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Hello Elgato aces!


I'm planning on buying one of Elgato's devices to watch OTA TV on my mac. I've got a 1.42 GHz Mac mini and am using a Dell 2005FPW (1680x1050) screen. Should I get a EyeTV 200 or 500? First is NTSC analog; the 500 is ATSC digital. I'm withing 6 miles of transmission antennas for the major stations. I'm not planning on doing any recording at all. I'm pretty sure that I won't be able to watch true HDTV with my setup, but do wonder if there's an appreciable picture difference between the analog and (probably downconverted) digital signals.


Suggestions? Advice? And I'd be perfectly willing to hear comments, viz. "Save the $300 and go buy a digital LCD TV of brand X instead."


Thanks for your help!
 

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Well, from what you wrote it sounds as if you are not planning on watching cable or saltellite TV, just OTA. For that purpose either receiver would work fine.


Making assumptions about what you are trying to accomplish, it sounds as if you really just want basic TV reception at a reasonable cost. Obviously the picture you will get on your Mini + Dell monitor isn't going to have the dazzle of a 63 inch plasma HD monitor or a $35,000 Qualia projecton system. That said, the EyeTV 500 does a pretty good job of displaying 1080i live or recorded content on a 1.42 GHz Mini, even though the picture is -- as you stated -- downsampled.


I set up my sister-in-law's 1.42 GHz Mini with my EyeTV 500 this weekend and it looked great on all our local HD channels. That's not surprising since I've had good results using my 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4. The Mini has slightly less frame stuttering with 1080i than my PowerBook. A 1.67 GHz PowerBook would probably eliminate 99.5% of the stuttering. It's pretty tolerable at 1.42 GHz but I wouldn't want to view 1080i on a much slower CPU.


In earlier posts on the long ElGato thread you'll read that the picture quality is so good with EyeTV 500 that none of us realized the software was downsampling video playback on our G4s until somebody pointed it out to us a couple of months ago.


480i content will produce lots of artifact from any receiver, digital or analog, because the data just isn't there to fill a 1680 x 1050 screen. You'd probably be better off using a lower resolution monitor instead of expanding 480i to fit a 1680 x 1050 desktop. Seated a few feet away from the screen it would probably look just fine on your Dell monitor though.


The real question behind which receiver to buy depends more on your location and what the broadcasters in your town are doing. In my area all stations are transmitting everything both in digital and analog formats, but the digital transmission gives us more actual channels to choose from. For instance, our local CBS station has four subchannesl, two of which are active at all times while the other two transmit intermittently, versus a single CBS analog channel. Our PBS station has eight digital channels (one 1080i channel and seven 480i multicast channels.) The shows are mostly the same as what's shown on the two analogue PBS channels except we have a much better selection of "college on the air" type content and more frequent digital rebroadcasts. That comes in handy for time-shifting shows, since the current EyeTV software fails to record 100% reliably (see the ElGato thread). I can usually record a show during a rerun if it fails on the first try.


Living so close to your stations gives you the advantage of not having much analog signal degradation. For people living further away from the tower a digital receiver would have the advantage of better image clarity, but some marginal stations might not come in at all. I've been extremely pleased with the receiver strength in my two EyeTV 500's. They really do a great job even pulling in stations from 40 miles away with a 12 inch RCA Silver Sensor set-top aerial. Our analog TV located in the same room as my Mac is all fuzz on most OTA channels and it's rarely better than 50% fuzz on the two "best" analog channels. (To be fair, this RCA aerial was designed to optimize digital reception, not analog channels.) By contrast my EyeTV 500 gets 18 crystal clear channels from the RCA aerial, a couple of which drop out when the weather is foul. From our roof-top antenna we pick up digital stations perfectly from 80 miles while analog stations are barely watchable.


Living closer to the city or living midway between two cities creates special problems for digital receivers called "multi-path." The optimal situation for any antenna is for all transmitters to be located in a straight line ahead of the aerial, not to the side or behind it. Digital receivers, in particular, sometimes have trouble in watershed areas when the signal is coming off-axis or from the rear. I haven't had any problem with my EyeTV 500 in this regard despite living directly between two cities, but I've read it can be an issue with some of the earlier digital set-top boxes. There are technical solutions to the multi-path problem but that's far beyond my level of knowledge.


