With Apple TV now available to buy, what use is it to us in the UK, since our iTunes Store doesn't sell movies or TV shows? That's where Miglia's TVMax comes into play.
The TVMax is designed to help you convert your video tapes and anything you can record off your cable TV into compatible files for your iPod or Apple TV. Since it's built around its own encoder chip, it doesn't rely on your Mac's processing power to do the job. And as it can encode directly to MPEG-4, you can have a file ready to transfer to your iPod as soon as you stop recording.
The TVMax signals Miglia's departure from its partnership with Elgato and its EyeTV software. Miglia felt that the software never took proper advantage of the original TVMax's unique hardware since you still had to convert the recording afterwards to make it compatible with the iPod and other devices (on a 1.25GHz G4 Mac mini, it could take up to two additional hours to encode a 30-minute clip), so Miglia wrote its own software - also called TVMax .
Just like EyeTV, the TVMax software can encode using MPEG-2, the natural file format for DVDs. Coupled with its integrated MovieGate software, you can create very basic DVDs of your captured media in seconds. It's a no-frills program and is good if you're in a hurry, but be aware that those files created using the DVD option aren't compatible with iDVD. To use iDVD, encode in high quality MPEG-4 instead.
Looking at TVMax 's preferences, you can encode your files directly to play back on an iPod, Apple TV, Sony PSP and even iMovie HD. All files reside in your home account's Movies folder in the appropriately labelled TVMax folder, making it easy to view them using Front Row.
The TVMax hardware is designed to help you digitise your VHS collection, or any other device you can hook it up to using its composite or
S-VHS connectors. It can also be connected to a TV Tuner, although only normal terrestrial channels can be viewed in this way - not Freeview. The hardware is excellent and the encoding technology used is first rate. Unfortunately, there are a few glitches to work out with the software. Currently at version 1.0.1, it feels like it was rushed to market.
For instance, playing and recording using the TVMax software is quite convoluted. Also, it is inconsistent with the way it displays video: when playing it directly from the source, it overscans it (it hides the extreme edges of the signal which are beyond a TV's usual range and where the image is usually distorted).
However, it records the full image, creating an output which is potentially not as nice as it could have been. In contrast, EyeTV offers you the option to turn overscan on or off and will crop your footage on export if you so wish it.
There is currently no way to edit your footage directly from within TVMax . In order to do this, you have to drag your recording into iMovie HD and work from there. Since most people would only need to trim the start and finish of a clip, it's a shame this capability wasn't included.
TVMax has a few annoying glitches and oversights: for instance, it isn't easy to see if you're recording footage or not since the file only appears in the Scheduled Recordings window once the recording is complete. The only clue is a small timer counting the hours and minutes on the software remote control. It is too subtle for something so important.
Also, double-clicking on a recording in the Scheduled Recordings window gives you an option to rename that clip. If you do, however, you'll break the link and will not be able to play it back from the software; it will still play in QuickTime, iTunes or Front Row, though.
Despite these glitches, it shows a lot of promise and we can only hope that this application will be updated regularly and frequently, creating a worthy competitor to EyeTV. Version 1.0.1, though, isn't quite there yet.