AppleTV is very, very neat. It works great but there are two major deal breakers which prevent it from being very, very cool.
The first is the lack of a digital video recorder—a DVR. The second is how long it takes to convert a video to play on AppleTV.
Mac360 has written about Elgato’s popular EyeTV products many times. These are the little boxes that so much want to be needed to capture TV, store to your Mac and iTunes and iPod and AppleTV.
EyeTV is both software and hardware. The hardware converts an incoming TV signal, cable or terrestrial, into an MPEG video file that plays on your Mac (sorry, no Windows).
That’s the digital video recorder that’s missing on your Mac and AppleTV. Elgato’s EyeTV software works great. It’s the interface to the DVR you really want AppleTV provide.
Though EyeTV has one-click buttons to convert TV shows to a format used by iPods with video, and iTunes for playback on AppleTV, the conversion process, even on a fast Mac, is painfully slow.
How painfully slow? A one hour TV show may take as long as two hours to convert for iTunes, which can then play on your TV through AppleTV. Dink around with the settings and that conversion time can still be as long as the TV show or movie, but at reduced quality.
No matter how you shake it, converting video to play in iTunes and then your iPod or AppleTV is painfully slow. Until now. Elgato’s Turbo.264 makes it an annoyance but easy.
Turbo.264 is a USB stick, so it’s small and sleek and about $100. This nifty little device does the video formatting using hardware acceleration so your Mac is free to do whatever while the video converts.
Elgato claims that Turbo.264 will convert videos at nearly 5x the speed on an Intel Mac, even faster on some older Macs. How long does it take to convert a video for use in iTunes (for use in an iPod or on AppleTV)?
That will depend on how long the video is, what quality of video you’re converting, and the amount of compression required. It’s safe to say that Turbo.264 is much, much faster at converting videos than your Mac.
The software controls the presets for AppleTV, iPods, Sony PSP, including standard 4:3 and wide screen 16:9 aspect ratios.
Everything is wonderful, right? Not quite. The fact remains that a DVR and quick video converter are not part of a Mac, not part of AppleTV. Elgato’s solution can cost you $250—$100 for Turbo.264 to convert the videos, and as low as $150 for the DVR—Elgato’s EyeTV Hybrid with software and remote.
It’s an expensive solution. Add to that the price tag on a Mac mini to your entertainment system and the whole DVR solution—which should work hand in hand with AppleTV—is still a Frankensolution that pushes $1,000. Your mileage may vary.
Elgato’s EyeTV, hardware and software DVR, and Elgato’s Turbo.264 USB stick video converter, are compelling solutions. Yes, I want my AppleTV experience but the hoops to jump through to make it right are not yet right.
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