Solution Spheres

Using Apple technologies (and possibly others) to create a seamless digital lifestyle for home and business.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

EyeTV Wonder USB 2.0 first impressions...

I'll do a detailed review (with tips, tricks, and how-to's aplenty) later this week, but here are some thoughts on the new EyeTV Wonder USB 2.0. The Wonder, for those of you who don't know, is El Gato's bargain-basement TV tuner device for Macs. Most of their products are Firewire-based, expensive, but overall quite nice. My intention with the Wonder was threefold:
1) Copy some VHS and 8mm tapes to DVD
2) Record TV shows ala Tivo while away, and easily watch them on my iBook later. Recording would take place on the Mac mini. For setup I used the iBook first though...
3) Longer-term this would become a part of the master bedroom home theater system. (Which I detail as a case study in my upcoming book)
El Gato EyeTV 150

First off, I pre-ordered the unit directly from El Gato. When will manufacturers learn? If you're going to offer a product for sale on your site, get the basics of e-commerce down! I never received a tracking number. So by the time I'd emailed El Gato, they responded (the next day) with "it's already there." A quick call home confirmed, yes, it had arrived. So, whatever.

Now installation was a little sketchy. The box has one of those last-minute stickers indicating that OS 10.3.8 was the MINIMUM requirement. No problem. What freaked me out a little was a USB driver that had to be installed. Call me crazy (many do) but who do I trust more: the makers of a random TV tuner or Apple? Yeah, drivers from 3rd parties tweak me, so this was problematic. So far, so good though, I haven't had any kernel panics...

After that (and a reboot) you pretty much plug everything in and continue with setup. Once the tuner is plugged in, you choose your line-in, like cable or antenna. The cable tuning took quite a while (over 15 minutes), but worked well when done. Switching channels is quite fast, but nothing beats a real TV. Last step, optional, is to sign up with TitanTV. For the full review I'll go more into that, but the process is a little confusing. All the pieces aren't really fitting together for me.

One word: interface. All of these disparate elements need one central control. This is the difference between Apple and 3rd parties. iTunes is so popular because everything is just there, easy to use. El Gato's software won't be winning any GUI awards. Confusing icons, lots of little pieces lying around-- they could really stand to hire me to redesign their software!

But I digress. Powered on, with a coax cable plugged in, the USB 2.0 cable nestled in my iBook, I quickly began watching TV. "Lost" happened to be on, but suddenly my daughter got out of bed. No problem! I just hit the Record button, and it quite readily began taping the show. Unfortunately, there's only about 4 GB of room on my iBook. While plenty for the last 30 minutes of Lost that night, it isn't enough for all the projects I had planned.

Once Lost was over, I stopped recording. Unplugging the Wonder, I noticed it was REALLY HOT! Not like Paris Hilton would use the word, and not spicy hot, but like "don't leave loose papers nearby or it'll cause a fire" kinda hot. Ouch. So I unplugged the power too, just to be safe.

Now I took my iBook back to the couch and tried to watch the show. Hm, where is it? This is where the interface is not very intuitive. There's another control panel you have to open from a menu to show the shows you've taped. One note: I thought by setting the archival drive to an external firewire drive I'd be able to store my video externally. Nope! So far I don't see a way to do that. So your primary drive will need lots of room if you plan on recording a lot of video. Anyway, I did manage to figure it all out.

The "editing" software is of course an abomination. Trying to edit out commercials, from what I can tell so far, is almost pointless. But I'll work that out in the big "how to." Also, there's a little bit of a bait-and-switch going on with this thing...

Point #1 for buying the EyeTV Wonder was to burn some old tapes to DVD. Nowhere on the website does it tell you one minor fact: you must have a dual-G4 to record DVD quality video! In fact, for the BEST quality video (a 90-minute DVD), you will need a frickin' dual-G5!!! Ouch. Yeah, this point is mentioned: buried in a PDF, linked from the website. So you have to really dig to discover this. Guess when I found out? After my credit card had been charged.

Luckily, I'm not to bothered, as the VHS tapes are low-quality to begin with (recorded years ago at SLP). And what can you expect from such a cheap device? For $150, it's still cheaper than Tivo.

What happens with the EyeTV Wonder USB 2.0, and why it's cheaper than it's siblings, is that the MPEG conversion happens on the computer, not in the unit itself. Thus, El Gato recommends you have the latest, greatest, fastest, fanciest, super-duper machine you can get to record. Thank goodness they don't do this with all their devices. The EyeTV 500 is HD, and I guess you'd need a few XServes to record, not to mention XRAID to store...

So I'm going through the documentation now (I'm a mac user darnit, not used to that manual-reading nonsense), and I'll post up some goodies soon. In the meanwhile, think about this...

1. You can view *what* you have recorded (not the actual show) in a web browser. Like a menu...
2. You can control the app via the web too.
3. And yes, you CAN stream the video to other computers...

To see how, check out El Gato's tips page.

I'll try them all out, plus perhaps some automation, ASAP! First I gotta get another podcast in the can. If you get the chance, check out my Da Vinci Notebooks podcast until next time (link to the blog on the right).


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  • At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Rosella Chavez said…

    Have you posted any more information, tips and "How to's" on the EyeTV Wonder? I just purchased it (on-line) to convert VHS taped seminar sessions to DVDs for individual speakers. Is that a pretty straight forward task with reasonably good quality output?

    P.S. While I ran into this review about an hour ago, and was looking for updates, I have gotten hooked on reading many of your blogs. But, I truly must return to work before I get fired.


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