For years, Elgato has been making the best software for watching TV on your Mac, and though others have tried to compete, EyeTV has always been the preeminent solution.
Despite a lacklustre debut, The Tube from equinux has begun to show itself as a credible competitor, and the result of this competition is better software for us.
Take, for example, EyeTV's new idea of saved channel lists. The idea is, if you regularly move your TV-receiving Mac from one location to another - work and home, say - you can tune your receiver into the channels available at each location and simply switch between them without having to rescan every time.
The Tube has boasted this feature since its inception, so it's good to have it here at last.
Repeats and series
The biggest advance, however, is with scheduling repeating programmes for recording. One of the great things about services like Sky+, V+ and TiVo is that, with one click, you can have the system record an entire series, but the problem with this is that it requires all sorts of work at the back end of the electronic programme guide before you can do it.
The system has to recognise that specific programmes are linked together into a series, and neither the over-the-air EPG nor the subscription EPG tvtv.co.uk that EyeTV users can access supports this. And while it has long been possible to create recurring recordings, these were dumb repeats that didn't make any allowances for changing schedules.
Elgato's novel solution is to leverage the power of smart lists, just as we've seen in iTunes, iPhoto, Mail and Finder. So the idea is that you create a smart list with a bunch of variables - show name, episode title, actors, director, format, channel and the like - and it dynamically updates the list of programmes that match.
You can have the system automatically record every programme that matches, and, if it's a series, keep only a certain number of the most recent recordings. And while it's still not as slick as a one-click, it does have an extra advantage that the likes of Sky+ doesn't.
Record your favourites
Let's say you love David Attenborough's nature programmes; simply tell EyeTV to record all programmes that contain 'David Attenborough'.
Love the Coen brothers' movies? Just create a Smart Guide that lists 'Coen' in the directors field, and the system will automatically pick up any of their films whenever they appear on your EPG; it's a great way to catch stuff you like without scouring the lists.
Other improvements are most obvious with sharing. Now not only can you share your EyeTV library with other users on your local network - though this gave us some problems - but there's support for streaming your recordings to an iPhone or iPod touch.
Though this iPhone streaming debuted in EyeTV 2.5, the problem was that most consumer broadband packages lacked sufficient upstream bandwidth to stream recordings; EyeTV 3 offers the option for encoding the content at lower quality that now not only uploads over consumer ADSL but can also stream to the iPhone even over an EDGE connection.
You wouldn't want to use it for movies, but it's fine for news and the like. Also new to this version is optional password protection. equinux promises a similar system with its yet-to-ship TubeToGo solution, though in that case, the recordings are automatically uploaded to a server of yours so the same upstream constraint has less relevance.
The interface has been spruced up, inheriting the collapsible hierarchical system used in iTunes and Leopard's Finder, and the full-screen menus now overlay the playing video with some handy options, including the ability to scan your entire channel list for programmes showing now and next.
You'll still need some tuner hardware, and given that the EyeTV for DTT costs £20 less than the software on its own, it makes sense not to buy a third-party tuner and add EyeTV 3. The upgrade costs £30, and while this is not cheap, the Smart Guides feature alone is worth the cost; you may even be eligible for a free upgrade depending on when you bought your tuner.