If there’s a single, glaring shortcoming to Apple’s media management in iTunes, it’s the lack of a Digital Video Recorder. A DVR. Our Macs are not likely to see a DVR, either, because Apple prefers that we buy TV shows from the iTunes Store.
That’s plausible, and depending upon your boob tube ingestion requirements, perhaps affordable. But I don’t like paying for my content again and again. So, how does a Mac user get free TV on a Mac?
What Do You Mean By ‘Free?’
Here’s where reality meets desire and friction occurs. Free television? On a Mac?
We live deep in the information age, children of the information superhighway (or, victims) and still, television, all 100 to 500 channels-and-nothing-is-on television, comes down an old fashioned cable.
There must be a dozen ways to get television programs into your Mac, and not one of them is satisfactory.
Here’s my basic criteria. First, I want whatever is on my cable TV channels to be on my Mac. Major network shows, 24 hour cable news networks, old movie networks, live sports, late night talk shows, Shark Week.
Even the channels where politicians orate on the inane, and display to all the world why a benevolent dictator is a better form of government. I want TV in all the glory and glitter and idiocy that God intended.
Second, I want all that television at no extra cost. Not a penny more than what I already pay. And I want pause, and fast forward through TV commercials, and rewind in slow motion, and all the benefits that come with time shifting that most popular of visual sports—spectating and vegetating from a sofa whenever I damn well please.
The Choices? May I Have The Envelope Please!
Start the drum roll. Here it comes. Wait for it. Uh oh. Looks like there are not many choices.
Let me see. There’s the antiquated way. Use a VCR to record what you want, then figure a way to get all those stacks of VCR tapes into your Mac. The modern way is the DVR, the digital video recorder that makes time shifting legal and fun.
TiVo anyone? It’s tried. It’s true. It’s even Mac-like. Users swear by it. But it’s just a more expensive DVR, right?
$200 for a box. $13 a month for the guide service comes to $156 a year, and that’s on top of my monthly cable bill. That doesn’t sound like free, does it. Even the cable company’s rented DVR is a better deal, usually around $10 a month, but that’s another $120 a year. Extra.
I’ve been a faithful cable TV user with a rented DVR for about nine years. You do the math. It’s makes me sad when I do it. Over $1,000 just for the privilege of recording what I’m already paying for. And I still can’t take it with me without jumping through 13 Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus hoops.
What About Hulu And The Internet?
Now we’re talking entertainment. Hulu is an internet site put together by a bunch of networks to figure out another way to make money with their TV shows.
Hulu is free. For now. And Hulu runs on my Mac. And Windows PCs. What’s not to like? There’s even movies on Hulu, though Blockbuster it ain’t.
Hulu video quality is decent, too. And it works using my handy dandy paid for Apple remote control. Without the remote? Keyboard and mouse clicks apply. Did I mention free? Again, what’s not to like?
Alas, the folks at Hulu tell us what’s not to like, but only after we get hooked on their candy do we realize that they’re really just media drug lords.
(Hulu) is a beta product during which we plan to gather and incorporate user feedback to improve the service.
That’s TV executive speak for, “We’re doing this to hook you until we find a way to take more money from you.”
Is there a better way? Well, there are other ways. Boxee is free but limited in scope. The Plex Media Center is cool, slick, and complicated. And, there’s SlingBox, which features placeshifting and timeshifting (and it’s complicated). I want simple. I want free (or, mostly free).
Is there a way to get all of what I get already with my monthly cable TV bill and get it to my Mac, simply, effortlessly, no-brainer easy, easy enough for a blonde? Until Apple finally decides to give iTunes a face lift and the one feature everybody wants—a DVR, there is only one way. On to Page 2 for The Best Way To Get Free TV On A Mac. But it’s not quite free.
Continued from Page 1…
How I Love Thee; Let Me Count The Ways
You may think my criteria is too severe. That free TV just isn’t meant to be. That’s my point. I’m already paying for television. I just want to view TV on my Mac.
And, for that matter, on my iPod and iPhone, and soon, on my bright, shiny, new Apple iTablet/iSlate/iPad/iDevice. And I don’t want to pay extra.
That cuts the number of options down to one. It’s tried and true. It works on my Mac. It records like a DVR and integrates with iTunes.
What goes into iTunes also goes to my Mac and to my iPod and to my iPhone and eventually my iDevice.
What sorcery is this? What magic have the Digital Gawds provided to my digital hub? Elgato’s EyeTV. I know. EyeTV isn’t free. But remember, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
The First Place Runner Up
Simply put, EyeTV is made of two components. It’s the classy, Mac-like software that controls television—scheduled recordings, pause, live, fast forward, rewind. It even converts television recordings for your iPhone or iPod.
EyeTV is also a tuner device, that little plastic looking gizmo that plugs into your Mac and plugs into your cable TV and brings television shows direct to your Mac, day or night.
There’s an EyeTV hybrid, a tuner stick that plugs into your Mac and gives you HDTV and FM radio. The EyeTV one is another pluggable device that pulls TV from the air. No, seriously. I’ve seen it. It used to be what people did to get TV before cable TV.
Elgato has a few other devices worth mentioning. One is called, appropriately, the eyeTV app, which puts your television recordings right on your iPhone without using iTunes. You can even stream live TV over a 3G phone connection to your iPhone with the Live3G web app. That one is free.
All those options sound promising, right? What about getting television shows that are stuck on your Mac to show up on your new 60-inch flat screen TV? The EyeConnect UPnP AV Media Streaming Software is what you need (and with a name that just rolls off your tongue, it makes you want it even more, right?).
Now I’m a girl getting all geeky because you have to install software and hook up wires and cables and something called a Universal Plug and Play media device (available at your local Best Buy store, or other places that earn my trust by selling Macs and PCs next to stoves and refrigerators).
The Good And The Bad Are Not Ugly
All this good news comes with bad news, but none of it is ugly. The acceptable solutions which meet my aforementioned criteria are fewer and farther between than facts on Fox News.
Assuming you’re willing to part with some money for one of those tuner doo-hickeys to plug cable TV (which you’re already paying for) into one of your Macs, EyeTV3 software turns the Mac into a TV and a DVR with no additional monthly fee.
EyeTV lets you watch live TV on your Mac, and with the benefits of the typical DVR. Use your Apple Remote to pause, fast forward, rewind, and navigate through the channels.
There’s a program guide which lets you set up TV show recordings, just like the DVR you’ve been paying to the cable company for 10 years. The TV shows get recorded to your Mac’s hard disk drive. It’ll even wake your Mac from sleep to record.
Even better, EyeTV will encode and convert TV shows and dump them into iTunes for export to your iPhone or iPod touch. Automatically. What’s not to like? TV comes to your Mac.
EyeTV isn’t free. But it’s free to use. You need the cable tuner doo-hickey to plug into your Mac’s USB port. That’s a one time purchase. So, I compared the amount I’ve shelled out to the cable TV company for nine years and figured out that I could buy a Mac mini, and EyeTV, and the doo-hickey for less money.
It’s not a perfect Free TV On Your Mac™ solution. It’s good. It’s bad. But it’s not ugly. And it works.