Skip to Content
Skip to Table of Contents

← Previous Article Next Article →

ATPM 12.04
April 2006



How To



Download ATPM 12.04

Choose a format:

Hardware Review

by Tom Bridge,



Developer: Miglia/El Gato

Price: $249

Requirements: 500 MHz G4, USB 2.0, Mac OS X 10.4. Universal.

Trial: None

The idea of the Mac as a media center is definitely an appealing one. Front Row, a presentation mode that appeared with the new iSight iMacs in late 2005, was a major step in the right direction for the fan of the Mac Media Center concept. And its integration into the new Intel-based Mac minis is certainly welcome, but the problem of the Mac Media Center is how the hell do you get good content in to the system? Sure, there’s BitTorrent, but I want to watch TV in real time! Enter the TVMini HD.


The TVMini is slightly larger than a deck of cards, but smaller than a soda can.

The box is roughly the size of a large deck of playing cards and has a USB jack and an antenna jack on it. The USB plugs into your Mac, and the antenna plugs into whatever aerial you happen to have handy. The ATSC tuner built into the device decodes Over The Air (OTA) HDTV and SDTV signals and plays them—live—on your screen. Better yet, the EyeTV program that the TVMini HD ships with will allow you to create, essentially, a schedule of programs that the TVMini—in conjunction with an online TV directory service—will record for you. While it’s certainly not TiVo, and it probably won’t be, the software is good for its interface, which works much like TiVo in that it has sections for recorded programs as well as a section for upcoming programs.


The EyeTV interface is instantly familiar to anyone who has used the iApps.


The infrared remote.

There’s an issue here lurking, and that’s the primary issue with digital television as a whole. Remember the days of rabbit ears and slightly fuzzy stations? With digital television, they’re totally gone. Digital television means you either have signal, or you have a black screen, but there’s very, very little in between. Perhaps it’s that my suburban Virginia home is just outside the serviceable radius of the local HD stations. Perhaps it’s that the antenna that ships with the TVMini HD just isn’t that good. Either way, I had a real bear of a time making watchable shows using the OTA antenna option, however, I was at the end quite successful. This is going to take some trial and error. Now, there is a caveat here, the TVMini HD will accept a digital cable feed, and if your cable provider makes unencrypted digital feeds available (and I’m told several providers do), then this won’t be nearly the issue for you that it was for me, the satellite TV guy.


The EyeTV software remote.


The viewer window, with overlay for program information.

Once encoded and stored on your local computer, the shows are pretty well watchable (assuming you get good reception); and, better yet, they’re convertible to many formats, which means taking it with you on your video iPod isn’t too far of a stretch, nor is moving it from your office machine to your laptop or Mac Media Center. However, until digital signal issues are solved on a grander scale, you may well want think about BitTorrent or iTunes as a good alternative. Even though the HD quality just won’t be there, at least there won’t be holes in the movies.

Reader Comments (5)

Scott · April 3, 2006 - 11:59 EST #1
I've had this now for about 2 months and it's nothing short of awesome. At home I get all the basic channels. I noticed that I get them in Standard Definition, but if you go up in the higher numbers you get those same stations in High Definition. In fact all the major shows, news, sports are in 1080i as well. I've recorded many of them even with the little antenna it comes with. I'm blown away at the quality. Here is what to remember if you are considering. You'll need alot of space. CSI (Vegas) in HD was over 8GB. After I removed the commercials, another cool feature of this product and software, it was only 5GB. It should be noted that when you schedule it to record you can automatically set it to compress it down for the iPod video when it's done. Also, check to see what the DTV coverage is in your area. It's great at my house, but bad at my work. Hopefully they'll broadcast closer in the next few years. Otherwise a medium to large HD antenna pointed in the right direction can make this product shine. I even use it while I'm a passenger in cars. But reception is somewhat limited based on driving direction. This too would change if a broadcast tower was put closer.

By the way, dark levels and color have a ton to do with file size. Here is an example. I recorded Gray's Anatomy (GA) and CSI Vegas on the same night. GA was 5.6GB and CSI was 7.2GB after recording. I edited commercials from both. GA was 3.6GB and CSI was 5.2GB. Each were 1080i signals and exactly 41minutes long. The only difference was CSI has very heavy blacks and extremely rich colors. GA is light, do to the hospital scenes, and it's colors are suttle. Both look stunning. By the way sometimes in playback there will be some shuttering. I'm trying to figure out the best way to playback to avoid this. Especially when it's hooked up to an HDTV screen.
Paul Williamson · April 4, 2006 - 00:30 EST #2
Would love to know more about how to connect a cable box to this in a way that lets you watch and record.
Silas · April 4, 2006 - 01:53 EST #3
There is as yet no really good way to use this or any other such device with encrypted digital cable signals... maybe satellite too, I'm not sure if that's what the author was referring to.

You CAN jury-rig if if you have a little spare csh and don't mind getting your hands dirty with some simple Applescripts. I've been using a G4 Mini with an EyeTV product to record encrypted digital cable for over two years now. I use the iRed/IRtrans software/hardware combo (I think this is the only extant OS X-compatible IR blaster) and a programmable remote like the Keyspan digital remote. Everything (Keyspan, iRed, EyeTV, iTunes, DVD Player, Quicktime, etc) is scriptable, so it's easy to whip up some applescripts to make the operation seamless: i.e. pause iTunes, turn on the TV, start EyeTV, and go to fullscreen all with one button.

With some tweaking this works very very well. The ONLY problem is that you have no program guide, and can't use the TitanTV service. I started to look into making a program guide with XCode and XMLTV, but it's beyond my abilities.
sjk · April 4, 2006 - 18:16 EST #4
The ONLY problem is that you have no program guide, and can't use the TitanTV service.
Have you tried MacProgramGuide? It uses Zap2it instead of TitanTV.
Jason Hartner · May 8, 2006 - 01:45 EST #5
I bought one of these and was really really disappointed that the mini antenna included doesn't really work. You actually need to plug the device into your home roof antenna to get reception on all channels.

Unfortunately, because of this, it doesn't allow you to be mobile if you use it with your laptop. So if you already have a TV at home, there's no point in getting one of these for your laptop or pc.

Add A Comment

 E-mail me new comments on this article