These days it’s not unusual to hear of people who have decided to cut off their cable or satellite service. Online access to free TV is easy with Hulu and Boxee and only a small monthly fee is needed to get Netflix, Hulu Plus, PlayOn and similar services. If you live within range of free over-the-air channels, you can also get old-fashioned conventional television via an antenna without ever needing to call a cable guy. Attach that antenna to a TV tuner card connected to your PC or Mac and with the right software you can even have a free PVR.
One such tuner card is Elgato’s EyeTV One. The EyeTV One is a basic USB tuner card that allows you to watch free over-the-air high definition ATSC digital broadcasts on a computer. Elgato appears to be pitching its product primarily at Mac users because the package includes EyeTV 3 software that can only be installed on that platform. The EyeTV One can be used on a PC, though, in conjunction with third-party software.
The EyeTV One has a slightly different design from that of other USB tuner cards in that there is a cable between the USB plug and the main component that connects to an antenna. This is a good thing if the USB input that you will want to use is adjacent to another that you also require. The design of the EyeTV One means that it doesn’t block access to the other input. The USB plug itself is coated in transparent plastic, while the cable and card component are a trendy silver color. This makes the EyeTV One look ever-so-slightly trendier than most USB tuner.
Because this card is only designed to pick up over-the-air broadcasts, the only connector provided at the opposite end from the USB is a coaxial socket like the one you’ll find poking out of your walls at home. This is where you attach an antenna.
The joy of USB tuner cards like the EyeTV One is that the hardware is easy to set up. You screw one end into the coaxial connector that comes on the end of an antenna cable and the other into a USB port on your computer. You may then be prompted to insert the disc that comes with the device and follow the instructions to install the included software (or just the driver, in the case of Microsoft Windows).
The EyeTV One essentially converts free digital over-the-air broadcasts picked up by an attached antenna to a computer-friendly form. To access these channels, you’ll need tuner card software. Elgato has provided Mac users with EyeTV 3 software out-of-the-box. It has DVR capabilities that record the digital stream exactly as the broadcaster aired it (lossless). You can also edit the resulting recordings and burn them to DVD or export them to iTunes. In addition, you can watch, pause, and rewind live TV, search channel listings over two weeks, set up schedules to record your favorite TV shows, edit out unwanted content, share recordings with other Macs on the same network and stream live and recorded TV to an iPad or iPhone through an optional app.
Even though there is no EyeTV 3 software for the PC, Microsoft Windows users are not forgotten. In principal, installing the EyeTV One under Windows is as easy as it is on a Mac. Elgato markets the device as compatible with Windows 7 Media Center. Microsoft concurs. The Windows 7 Compatibility Center website states that the device is compatible with the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Microsoft’s latest operating system. Unfortunately this appears to be untrue if you live in Canada. I found that when I selected my region as Canada in Windows 7 Media Center’s TV Setup menu, it told me that the program ‘does not support your TV tuner in Canada.’ Setup stalled at that point.
The device I tested was sent from the United States and this could be the cause of the problem. On their website, Elgato does state that you should, “purchase EyeTV in the country you intend to use it in, to ensure support of your local standard.” I ended up finding a work-around, which was to tell Media Center that I live in the US and enter a US postal code. Media Center then scanned for and found channels but assigned them the wrong identifiers. As a result, the TV Guide provided useless information.
Thankfully I found other Windows software options that work in Canada without a hitch. I tested the EyeTV One attached to an RCA Amplified Flat TV Antenna (CANT1450B) in Edmonton, Alberta, and was able to pick up several channels using the free programs MediaPortal, NextPVR and Orb as well as a trial version of Beyond TV’s software. The HD channels that I received looked excellent on NextPVR and Beyond TV. I was also able to use Orb to stream live TV to my iPhone. All of these programs have PVR capabilities. Getting each to work was as simple as finding the Channel Scan button and letting the software search for and log channels with the EyeTV One and antenna attached.
The EyeTV One is limited in what it can do but effective at what it does. It is well designed and constructed, which counts for a lot in this age of cheap, disposable electronics. With the right software installed and a suitable wireless connection, you can get an excellent recordable HD picture on a PC and stream live TV to your iPhone or iPad. It is a pity that the included EyeTV 3 software is not provided for Windows and that there are compatibility issues with Windows Media Center in Canada. Thankfully, though, there are software alternatives for Windows users that will do what Elgato’s Mac software does (I believe it is also possible to use the EyeTV One on Linux, but I didn’t test it). If you live in a location with several free over-the-air channels, Elgato’s EyeTV One could be all you need to convince yourself to cut off your cable.
(Product image is courtesy of Elgato.)