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Reader review: EyeTV 250Return to News Page

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EyeTV 250 Review
By Gene R.
Posted: 7/14/2006
Updated: 7/17/2006 (reader comments/questions)
Updated: 8/1/2006 (for comments on EyeTV 2.3 update)


(Note: this review was written before the EyeTV 2.3 update was released on 7/26/2006, which adds Front Row and Apple Remote Support, Faster exporting (they say), Windows Media export, new hardware support and bug fixes. Here's Gene's initial comments on the EyeTV 2.3 update with EyeTV 250.-Mike)

Mike, I've been really busy. I've upgraded to EyeTV 2.3 and as advertised the export speeds have increased dramatically. I can't provide any time benchmarking at this point but the difference is very noticeable on my Dual 1.8 G5. Also the update did not resolve the iDVD export issue I stated in my previous post.

The improved Full Screen mode and Front Row integration works well. Now you can switch applications with video playing full screen in the background as if it were the desktop picture. In the previous versions, switching applications would cause EyeTV to resize to video from full screen down to a smaller windowed size.
-Gene


(original review follows, using EyeTV 2.2.1 software.)

When I was shopping for my analog EyeTV, I found it hard to distinguish the defining differences between the EyeTV 200 and 250 models. So for those with the same dilemma, these are the finer points, as best as I can make them out:

features
* export to MPEG 4 is available with software encoding after the initial hardware encoding is complete.

features2

I choose the EyeTV 250 on form factor and price despite limited encoding possibilities. Although now I think the hardware MPEG-4 encoding would be almost worth the extra $. I've since found MPEG-4 too time consuming as a software encoded export on my G5.

After using the EyeTV 250 for the past month, I can say that it works flawlessly with my G5. I can effectively, watch, record ,schedule, export and edit, while simultaneously working in Safari, Mail, Toast, and Photoshop without a hitch.

For comparison sake, I briefly tested the EyeTV 250 on an iBook to see how the experience measured up to the Dual G5. CPU usage was determined by Apple's Activity Monitor. (EyeTV 2.3 has improved export speed, but Gene has not sent timed tests with v2.3 yet.)

Performance tests

The iBook worked well with the EyeTV 250 so long as it was the only active application. In my testing, recording to the iBook's internal hard drive seemed to be it's achilles heel. Watching video on the iBook, while other apps were running, resulted in dropped frames. I would venture to say that this may not have been the case if the EyeTV was recording to a dedicated external drive.

Here are a few notes on some aspects of the software functionality.

De-interlacing:
All modes work perfectly on the G5.
On the iBook, All other modes worked well except for Progressive scan which dropped frames. Also, set on Progressive Scan the iBook's CPU usage jumps to 80% from 55%

Exporting: (EyeTV v2.3 adds Windows Media option)
There are a plethora of export possibilities:
Email,Web,iMovie, iMovie HD, iDVD, DVD Studio Pro, Toast,PSP, iPod, iTunes, MPEG Program Stream, MPEG Elementary Streams, DV, DV 16:9, HDV 720p, HDV 1080i, QuickTime Movie, MPEG-4, H.264, 3G, DivX AVI, AAC Audio, Apple Lossless Audio

While I did not try all of these possibilities, I can say that my G5 choked on the Full Quality MPEG-4 and DivX AVI exports, taking much longer than I was willing to wait (overnight and it wasn't done).

MPEG Streams worked best; no re-encoding required. As a Result of that, Integration with Toast is a fast and flawless was to make DVD's of your recordings.

Exporting to iMovie HD (ver. 6.0.2) and iDVD (ver. 6.02) resulted in DVDs that were flawed when played back on a TV. I did not try to export to pre-HD iMovie but I'd guess the results would be the same. The flaw manifests as a jumpy or shaky picture during motion in the video. Here is a VideoHelp forum thread and an Apple support thread that corroborates this issue with EyeTV's iDVD export.
http://www.videohelp.com/forum/archive/t291921.html
http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=1678820
I posted on the end of it, noting that export to DV type DVCPRO 50 interlaced was a viable export to iDVD; but in further testing I have discovered that the shakiness is not gone from the DVD burned from this export. It is just not as extremely noticeable as the DV, iMovie, or iDVD export scenario. I have been in touch with El Gato's Support and was told the bug would be noted and addressed in a software update in the future.

The only viable workaround that i've found to fix this problem is to export to Quicktime. Export to Quicktime Movie set to best quality created an artifact free movie rather quickly, but the downside is that it was interlaced (so playback on the computer without software de-interlacing was jaggy) and the resulting file size was sometimes greater than the original MPEG2 file. But note that the only reason for me to export to this file type was to import that Movie file to iMovie or iDVD burn on a DVD and successfully watch on a TV.

If you're asking yourself why not just use Toast if that works so well and without all that time consuming redundant re-encoding . Because iDVD's Menu templates are beautiful and highly customizable and Toast's are, to put it kindly, simple and not so great.

