Elegant solutions to TV on your Mac Desktop; possibly a digital replacement for your VCR

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Charles Moore Reviews Miglia TVMicro and TVMax Television Tuners/Recorders For The Mac

22882 The concept of TV on the Desktop has intrigued me since the early '90s when Apple offered a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time model called - what else? - the Mac TV. This machine was the first of the very few Mac desktop models ever available in black, including a black Apple keyboard and mouse. It was essentially a 25 MHz 68030 Mac LC 520 with a TV tuner grafted onto it's logic board, which unfortunately left no room for RAM upgrades, so the Standard 8 megabytes of memory was all she wrote.

The Mac TV didn't sell well, and was soon discontinued, but Apple did offer an optional television tuner in the 68LC040 Mac LC/Quadra 630 in the mid - '90s, and perhaps in other models as well. I don't have total recall.

Anyway, I've always thought it would be cool to be able to have a baseball game on in a little window on the desktop while I worked away at other things - baseball being something you can follow without giving it your undivided attention, relying on the sound of the crowd to alert you to the highlights. And while Apple hasn't sold a computer with built-in TV for quite some time now, the potential for TV on the Mac has been never better, thanks to third-party solutions, such as the subject of this review - the Miglia TVMicro and TVMax, both of which deliver TV video to your Mac Desktop and much more besides.




One thing that sets these products apart from certain other TV tuner hardware, is that they have been designed by Miglia from the ground up as a Mac-only accessory - not a PC product with Mac drivers patched on.

Miglia TVMicro

The TVMicro is a minuscule little unit the size and shape of a pen flash memory stick that plugs into a USB 2 port on your Mac, connects to either an antenna or cable feed, and supports most TV standards globally.




TVMicro lets you to watch analog TV on your Mac in a window that floats anywhere on your screen and can be resized as you prefer. Modestly priced and being barely the size of an iPod Shuffle, TVMicro is especially ideal for use with portables and compact enough to take along wherever you travel.




The TVMicro package comes with the TVMicro unit itself, a remote with two AAA batteries, a USB 2 cable, an adapter for connecting the coax video cable, and the Eye TV 2.x software CD.




After you install the bundled EyeTV 2.x software, (about which more below after the hardware sections of this review), to use TVMicro, just plug it into a free USB 2.0 port, connect your antenna or analog cable feed and you're watching TV.




TVMicro also allows you to record video straight to your Mac with a single mouse click in VCD (MPEG-1), S-VCD (MPEG-2) or DVD (MPEG-2) quality. However, because TVMicro relies on your Mac for processing power to transform the TV signal into a digital file, you will need a dual G4, dual G5 or Intel Dual Core processor to record in full DVD quality with this unit.

TVMicro can navigate channels and menus using its remote control and easily access Front Row content, but even if you don't have FrontRow installed on your Mac (I don't) , you will still be able to use the full screen interface delivered by EyeTV.

If you have a newer Mac with an Apple Remote the TV Micro with EyeTV are supported by the TV software included with your Mac. However, TV Micro comes with a full sized and fully featured remote control, specially designed to access all the functions of TVMicro, and there is also a virtual "remote" in EyeTV's user interface that you can control with your mouse.




You can also access online TV Guides, searching by actor, director, movie name, filter by program genre, etc... Once you have found the desired TV show, press the record button and TVMicro will run a scheduled recording. and even start up your Mac automatically when the recording is due to start. EyeTV 2 supports TitanTV(USA), tvtv (Europe) and iEPG (Japan).




How do they make it so small? The key difference is software compression. TVMicro relies on the CPU of your Mac to encode the incoming video stream to save it to your hard drive, while less compact products like TV Max (see below) incorporate video encoding chips that take care of the video encoding, greatly reducing the load on your Mac's processor. Essentially, TVMicro is a quick and easy solution to watch TV, but it will not replace your VCR. You can convert VHS tapes to DVD with TVMicro, but you will get better results with a hardware-encoding product like TVMax.

With the El Gato Eye TV software installed on my 1.33 GHz PowerBook, I plugged the TVMicro into a USB 2 port, and once I ran a channel search, I was watching TV on my Mac. Cool!




Using the "normal" size window configuration, the picture looked pretty good, but with the window enlarged to use the full 900 pixel vertical resolution on my 17-inch monitor, image sharpness left something to be desired.

