Elgato EyeTV 250 Plus for the Mac

TV Tuner and DVR for the Mac

Elgato EyeTV 250 Plus
EyeTV 250 Plus. Courtesy of Elgato

Elgato’s EyeTV 250 Plus is a small USB-based TV tuner and DVR (Digital Video Recorder) for the Mac. The EyeTV 250 Plus lets you turn your Mac into the equivalent of a TiVo recorder, without the yearly subscription fees.

The EyeTV 250 Plus can receive free over-the-air HDTV signals as well as work with analog cable and unencrypted digital cable signals (Clear QAM). The EyeTV 250 Plus also has S-Video and Composite Video inputs, and can help you digitize your collection of VHS tapes.

Update: Elgato has stopped producing the EyeTV 250 Plus, as well as related TV/Cable/Video capture devices that work with U.S. broadcasting standards. Elgato still markets broadcast capture devices for other markets, and their EyeTV 3 software works with OS X El Capitan though you may need to turn off game mode for stable operations.

EyeTV 250 Plus is still available from many third-party resellers and I have included a link to units available from Amazon resellers at the bottom of this review.

EyeTV 250 Plus Overview

Elgato packages the EyeTV 250 Plus as a USB-based TV tuner and a video encoder for the Mac. While the device can be used simply as a TV tuner for watching TV on a Mac, it’s more often used as a DVR to record shows for later viewing, either on a Mac or on a TV.

To facilitate its video recording capabilities, the EyeTV 250 Plus uses hardware-based encoding. The EyeTV does all the digital conversion and encoding directly, so your Mac doesn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting for the intensive processing required for encoding video.

This makes the EyeTV 250 Plus a good choice for older Macs and Macs with limited processing capabilities, such as first- and second-generation Mac minis, iMacs, and portable Macs. The EyeTV is also a good choice if you will be actively using your Mac for other purposes while you’re recording a video stream.

The EyeTV 250 Plus ships with:

  • USB-based TV tuner and video converter
  • Infrared remote
  • Power supply
  • Breakout cable for connecting S-Video, Composite Video, and stereo audio
  • EyeTV 3.x software
  • USB cable
  • Toast Basic

System Requirements:

  • Macintosh with a PowerPC G4 or G5 processor or an Intel-based Mac
  • OS X Yosemite or earlier (see note above about El Capitan)
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • USB 2.0 port
  • Internet connection (for downloading the programming guide)

EyeTV 250 Plus Hardware

The EyeTV 250 Plus hardware supports multiple television standards, based on the country where it’s purchased. For this review, I will be looking at the EyeTV 250 Plus sold for use in North America.

The current version of the EyeTV 250 Plus is a USB 2.0-based device about the size of a deck of playing cards. It has a USB 2.0 port, an F-type coax connector, and a power jack on the rear. On the front it has an obnoxiously bright blue LED power indicator, and a connector for the breakout cable used to connect to stereo audio and S-Video or Composite Video sources.

This arrangement of connectors is awkward at best and will prevent you from creating a clutter-free installation since you will probably end up with cables snaking around from both the front and back of the device.

The EyeTV 250 Plus uses an NTSC/ATSC tuner to receive both analog cable (NTSC) and digital over-the-air HDTV signals (ATSC). It can also receive unencrypted (Clear QAM) digital cable signals.

The video encoder uses real-time encoding and produces MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 files with resolutions up to 720x480 at 30 frames per second. Video can be encoded at various quality levels, using either variable bit rates or fixed rates up to 15 Mbits (megabits) per second.

Inputs and outputs include:

  • Antenna/cable input (F-type connector)
  • S-Video
  • Composite Video
  • Stereo audio in (dual RCA connectors)
  • USB 2.0 (mini USB)
  • DC power

EyeTV 250 Plus Software: Viewing and Recording

Elgato’s EyeTV 3.x software is one of the better applications for watching and recording TV shows on a Mac. The EyeTV software makes watching, time shifting, and recording TV shows a simple process that is also fun.

If you watch a live TV show with the EyeTV, you can pause, rewind, or fast forward. You can pause a show when a commercial comes on, go grab a snack, and then fast forward through the commercial and continue watching the show without losing a beat, no matter how long it took to fix your sandwich.

The EyeTV also has an integrated programming guide that provides two weeks of TV listings. You can search the guide by time, genre, actor, director, or topic. You can even save a search term as a Smart Guide, which continually updates to display shows that match your search.

Watching TV is just one feature of the EyeTV. Recording is the other main feature and the one that most users are looking for. The recording process is fairly straightforward. Use the program guide to select the program you want and the EyeTV will create a recording schedule. The EyeTV will even turn your Mac on when it’s time to record a scheduled show. You can also set up Smart Series Guides, which will record the entire season of a show. Smart Series Guides are deserving of the name. If there’s a recording conflict, the EyeTV will check the schedule to see if the same episode of a series is available at a different time or on a different day, then make the necessary changes to ensure both programs are recorded.

