With the petite Mac mini and the gorgeously stylish iMac G5 deserving of a place in anybody's living room, playing TV on your Mac is something a lot of Mac owners are getting interested in again.
The first stumbling block to enjoying Richard and Judy in the afternoon on your computer is that neither the iMac nor the Mac mini play TV out of the box. If you've got a Power Mac then it's a simple matter of inserting a TV card from the likes of Miglia into a spare PCI slot and you're ready to go, but with Apple's small form factor iMacs and Mac minis, this really isn't an option.
Aside from there being no PCI slot, there's simply no room inside the case to fit one in. That's why Elgato has had so much success with its range of externally connected TV recording products.
The newest addition to its line is the EyeTV Wonder USB 2.0, with analogue TV tuner. It's a small grey box that connects to your Mac using a USB cable, meaning its perfect for the Mac mini or iMac.
The EyeTV Wonder is at the cheap and cheerful end of the Elgato range, so it lacks a lot of the advanced features of the other models, like compressing video during recording, for instance. Also, it can't receive satellite or cable signals itself without help from your digital box.
However, its simple featureset gives it the advantage of being easy to set up: you simply attach a cable, antenna or satellite feed into the box to start viewing TV on your Mac. Of course, you need to install the EyeTV software first, but all the tuning and configuration is done automatically for you.
We were particularly impressed that within five minutes of opening the box we were watching TV on a Mac mini. Unfortunately, the first thing we saw was that dreadful Crazy Frog advert, but we can't blame Elgato for that.
There are a few ways of connecting the Elgato to a video source. The first is through a simple antenna or unscrambled analog cable. Or, you can connect it to a cable or satellite receiver in a few different ways. Firstly, if your box has red and white audio connectors and a yellow composite video cable, then you can simply connect these together. There's also an S-Video cable option for better picture quality.
If your cable box or satellite receiver has an RF output then you can connect this way, and you can even connect the EyeTV Wonder to a VCR or DVD player.
If you're using the TV tuner to get a signal then you can change channel on your Mac, but you'll need to change channel manually if you're using your cable box or satellite receiver since the EyeTV Wonder cannot communicate directly with these digital boxes.
The software that comes with the EyeTV is pretty intuitive. You get an onscreen remote through which you can record, change channel or timeshift live TV. The window playing your TV channel is flexible, and can be resized at will, or the picture made to play full screen. You can schedule recordings to take place in the future and you get a year's free subscription to the internet TV planner tvtv.co.uk, through which you can also schedule recordings with ease.
While the EyeTV Wonder can record anything it can play and store the files as MPEG 2 files on your Mac, the lack of a dedicated onboard processor for compressing the files means that playback suffers while recording is going on. Your Mac is still usable while recording, but playback is choppy.
To be fair, recording TV isn't the main purpose of the EyeTV, and if you do want to record television you'd be better served by the next model up, the EyeTV 2.0. For simply watching television on your Mac without having to go through a complicated hardware installation or set up, it's perfect. Graham Barlow