The remote worked fine, and I found the Eye TV software to be quite impressive. However, TV on the Desktop does make the processor work pretty hard. I happened to test the TVMicro and TVMax during the hottest days we've had and are likely to have this summer - not nearly as hot as folks in the center of the continent and have been coping with, but sultry by coastal Nova Scotia standards. Running the TVMicro, the PowerBook's processor hit 59 degrees C for the first time since I bought it five months ago. Multitasking also slowed down significantly with the TVMicro running, much more so than with the TVMax, which has its own power supply, while the TVMicro draws power from the USB 2 port, putting more load on the computer's resources.




The official minimum processor for running Eye TV is a 500 MHz G4, but given how hard the 1.33 GHz rig was working, I don't think I would be very happy with Eye TV software on a much slower machine, especially for the TVMicro.

Key features TVMicro:
• Watch analog TV on your Mac almost anywhere in the world
• Watch TV in a window or in full screen
• Browse Online TV Guides to find the right TV show for you
• Remote Control included for perfect viewing experience

System requirements:
Mac with USB 2.0 Connectivity
PowerPC G4, G5, Intel Processor
Mac OS X 10.4 or higher
Dual G4 or G5 or Intel DualCore CPU required for full size recording

Miglia TVMicro's recommended retail price is ├é┬ú58.00/ ├óÔÇÜ┬Č82.00/ $99.00 ex VAT.

All units carry a full 2 year RTB warranty. A list of distributors and resellers is available on Miglia's website:
http://www.miglia.com/buy/index.html

For more information, visit:
http://www.miglia.com//products/video/tvmicro/index.html
or
http://www.miglia.com/products/video/tvmicro/

Miglia TV Max

The Miglia TV Micro is very cool, and a great solution of your main priorities are compactness, portability, and TV watching with occasional recording, but for the full Mac TV experience, you will be even happier with the new Miglia TV Max.

If you've seen a Mac mini, you're familiar with the TV Max's form factor, and if you have a Mac mini, the TV Max will match it perfectly.







The TVMax bundle consists of the TVMax module, and AC Power adapter with an assortment of modular international wall socket plug connectors, a remote, a USB 2 cable, a coax cable adapter, and the Eye TV 2.x CD.




Like the TV Micro, the TVMax receives analog over the air (antenna) and analog cable TV, but a big difference is that it also incorporates built-in video hardware compression, which, among other things, makes it ideal for converting your VHS tape collection to digital video, to store on a hard drive, your Video iPod, or burn onto DVD-Rs. You can also record TV shows off the air or cable, and if you wish edit commercials and/or other uninteresting bits, keeping just the the stuff you really want to watch.

You can burn your recordings to a DVD-R with one click of the "Toast" button. EyeTV 2 analyzes the recording and chooses the appropriate format (VCD, SVCD, DVD). These features require Roxio Toast 7 Titanium, which is not included with EyeTV 2.

I don't have Toast 7 or a video iPod, so I was unable to test burning DVDs or exporting video in the iPod format using the TVMax. However, given how well the other functions work, I don't doubt that those features are elegantly supported as well. Indeed, "elegant" is the operative adjective to describe the TVMax.

The TVMax is just as easy to configure and get up and running as the TVMicro, and the computer didn't seem to be working nearly as hard. Multitasking, at least for the routine, low power demand stuff that makes up most of my computing was still reasonably lively. Recording and playback were intuitively simple and seem to work well. A comprehensive PDF format online manual for Eye TV is included.




Key Features
• Watch, pause, rewind and skip forward Live TV, timeshift on your Mac.
• Record and edit your favorite shows with our built in EPG (Electronic Program Guide).
• One click Apple iPod (writes directly to iTunes) or Sony PSP export.
• Hardware compression to MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX
• Convert VHS and Hi8 tapes to DVD, TVMax doubles as a video converter.

Unlike TV Micro, TVMax is very much capable of displacing a VHS video cassette recorder, allowing recording straight to a hard drive, in full digital quality. TVMax integrates video compression technology that handles the conversion of analog TV video into MPEG-2, MPEG-4 or DivX digital formats, and using EyeTV's built-in editor, you can remove unwanted elements of the footage you captured and create a DVD with single click using Roxio Toast or Apple's iDVD. You can also export recordings to iMovie or Final Cut for more advanced video editing.




The real key to the TVMax product is using MPEG-4 compression. While keeping the same level of video quality, MPEG-4 will produce much smaller file than MPEG-2. With the wide availability of relatively low-cost DVD players with MPEG-4 and DivX support, you can now store several hours of TV footage on a single DVD and watch it on your regular TV. Recordings are stored on the Mac's hard drive or external volume for playback or cam be configured for automatic conversion to the iPod video format.