EyeTV 250 Plus Software: Editing and Saving

You can play back the shows you record as is, which is fine for casual viewing. If you want to archive a recording or transfer the video to DVD or another device, such as an iPod or iPhone, you’ll probably want to clean the recording up a bit first.

The EyeTV includes a built-in editor that can remove unwanted content, such as commercials, and crop a recording to delete the beginning and end, which probably has excess content from padding the start and stop times. You can also specify clips, which can be saved individually. Clips can be a great way to break a long program down into more manageable chunks for an iPod or iPhone.

Once you finish editing a recording, you can save it and keep it on your Mac, for easy viewing, burn it to DVD, or export it for use with another device. Creating a DVD from an EyeTV recording is a straightforward process. You can use Roxio’s Toast 9 Basic, which is included with the EyeTV software, or uses the full version of Toast, if you have it. EyeTV will launch Toast and pass the recorded file over, to be burned as a DVD that’s playable on any DVD player.

If you want to copy your recordings to another device, EyeTV offers a wide range of export formats, including iPod, iPhone, iTunes, PSP, iMovie, and iDVD, to name just a few. You can also export a recording in any of the QuickTime formats, including DV, HDV, H.264, and DivX Windows Media.

EyeTV 250 Plus Software: Installation

Installing the EyeTV 250 Plus is a fairly straightforward process.

Just connect the EyeTV 250 hardware to your Mac, using any USB 2.0 port; the video source is then connected to the appropriate input. The EyeTV supports multiple connections. For example, you can connect over-the-air HDTV to the EyeTV’s F connector, and run your cable box through the S-Video and stereo audio inputs.

Once you set up the hardware, you install the EyeTV 3.x software. During the installation, a setup guide will automatically start and walk you through configuring the EyeTV 250 Plus hardware and the interactive programming guide. When this process is complete, the EyeTV will download the programming guide (this can take some time).

EyeTV 250 Plus: Using the Software

Elgato’s EyeTV 250 Plus and EyeTV 3.x software are a well-designed and enjoyable combination for recording and watching TV. You can run the software in a windowed environment, a good choice on a Mac’s display, or full-screen, which works well for viewing TV and recordings on a large-screen HDTV. This capability works very well, and just about any Mac can easily drive an HDTV, though you may need an adapter or two.

I spent the most time with the programming guide, which is easy to use. You can find a show you want to record either by scanning the listings or by using the search function to look for shows that match certain criteria. You can also save searches, which are then automatically updated whenever the guide pulls down new information.

Even more useful is the EyeTV’s ability to automatically record all the episodes of a TV show. If there’s a conflict with a previously scheduled recording, the EyeTV will resolve it by seeking out a different time, day, or channel to record the episode.

The programming guide can use TV Guide or TitanTV. TV Guide is the default source, and the EyeTV comes with a one-year subscription to the service. TitanTV was the service used in previous versions of the EyeTV software and is still an option if you’re upgrading from an earlier version.

EyeTV 250 Plus Software: A Few Nits to Pick

I ran into a few annoyances, one of which was almost enough to make me toss the supplied remote out the window. It’s one of the worst remotes I’ve ever had the misfortune to use. It’s poorly designed, with obtuse labeling, or no labeling at all, just color codes. Why would anything think it’s obvious that red means “cycle through open windows backward”? Fortunately, you can replace the remote; you may even find that one of your other remotes can mimic most EyeTV functions.

Elgato has something of a problem with the idea of remotes in general. The onscreen controller, a small, separate window with VCR-like controls, is just as confusing as the physical remote, so much so that I abandoned it and used the commands from the pull-down menus instead. Even so, the onscreen remote would occasionally appear on its own, just to taunt me.

In the end, I did away with a physical remote altogether and instead used a Bluetooth mouse to control both the Mac and the EyeTV software connected to our entertainment system.

EyeTV 250 Plus Software: Final Thoughts

The Elgato EyeTV 250 Plus is currently one of the best TV tuner/DVR systems for use with a Mac. Its recordings are easy to set up, and the recording quality, when properly configured, is pretty good. The EyeTV 3.x software has a lot of great features, including an interactive programming guide, the ability to set up schedules to record entire seasons of shows, and an easy-to-use, built-in editor for removing commercials and excess content.

The EyeTV 250 Plus can turn a Mac into a TiVo-like system, one that doesn’t require a yearly fee. The number of possible recordings is limited only by the size of the hard drive(s) attached to your Mac.

If you want to time-shift TV shows or enjoy the luxury of pausing, rewinding, or fast-forwarding TV shows, and your tolerance for annoying remotes is fairly high, the EyeTV 250 Plus may be just the system you need for your Mac.

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