Game Mode:
I'm not a gamer so I cannot attest to its function but I do at times tune into the same channel of a nearby a TV within earshot of my computer. Using the buffered mode there is a noticeable 1.5 second delay in the audio. In Game mode the audio delay is reduced to a .01 second echo. If I mute my computer's volume, listening to the TV audio, there is no detectable lip sync delay visible on the EyeTV video. Game mode also reduces Disk activity if that is a plus, but there is no pausing or rewinding live TV without a buffer.
(Also see below for a reader's notes on Game Mode)

VHS Assistant:
This is nothing more than a timed recording mode via S-Video or Composite connection. It works in modes of 30, 60, 90, 120, 180 minutes and tells you how much hard drive space is necessary. It works well as a safety feature so you don't forget to stop recording and overfill your drive by accident.

Also note: El Gato has a pending update to it's EyeTV Software. Version 2.3 is soon to be released with a Front Row like full screen mode and "additional features." Press Release here:
http://faq.elgato.com/index.php/more/what_is_the_eyetv_full_screen_menu/.
(EyeTV 2.3 has been released now.)

Disclaimer: I'm no videophile. I watch and enjoy analog television. Not that long ago, I was adjusting rabbit ears for good reception. I do not mind watching analog TV fullscreen on a LCD monitor at 1280x1024, I just sit a few feet further back and squint. I'm no authority on matters of quality, I only offer my observations and experiences with my EyeTV 250
- Gene

Replies to this article:

(added 7/17/2006)
"Hi Mike, I wanted to mention that I briefly owned a 250 and felt I had to return it. I have been a long time user of the original eyetv USB, and when I saw the 250 had a game mode, I was quite excited. I picked one up at my local Apple store and tested the game mode thoroughly. I found that when in game mode with no video filters (de-interlace, progressive, etc...) the speed was quite good, perhaps a .01-.05 second delay.
However, the video looks terrible compared to TV with these settings on my 20" Apple cinema display / Quad G5. I found setting eyetv for full progressive scan mode (it cranks up the frame rate very high and de-interlaces) produced very good video quality from my PS2. Unfortunately, despite being in game mode, these settings cause an unavoidable .5 second delay which makes gaming virtually impossible. For Rhythm and Beat games such as BeatMania and DDR, it is in fact impossible to play. The video is so poor with filters disabled that these games are once again unplayable due to terrible interlacing.
In the end I found the only thing that the $200 unit gave me was better looking TV and analog video importation. (Don't get me wrong, TV looked fantastic, and I love the form factor and supported formats.) This was very nice, but not worth the $200 for me considering my Eyetv USB looks good enough for the small amount of TV I watch. For anyone without an eyetv of any sort, this is an excellent buy, as it is far superior to the old USB 1.1 model, but those looking to use game consoles, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed like myself. I look forward to future models perhaps resolving these issues.
--Steffen "


(7/14/2006)
" I didn't have time to read thru all the forum posts linked in that reader article (maybe someone mentions this), but the jerkiness he sees when exporting from eyetv 250 thru iMovie to iDVD probably has to do with the intermediate DV conversion that someone mentioned in one of the forums. For interlaced video, DV assumes bottom field first, while the convention for just about every other codec (including MPEG2) is top field first. It should work fine if the software anticipates this and does the proper conversion, but if not, the fields will be reversed, causing the jerky playback.

I thought since iMovie HD came out, the intermediary is the apple intermediate codec rather than DV, but one of the forum posts claimed DV.

Importing any video into mpeg streamclip allows you to see which field is set to be first (from the stream info window). That should help him to debug the problem. I wish I had more time to look into it. But I only have time right now to give some hints.

(he later wrote)
The "proper conversion" I mentioned to avoid field reversal when going from DV to other codec or back, is to shift by 1/2 frame = 1 field in the stream and reconstruct the frames. Apple's MPEG2 encoder does this for example when encoding from a DV source (it has an automatic setting as well as explicit overrides). Bitvice MPEG2 encoder also has a pulldown menu to force the conversion. Maybe iMovie doesn't take care of this well if in fact it is using DV as an intermediary
Thanks. - Paul "


(7/14/2006)
"Do the mpeg-2 files recorded with the eyetv 250 play in Front Row or must they be transcoded to mp4?
-Mat X"

Gene replied (before EyeTV 2.3 was released):

(7/14/2006)
" No. EyeTV records MPEG-2 to a proprietary file system. You can export to MPEG Stream without re-encoding but Front Row will not play it even though it lists it. You would first need to export to a format it can play.
Quicktime and DV work well with front row as for other formats I do not know. Front Row appears to de-interlace or blur it enough to make the interlacing appear not so strong. The image but the quality of video not nearly as good as viewing through EyeTV using IT's software de-interlacing. This was tested using my G5 with Front Row enabled.
I previously linked to a press release (in review above) telling that El Gato is adding a Front Row-like full screen mode to EyeTV 2.3 and will be released later this month.
-Gene "

Note - On July 26th, EyeTV 2.3 was released with Front Row support.


Related Articles:
There's a previous page here of EyeTV Owner Comments/Tips.



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