The EyeTV for DTT is a tiny little box with an aerial socket and a USB socket that happily sits in the gap between the wall and my bed, with a long USB cable leading into the iBook wherever it is in the room. After buying it on eBay, I had to fork out another chunk of money for an upgrade from EyeTV 1.8 to 2.0, since all the fun stuff is in the 2.0 rewrite. Unfortunately, this turned out more expensive than it would have been to buy a new EyeTV for DTT with EyeTV 2.0 bundled.
It works pretty well, although the extra work threatens to overheat my iBook. To try to mitigate this, I then bought a laptop cooler from eBay that completely failed to work. However, after spending some more on rubber feet and a potentiometer from Maplin, I've got it working pretty well with the option to trade noise for cooling.
My only real complaint about the hardware is the fact that it has a single tuner. After using the Thomson DHD-4000 and the Humax 9200T at home with their dual tuner loveliness, it's a bitch going back to a single tuner.
The software is overall quite nice, but it's missing some incredibly obvious features:
- "Smart Playlists" or "Smart Recording Schedules". I want to be able to get it to record the same show every week. The VCR I had twenty years ago had this function, but not EyeTV.
- A smarter search engine. If I search for "ER" it'll find any show with the letters E and R in succession anywhere in the title or description. This is obviously a compromise for simplicity as a result of Apple's dumbing down of search with the release of Spotlight (which, IMHO, sucks)
- PDC. Okay, this is more of a criticism of the DVB-T system in general. My last VCR could adjust the start and end time of a recording based on broadcasted signals by the TV station. As a result, when a show ran late, the VCR wouldn't chop off the end. I haven't found any DVR capable of similar functionality, and I guess it's not part of the spec. I've lost too many shows this way.
- Resizing of shows in the programme grid. Only long shows (eg. films) have rectangles long enough to display the full title. Short shows aren't marked at all. I'd like to be able to zoom in on the grid.
- Control of two tuners. I can't confirm this as I've only got one tuner, but it looks like EyeTV can only cope with one. If it could cope with two, I'd buy another.
It also has a bunch of annoying bugs, design flaws and odd design choices. Among other things:
- The over-excitability of the controller. It pops up at the slightest provocation, and it doesn't auto-hide like DVD Player.app's controller.
- The lack of customisability of the colour-coding scheme. It would be very useful to mark my favourite shows and have them appear in a different colour. Unfortunately, the colours are hard-coded to specific genres.
- The hard-coding of the TVTV station list. When assigning a TVTV.co.uk station to the EPG for a given channel, the list is huge: containing most channels from most countries (as opposed to the list I've configured on the TVTV website, the list I can receive in my country, etc). Also, the list was missing a few channels that TVTV does list on the website. It looks like the list can only be updated in a new version of EyeTV: I had a scout around and if it's stored anywhere, it's in some inaccessible binary format.
- Bad behaviour when the disk is full. These recordings take up a lot of space. There's no way to designate an overflow drive, or any particular "disk full" behaviour. Worse still, when my disk space ran out during a recording, I got the spinning beachball of death, and had to force quit the application.
- Tuner and recording sharing over Bonjour. I'd love to be able to share the tuner to anywhere in the house via Bonjour. I'd love to be able to set up a video archive on my home server and have it appear in the recordings list. It would almost be worth buying a Mac Mini for [see below]. In the meantime, CyTV is too much of a hack and quite frankly just doesn't cut it.
Those are only a few. Oh, and it crashed horribly a lot today, although it's the first time it's done that.
Overall, it does do the job, but I hope they fix the problems soon. Looking at their past, however, I bet they charge £79 for it, and don't offer an upgrade path. It's pretty annoying when existing customers don't get a discount. Reminds me of Apple, but at least Apple's software is better quality.
I would recommend the software, as there's nothing else out there that touches it. However, that doesn't mean it's good enough.
The idea of buying a Mac Mini, a couple of these tuners and a big external drive and shoving it under the TV downstairs has great appeal, but
- it wouldn't work properly,
- the Mac Mini doesn't have good video out,
- it doesn't integrate with Front Row,
- it doesn't have network sharing,
- it would cost a lot,
- and the software doesn't work quite well enough to make it worth it.
Close, but no cigar.
So, I am glad I bought it, but it cost real money and doesn't quite satisfy.
What I really want is this:
- a nice big piece of kit with a lot of big hard drive space, ideally RAIDed.
- It should have about eight tuners and should just continually store all the UK multiplexes for as far back as they can, so all TV is rewindable on demand, not just the channel you're watching.
- It should be able to retrospectively start recording. When I flip onto a show and realise I'm missing something I want, I should be able to rewind to the start of the show, and/or record it from the start.
- It should be able to stream live TV or the recordings to thin-client boxes fitted under each TV in the house. It should stream across wireless to my laptop, my PSP, or the hypothetical tablet PC I have.
- It should have an optional DVD jukebox/autochanger with an unlimited capability via daisy-chaining. This is easy hardware to build, yet we rarely see it at the consumer level. I have close to 1000 DVDs currently stored in many CaseLogic binders. I'd like to have them on instant access.
- It should be able to stream music to Airport Express boxes (or similar).
- It should have nice, easy-to-use software that doesn't crash, is extendable, and is ideally open-source.
- It should have the ability to tie into your home phone line and offer speakerphone, wi-fi-based handsets, VoIP. Incoming calls would mute music and pause TV playback, etc.
- It should tie into my mobile phone, offering the same functionality controlling my phone using Bluetooth
- It should have video-conferencing capability, ideally using webcams on the thin-client boxes, anywhere in the house.
- It should integrate all this with Address Book functionality for Caller-ID
- While we're at it, there's no reason why it shouldn't offer shared family calendaring, TV-based email, mobile phone contacts syncing, etc.
Now, is this beyond the realms of human capability? No. Practically all of it is off-the-shelf hardware and open-source software. A lot of the stuff about Address Books, calendaring, Bluetooth phone control, etc. are already part of Mac OS X and work well.
Right now, cobbling it all together reliably would be a big job. However, it would be a simple development job for a company to start mass-producing this stuff using commodity hardware.
The best thing would be if Apple would position the Mac Mini as a platform to do this. Write a new piece of software called "iHome" linking all this together: Front Row, iChat, iTunes, iPhoto, EyeTV (or something like it), Address Book, iCal, .Mac email, and glue it all together with a fun clustering/Bonjour thing.
I can see how this could be done for about £2000 - £3000 for a kick-ass system based on a few Mac Minis, with a few terabytes of storage space. The average expensive apartment owner in Central London happily pays this kind of cash for a grotty B&O system that does far less.
This thing could be life changing. It's one of those "home of the future" things. All the technology is here, and it's cheap commodity stuff now. It just requires the effort to link it together. The Mac's meant to be your life's "digital hub", and this is what it should be.
Come on, Apple. Just do it. You know you should.
(Note, some of these features are now available in EyeTV 3, as I mention in my followup to this post.)