Developer: Miglia/El Gato
Requirements: 500 MHz G4, USB 2.0, Mac OS X 10.4. Universal.
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.