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ATPM 14.07
July 2008

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Software Review

by Paul Fatula, pfatula@atpm.com

EyeTV 3.0.2 (3953)

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Developer: Elgato Systems

Price: $80; $40 (upgrade)

Requirements: Compatible TV tuner peripheral (see Web page for list). Mac OS X 10.4. Universal.

Trial: None

About two years ago, I reviewed EyeTV as part of my review of Elgato’s EyeTV 250 peripheral. Since that time, the EyeTV software has gone through a number of minor updates and one major update, to version 3.0. The new version brings with it a number of changes, including some very useful features and some unfortunate new problems.

In this review, I’m going to focus on the question of whether it’s worth it for an owner of a previous version of EyeTV to upgrade to the new version. Readers who don’t already have the EyeTV software will find that it comes with Elgato’s TV tuners; it isn’t necessary to purchase it separately.

Interface Changes

You can’t have a major upgrade without some sort of facelift to the interface. EyeTV’s Program Guide gets some minor improvements. The sidebar on the left of the window is now organized by category, separating Library, Smart Guides, Playlists, and Channels into separate sections. While items can be moved around within their section, the sections themselves unfortunately cannot be reordered. Also, copying some of Apple’s latest eye candy, EyeTV has added a Cover Flow–like option for flipping through the contents of playlists. But list view gives more information about more programs at a time, so I don’t see the appeal of using Cover Flow here.

eyetv-1

The Program Guide

The editing window—used primarily for cutting commercials out of recorded programs to save hard drive space—has also been changed, but entirely for the worse. The editing controls now cover up the lower fifth or so of the screen, hiding from view part of the recording you’re working with. I can’t imagine Elgato’s rationale for this change: why would it be desirable to have part of the screen obscured while editing?

eyetv-2

The Editing Window

The program-viewing window has gotten a very nice improvement. When skipping forward or back, or when hovering the mouse over the lower part of the screen, a display comes up showing how far into the recording you are. You can click in the program’s time line to jump directly to that point in the program.

eyetv-3

The Playback Window

New Features

EyeTV 3 adds several new features, by far my favorite of which is Smart Guides. Smart Guides let you tell EyeTV to automatically watch the schedule for programs you like, and add them to the recording schedule without the need for any user action. It’s incredibly useful for shows which are not shown in a regular timeslot, or for making sure you don’t miss the return of a series that’s on hiatus. Automatically-recorded programs can be optionally added to the playlist of your choice, to help keep things organized. Though I haven’t tried it, they can also be exported to an iPod or Apple TV. The only problem I’ve had with Smart Guides is that it’s easy to end up with multiple recordings of the same program. It’d be nice if Smart Guides were smart enough to not record something if it’s already been recorded.

Smart Playlists are another new and worthwhile feature. You can tell a playlist to populate itself with all the episodes of a particular show, all recordings made in the past week, all recordings with a particular actor, etc. There are lots of options to choose from.

EyeTV also now responds to Apple’s remote control. Well, as best it can. It only works if EyeTV is the frontmost application, and its functionality is limited by Apple’s incomprehensible stinginess with buttons. For example, there is no way to turn off your EyeTV with the Apple remote: you must get up off of your comfy sofa and walk all the way across the room to the computer. Similarly, it is possible to mute EyeTV with Apple’s remote control, but you have to navigate to a submenu to do so.

With only one Mac on my local network, I haven’t been able to evaluate EyeTV 3’s new ability to share recording libraries with other local Macs. Each Mac needs to have EyeTV 3 installed in order to take advantage of this feature, but Elgato’s software license allows you to install EyeTV 3 on multiple computers, so long as it is only used with one TV-tuning peripheral. I was surprised when I learned that: it’s unusually consumer-friendly.

Old Problems

It’s a shame, but a lot of things that annoyed me in EyeTV 2.5 haven’t been fixed in EyeTV 3.0. New features are great, but I wish Elgato had spent more time making old features work right.

First up, something that happens to me quite often: I’m recording a program and watching it at the same time. At some point during the program, I pause it while I go away and do something else; as expected, it keeps recording. I return a few minutes later and resume viewing. Here’s the problem: when the program is done recording—even if I’m not done watching it—the viewing window jumps forward to whatever the channel is showing at that time. So I have to close the TV window, open the recording, and navigate my way back to the part I’d been in the middle of watching. I don’t understand why EyeTV can’t keep showing the recording I’m watching.

Similarly, but in some ways worse: if you’re watching a show that you’re not recording and you’re a few minutes behind realtime, and EyeTV starts recording another program, you immediately jump to the program being recorded and have no way to watch the ending of the program you were watching. Mind you, EyeTV did record the program you were watching; it was cached, and if EyeTV hadn’t started recording something else, there wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t see any reason why EyeTV shouldn’t be able to keep playing the cached portion of the program I was watching. (It is possible to watch one recording while recording a different program.)

Another annoyance I was disappointed to find hasn’t been fixed has to do with Channels Playlists: if you add a new channel to a playlist, it appears at the bottom of the playlist, and there is no way to move it into numerical order. If you want to keep your channels in order, you have to create a new channels playlist from scratch whenever you want to add a new channel (or delete one you no longer want).

Crashes

EyeTV 3.0.2 has crashed my computer, forcing a restart, a few times in the two months I’ve been using it. What happens is, the screen freezes and the last second or so of sound repeats in a continuous loop. When that happens, the computer becomes completely unresponsive to keyboard and mouse, leaving me no choice but to force a restart. Because of this, I’ve become extra-careful about saving documents I’m working on before starting up EyeTV. And if I want to have some background noise while I’m working, I’m likely to use my real TV instead of EyeTV, just to be safe.

In addition, editing recordings in EyeTV 3 usually crashes the program. While editing a program, EyeTV will likely at some point stop responding to my mouse, I’ll see the spinning rainbow-colored ball, and then EyeTV will unexpectedly quit. The recording I was trying to edit is not damaged when EyeTV reopens, but that’s not much comfort. I haven’t found other reports of this problem online, so maybe there’s something peculiar about my system that I haven’t been able to think of. But whatever the cause, it never happened in EyeTV 2.5. In fact, that’s become my workaround: if I want to edit a recording, I fire up the old version of EyeTV, where the editing interface is better anyway.

Conclusion

It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a trial version of EyeTV 3. If there were, I would suggest that you try it; if you didn’t experience the crashing problems that I’ve had, upgrading would be an easy decision. Smart Guides and Smart Playlists are well-done features that are worth paying for, and the new editing window, though unfortunate, is not a show-stopper. Trying before you buy not being an option, however, I can’t recommend paying for an update that crashes my computer, however desirable the new features are. I sincerely hope that Elgato will fix the crashes I’ve experienced.

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