The promise of a pocket-sized Digital TV for the Mac is quite an appealing one. But can nice things always come in small packages? We plug in and find out.
Teaming up with Terratec, Elgato has taken the company's small compact device called the Cinergy T2 and bolted on support for Apple users that allows you to tune into Freeview channels via your laptop.
The small white box comes with an external antenna, battery-powered remote control and all the software you need to watch and record television and radio. Powered by a USB2.0 connection, the strength of the device is that you won't need to lug around additional chargers or batteries to make this thing portable.
The strength here over other devices is the unit's ability to pick up Freeview channels (as long as you are in a Freeview area) that means you get access to over 16 channels for your money rather than the standard five here in the UK.
The catch is that accompanying aerial will offer you pretty much zero signal unless you are in a high yielding signal strength area. The better option is to invest in a decent length of coaxial cable and find the nearest socket.
Unlike the Terratec software offering on the PC version Elgato has spruced things up and made everything very simple to use.
After the initial tuning stage you are provided with an on screen remote that gives you access to the PVR features the box offers as well as the ablity to do more mundane things such as change channel or tune up the volume.
In a separate window the software lists your recorded programmes and all the relevant information that goes with them such as date, duration and other programme details.
Recording is as easy as pressing a button and 1 hour of footage will take up roughly 2Gb of your hard drive. The process is further helped by the optional subscription package (for which you get the first year free) from tvtv.co.uk. The service is an online Electronic Program Guide (EPG) that will allow to program your box to record programs automatically as well as search via actor, type of show or show title as long as you are online to receive and get the information.
Plugging it into our roof aerial we were able to get all the Freeview channels without hassle. Image lag was virtually zero, although occasionally, most likely when the hard disk tried to kick into action in the background, the picture would be a little jittery.
While the PC version bundled Ulead's DVD MovieFactory 3 TV and Cyberlink's PowerDVD 5 in the box, Elgato has decided against that route. Rather than offer a host of applications you just get the ability to watch television and nothing else.
The software package does promise seamless interaction with Roxio's Toast burning software so you can transfer recorded television onto DVD or Video CD. It would also mean that you can then watch any content you've recorded on your television via a standard DVD player without having to sit in front of your computer.
That said, you can use the software to do basic editing functions or alternative and probably the more advisable export the file to another program. Here the options of multiple and the software even allows to export in H.264 format (requires QuickTime 7) for playback on a Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) as well as exporting to different video formats for further editing in applications like iMovie HD, iDVD, Final Cut Pro HD/Express HD or DVD Studio Pro. PSP users can further revel in the fact that the USB cable for both devices is the same.
Overall this is a good piece of kit for any Apple Mac user to get television on his or her Apple.
Where we think it will succeed is for those who are keen to record television shows without the need to buy a separate PVR for the television. Record, burn and then watch on the television is an appealing option.
What would have been even more appealing is the bundling of a television aerial in the box that would have been good enough to perform better than it did. Anyone hoping to rely on the included aerial will be sorely disappointed.
As for the software, although limiting, Elgato choice of interface is certainly more appealing to use than Terratec's offering on the PC and very easy to use, it's just a shame that they decided not to include Toast in the box to make this a well rounded package.