Because TVMax has hardware compression, your Mac is relieved of the processor load for converting files, leaving your CPU free to do other tasks while TVMax does the donkey work. Indeed, I noticed that multitasking worked much better on my PowerBook with the TVMax in operation than with the TVMicro, as did full screen view mode.




If you have a newer Mac with an Apple Remote, TV Max with EyeTV is supported by the TV software included with your Mac. TV Max also comes with its own full sized and remote control, specially designed to access all the unit's functions, making it possible to navigate channels and menus using the remote, and to easily access Front Row content, but even if FrontRow is not installed on your Mac, you will still be able to enjoy the full screen interface delivered by EyeTV.




TVMax features a full array of analog video input ports, making it easy to connect a VCR, DVDplayer or Camcorder. The US version of TVMax ships with a threaded TV connector adapter.

Unfortunately, baseball games are no longer available on broadcast television here in the outer boonies, there is no cable TV service, and I don't have time to watch enough television to justify the cost of satellite TV, so I wasn't able to fulfill my quest for baseball on the Desktop, but there's no reason to imagine that it wouldn't work just fine.

System requirements:
Mac with USB 2.0 Connectivity
G4/500 or higher, Intel processor
Mac OS X 10.4.x or higher

For more information, visit:
http://www.miglia.com/products/video/tvmax/index.html

The quality of these Miglia products appears to be first - rate, with a high standard of finish and workmanship and they both work well as advertised with the Eye TV software. I really can't think of much of anything to complain about. Nicely engineered and executed all around.

Miglia TV products are available at the Apple Store

Miglia TVMax $249.95
Free Shipping

Miglia TVMicro $99.95
Free Shipping

EyeTV 2

Both TVMicro and TVMax ship with EyeTV 2 software, a Universal application.

The first time you launch EyeTV 2, you will have to enter the EyeTV 2 activation key, and configure the program using the EyeTV Setup Assistant for the model hardware you're using. I found this process went smoothly and quickly. You must have the hardware ready to connect at the appropriate point in the activation and configuration process.





EyeTV 2.1.x is a Universal Binary application that has been optimized for both PowerPC and Intel Core processors, the latter with which it is now possible to display full resolution HDTV 720p and 1080i .

The amount of time required to export recordings to iPod using the H.264 compression format has been significantly reduced with version 2.1.x. A new preference in EyeTV's General preferences specifies whether EyeTV's one click iPod export button uses the H.264 (default) or the MPEG-4 video compression format.





With EyeTV you can watch live television in several different window sizes or in full screen mode. A live television window usually appears immediately after EyeTV is started. EyeTV supports multiple Viewer windows so you can watch live television in one window and/or multiple pre-recorded programs in other windows.




With digital television products EyeTV can play and record two or more TV channels that reside on the same transponder/multiplex simultaneously.

You can change the size of the EyeTV Viewer window by grabbing the lower right corner and dragging it diagonally, and several pre-selected sizes are also available from the
EyeTV will automatically try to choose the correct aspect ratio. Typical TV has a 4:3 ratio, while a few widescreen formats also exist.




If you want to capture a snapshot of the current frame of video, you can press z-C, which will save the picture to the clipboard. Or, you can press Shift-z-C which will create a snapshot file on your desktop from the active video window.




Each time you record something using EyeTV, a new entry will be added to the list in the Recordings section of the EyeTV Programs window.

New recordings are indicated by a blue icon picturing a movie camera. During the recording process, there is a progress bar, listing time elapsed and total duration. When a recording is played, the blue icon is replaced by a snapshot of a frame from that recording.




When a recording is started by pressing the record button on the remote, a new recording is automatically added to the EyeTV Programs window. Recordings may be exported to Toast and to the iPod video format.

To record last night TV on your iPod, simply check the box called "iPod" beside the schedule, and as soon as the recording is complete it will export automatically to your iPod. iTunes will then launch and sync with your connected iPod.

EyeTV has a built in Electronic Program Guide (EPG), that lists upcoming programs
available for viewing or recording. Information for that list is gathered from online sources like TitanTV and tvtv, depending on where you live.




EyeTV can be configured to:
Auto-Launch EyeTV to Record
Waking From Sleep to Record
Booting the Computer to Record

For more information on EYE TV 2, visit:
http://www.elgato.com/index.php?file=products_eyetvmain


Charles W. Moore



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