Eventually all analog TV signals will stop broadcasting in the U.S. When that will happen is anybody's guess.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by sterna
Suggestions? Advice? And I'd be perfectly willing to hear comments, viz. "Save the $300 and go buy a digital LCD TV of brand X instead."
P.S., I think you'd be hard pressed to find a digital LCD TV for less than $2000 that gives you anything near the quality you'll get from your Mini + Dell + EyeTV 500, but maybe prices fell a lot since I was shopping for TVs few months ago. I wasn't impressed with any of the sub-$1000 LCD TVs because of their horrible video artifacts. I can only speculate how bad the receivers inside must have been in that price range. I didn't waste much time looking at that low-end stuff because those sets gave me a headache almost immediately.


The limiting factor with most all-in-one TVs on the market, even in the $4000+ price range, is the internal receivers and scalers stink. Most consumers never realize this when they are in the store comparing models all playing the same closed-circuit HD signal. Some buyers may realize how bad the all-in-one TV receivers are when they get home with their purchase, especially if they have have a good quality STB or EyeTV for comparison, and if they live in a watershed area where receiver quality really matters. From this standpoint, I believe EyeTV 500 is a superb value when considering what else is avaliable out there.


I just wish we could get back to the recording reliability we had with EyeTV software version 1.7.1. That software was rock-solid but it no longer works correctly with the EyeTV 500 once its firmware is updated to version 1.10. There's no problem whatsoever for real time TV watching. It's only an issue for scheduled shows in which 5-10% of the recordings fail to capture (my percentages). ElGato and the EyeTV user community is working on this reliability problem. Still, it's something you should know about before buying an EyeTV 500. I wish I didn't have add this one slightly sour note to an otherwise nearly perfect product.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks, MacHound, for your lucid and helpful post. I do indeed intend to only watch live OTA feeds, and your point about the subchannels is most interesting and entirely new to me. And I thought that all-in-one LCD digital TVs would be more expensive than the Mini+Dell+500 setup. I did actually read that long Elgato thread you cited, and am feeling sorry for the folks who hare having trouble recording. Once I upgrade in several years to the G6 HD capable Mac Mini, I'll still be using that Elgato 500 for those digital broadcasts....
 

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No need to feel too sorry for us. I still have success recording at least 90% of scheduled shows with my EyeTV 500. Perhaps by keeping my 500 on the same Firewire bus as my hard drive I'll get back up to 100% -- though that remains to be seen. If I miss 10% of recordings, that's still a lot better than my old VCR. In the end it's all just entertainment. :)
 

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I think the ElGato software is available for download. I would reccomend downloading it and trying to display HDTV content before buying the EyeTV 500.


I tried playing HD material on my 1.42GHz Mini, and I found it unacceptable. It couldn't keep up with the video for smooth playback. But, I'm pretty picky on HD display performance... On my fast Linux MythTV system, I found software playback barely acceptable ( the video pans were "juddery" ), and it was only smooth when using XvMC accleration.


Unfortunately, MPEG2 acceleration is not an option in MacOS.. If it was, the Mini would be a great HDTV platform, as its Radeon video chip supports MPEG2 accel.
 

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I just installed EyeTV 1.8.2 on a Mini. The installer demanded the presence of EyeTV hardware before it would let me proceed. That was not the case with the 1.7.1 installer, which I tried out before I bought my first EyeTV 500. I don't recall seeing any obvious way to bypass the EyeTV hardware requirement with the 1.8.2 installer. You may have to try an earlier version.


What is XvMC acceleration? Is that a Linux-only solution?
 

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I did install EyeTV 1.8.2 on my Mini in early July: Mysteriously, it did NOT require Elgato hardware. Must be my newbie mojo or something. And I downloaded somebody's helpful 33MB HD 'Olympics' clip. (Thanks to that donor, btw, if they're reading--can't seem to relocate it to cite them properly.) Well, it plays--(Control-shift-file menu-open QT movie) certainly not perfectly, but miles ahead of the snow infested 17 y.o. 13" CRT TV I'm hoping to supplant!
 

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Just a quick followup--I received the refurbished EyeTV 500 a day or two ago and, well, it works! Seems magical to me, anyway. Haven't tried recording (and probably won't bother). I'm using (in addition to the maxed out Mini & Dell FPW 2005) a Radio Shack 15-1838 antenna. Have "autotuned" several times and while I still haven't gotten KOMO here in Seattle, I can pick up the local CBS, NBC and PBS affiliates. And their subchannels. Depending on where in my room I move the antenna--I'll be returning this RS antenna in favor of an unpowered outside unit once the Open is over!
 
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