Summer of Code project called ETVComskip that utilises the Comskip open source MPEG2 commercial skipper. Commercial detection and removal seems to be something that real companies don't go near, so we rely on shady open source projects to make some progress for us.

So, as long as you are familiar with OSX command line workings and a bit of Apple development, ETVComskip is a breeze. That is to say, a normal user will never get this to work.

This plug-in is supposed to run the ad detection utility after every recording. I found this to be intermittent, so had to go to the command line to manually index recordings most of the time.

Once it runs (and it is quite fast - less that 1/10th of the recording duration) it places ad markers on the recording's timeline, just as you would do yourself in the manual approach. From there it is the same as the manual approach - Compress and export to Apple TV.

The accuracy of the ad detection is not good for sport recordings, but for movies and normal TV shows I found it to be very accurate.

So if you have the technical background, and can be bothered with all the waiting, this can work for you.

Conclusion

The EyeTV is a great device and is very good for watching TV on the Mac and making recordings. The main downfall of using the EyeTV is not really any problem with the EyeTV itself, but workflow.

The EyeTV promises to add that final missing piece to the Apple TV Media Centre - TV recording, but falls a little short. This is mainly due to their own inability (most likely for legal reasons) to include ad removal.

As a comparison to the Sony hard drive recorder, the Sony has this mysterious undocumented function where if you press the 'Next Chapter' button on the remote during an ad, it magically skips to the resumption of the recorded show - very nice! Ad detection without admitting it ;)

For now, we're sticking with the old fashioned hard disk recorder for TV shows and leave the Apple TV for the occasional movie rental and access to our iTunes movie library.

Next we will look at how well the PlayStation3 handles the home media task.

If you're interested in the testing setup that we use at ShedWorx, a full listing of our test bench can be found here