Recently, Elgato released EyeTV for the iPhone (AppStore Link). At a cost of $4.99, its marketing blurb offers the following functionality:
With the EyeTV app, you can watch, record, and enjoy live and recorded TV on your iPhone or iPod touch. At last, you don‘t have to leave all your great TV shows at home; the EyeTV app puts the power of award-winning EyeTV in the palm of your hand.
The EyeTV app accesses EyeTV running on your Mac at home to deliver these great features to your iPhone:
- Watch live TV and change channels anywhere (Wi-Fi connection required)
- Watch your EyeTV recordings
- Browse the comprehensive Program Guide
- Start recordings back home on your Mac immediately or schedule them for later
- View and edit your recording schedules
How Does it Measure Up?
Now that we know the promises, how does the functionality work in practise and does it live up to the hype? To set the picture accurately; my set up is a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini with 2GB of RAM and two Elgato Digital USB Tuner sticks. This is hooked up to an Airport Express, which extends my existing wireless connection from another room. Between myself and my wife, we have an iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 2nd Gen, so I will be testing EyeTV on all three looking for differences.
Setting Up and Preparing
After downloading the EyeTV app from iTunes and installing onto my three iDevices, I had to update EyeTV to version 3.2 on my Mac mini by simply checking for updates. Once updated, switching on iPhone streaming was a simple option in the preferences.
There is also functionality for using Elgato’s servers to allow connecting to your EyeTV device from outside your wireless network called “My EyeTV.” This works in a similar manner to Apple’s “Back To My Mac” functionality of MobileMe and requires UPnP support between your EyeTV host and your router. Because I have an AirPort Express extended network, UPnP didn’t work — but I was able to manually configure a port forwarding rule in my router on port 2170 to make the service work.
Advanced options allow you to require a passcode to connecting a device and the option to automatically convert recordings into a format suitable for streaming at a later time. While Live TV does not need to be prepared, recorded content does.
You can however, also prepare recordings manually, on a case-by-case basis.
After starting the iPhone app and entering my “My EyeTV” details, I get the option of connecting via Wi-Fi (on the bottom) and via “My EyeTV” (on top). When connected to my local wireless, the “My EyeTV” connection did not work (of course you wouldn’t want to do this, but the software doesn’t detect this in any way).
Selecting the local Wi-Fi option connects quickly and presents the app’s main menu.
Watching Live TV
Selecting LiveTV gives a list of channels and what is currently showing.
Clicking on the green icon on the right displays the upcoming programs on that channel.
I can then select the current show to get a summary and an option to “Watch Now.”
This process then takes about 20 seconds of processing and streaming before I get picture and sound, which is smooth and crisp and just as one would expect.
Tapping on the screen brings up the controls which allow pausing, rewinding 30 seconds (and jumping back to the live stream), a volume control and resizing between widescreen (just like in the iPod app).
Pressing the ‘gear’ icon displayed in the top right of the channel listing presents a bandwidth/quality settings screen to enable you to tweak the size of the stream. This worked well and allows you to find the right setting for your moment. The lowest setting is about equal to the early days of You Tube while the highest setting is flawless.
Pressing the recordings menu gives you a sub menu to narrow down searching for an existing recording.
Selecting an option (such as Library) gives a list of individual recordings.
While there is no way to search directly for a recording, you can sort the list by a number of means.
Unlike live TV, when watching a recording you get full track scrubbing navigation, not just ‘back 30 seconds.’
The quality of recordings is not configurable like LiveTV is, it depends on the quality options you selected for ‘preparing recordings’ on your Mac. Cellular quality is very low and like You Tube, but if you’re on wireless (or on a jailbroken phone with 3G Un-Restrictor) you get full quality.
Schedules let you see what upcoming recordings you have scheduled.
All you can do here is browse and remove an item from the schedule.
The Guide gives you access to the full electronic TV guide available in your Mac’s EyeTV software, this is exactly the same as when browsing the guide for Live TV, except instead of an option to “Watch Now,” the button is “Record,” which will add the show to your recording schedule.
There is no noticeable speed differences with performance between the iPhone 3G, iPod touch 2nd Gen or the iPhone 3GS. The bottleneck here is available bandwidth and the speed of the host computer. Generally, the functionality works as advertised, however there are some limitations to be aware of, and some version 1.0 bugs that need to be squashed.
- Live streaming does not work on 3G, requires Wi-Fi — thanks AT&T, for affecting my functionality in Australia. However, on a jailbroken phone, I was able to successfully use 3G Unrestrictor to fool EyeTV into thinking it was on Wi-Fi, thus allowing it to work. This worked at a much higher quality than I expected and was also very smooth. Well worth the $2.99 it costs for 3G Unrestrictor.
- Streaming only supports one device at a time. Connecting with my iPhone and watching a live TV stream, then connecting with my iPod touch works, but when actually selecting a channel to view on the iPod touch, it drops the stream for the iPhone. This is probably fair enough as one stream is pretty CPU intensive as it is.
- When both recording a show and streaming live TV, I had two instances of the host application crash, requiring a full EyeTV restart to allow connections again.
- When testing across the Internet while on my work’s wireless, or on 3G, I found my iPhone’s EyeTV app constantly crashing whenever it tried to connect. This seemed to be an issue with the EyeConnect helper software on my Mac mini, which needed to be restarted by turning EyeTV sharing off and on again in my Mac mini.
- When stopping a live or recorded stream, the CPU usage on the host computer often stays high for 5-10 minutes. It looks like its continuing to stream data out and didn’t get the ’stop’ message from the iPhone. This does seem to eventually time out and really isn’t a big problem unless the CPU usage causes you a problem.
- It would be a nice option to be able to ‘prepare’ a recording for the iPhone remotely.
Once Elgato gets a software update out for both ends of the solution (iPhone and OS X) to fix the crash bugs and bring stability to the software, this will be absolutely great. Until then, it’s a bit of hit and miss, it may work fine or it may need someone to be at your computer to restart software before it works, which defeats the purpose. Elgato is working hard on its forums to replicate user’s issues and make this stable, so its a bright future ahead.