EyeTV 250 Plus by Elgato

I wanted a way to use my MacBook Pro as a TV, and to convert a bunch of VHS tapes to DVDs.The MacWorld reviews of Elgato's EyeTV product line (see exerpt below) got me interested. I bought the EyeTV 250 Plus, and have been delighted.

Elgato debuts EyeTV 250 Plus DVR

by Peter Cohen, MacCentral

Elgato Systems on Thursday introduced the EyeTV 250 Plus, a new hybrid television tuner and video converter with hardware-based encoding for the Mac. It comes bundled with Elgato’s popular EyeTV Digital Video Recorder (DVR) software. It’s available now for $199.

The EyeTV 250 Plus lets you receive ATSC (over-the-air digital television) signals, and incorporates a coaxial jack, which can be used for an ATSC antenna or analog television or cable. An included adapter cable lets you input Composite (RCA) video and S-Video signals, as well.

The EyeTV 250 performs hardware-based MPEG-2 video encoding, stored on your Mac and capable of being exported and edited using the EyeTV 2 software. The software also includes an Internet-based electronic program guide that will enable you to more easily schedule recordings of programs you want to watch.

Elgato has included a copy of Roxio’s “Toast 8 Basic,” a slimmed-down version of their CD/DVD recording software, to enable you to burn EyeTV videos to DVD.

System requirements call for a G4 or better (including Intel), 512MB RAM, USB 2.0 port and Mac OS X v10.4 or later.

My primary motivation was to replace an aging and failing portable ac/dc 9" TV/VCR for our small motorhome. Space is at a premium there. Both the TV set and a large stack of VHS tapes took up a lot of room. My laptop, on the other hand, always goes along anyway, so if it could serve as a replacement, it was a zero space option, except for a stack of DVDs, which is very compact.

I got the EyeTV in December. Elgato makes two products that I considered - the 250 Plus, and the cheaper, more compact Hybrid. I chose the 250 Plus because it provides hardware support for VHS conversion. It is still quite small - about the size of a deck of cards, plus a power convertor that plugs into the ac outlet.

To convert VHS, the 250 Plus is inserted between the VCR TV output jack and the Mac USB input. The EyeTV software then takes over to manage the conversion and, if wanted, burn a DVD. It's dead simple. Of course, conversion takes as long as viewing, so there is a time factor, but it runs unattended. I converted a couple dozen tapes to take on a trip beginning in June.

To use the Mac as a TV, the 250 Plus takes as input the coax from your analog or digital cable TV or TV antenna. The output again connects to the Mac USB port.Once connected, you tell the EyeTV program to scan for available channels. (If you want, and are connected to the internet, you can download a free TV program guide for your Zip Code.) Once EyeTV knows your available channels, you view your programs, controlling the viewing with either an included hardware remote, or an on screen controller. Both work well and easily. A nice bonus feature is that the programming is digitized and stored in a buffer on the Mac, so you have Tivo-like ability to skip commercials, replay a segment, view at a later time, etc.

To use the Mac to play the converted, or otherwise acquired, DVDs you simply use the Mac's DVD Player - the EyeTV needn't be involved.

One thing we noticed the first time we watched a DVD on the MacBook Pro is that the built in speakers are quite marginal for that use - not enough volume. At the first opportunity I bought, for under $30, an Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 portable speaker. It's 3.5" in diameter by 1.5" thick, is powered by 3 AAA batteries, and provides plenty of volume. Plugs into the Mac's 2.5mm headphone output jack. Any speaker with a compatible jack should also serve.

Bottom line - we used the EyeTV and the converted DVDs on a 5 month RV trip without a hitch. Never once did we wish we had a real TV. In fact the MacBook Pro's 15" screen gave a much larger picture that our old 9" TV.

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