Review: EyeTV 250 by Elgato - Macenstein

Review: EyeTV 250 by Elgato

Posted by Lab Rat

There’s no denying the invention of the Tivo and Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) in general has had a huge impact on how the world watches TV. My Dish Network satellite receiver has had PVR functionality for years, and like most PVR owners, I am addicted. So addicted, I have occasionally tried to “rewind� live radio when in the car. The “time-shifting� aspects of the PVR are something I often wish applied to life in general, not just TV.

Since I am such a die-hard veteran of the PVR, I found myself surprised at just how impressed I was with Elgato’s EyeTV 250. It wasn’t so much the PVR aspects of it, as I had seen it all before. What I really love most about the EyeTV 250 is that, as a video iPod owner, I now have an almost limitless amount of content.

Morally, emotionally, and financially I have a problem paying $1.99 for a TV show on iTunes specifically so I can watch it on my iPod. TV shows (at least for me) are not like songs, in that once I watch one, I rarely feel the need to watch it again. But with the 250, now I can put any show I want on my iPod, for FREE (well, free minus the $199 the EyeTV 250 costs).

And it’s so easy. If you have standard (non-Digital) cable, you can use the bundled EyeTV 2.3 software and the free online channel guide TitanTV to set up recordings by simply clicking on them, very similar to Tivo and Re-Play TV systems, but without the monthly subscription fees. And unlike traditional PVRs, you can also set EyeTV to take that recording, compress it into an iPod-friendly format, save it to iTunes, and sync it to your iPod.

For reasons I will not go into here (because they make my head and wallet hurt), I have BOTH Satellite TV and regular old analog cable at my house. The Eye TV works with both, although for Satellite (and Digital cable) you are relegated to recording only the output of your digital box. This is not a limitation of the 250, it is just cable and satellite providers like to encrypt their program streams, where standard cable does not.

The EyeTV 250 consists of both a hardware MPEG-1 and 2 encoding breakout box, and the award winning EyeTV software. Because the MPEG conversions are done via the external hardware, there is not a lot of heavy lifting required on the software side. This means the EyeTV 250 works great even on many older systems.


The 250’s encoding box is relatively small, about the size of 2 iPods stacked on top of each other, and white, likely to compliment the design of the recent iMacs and Mac minis people are using as media PCs these days. The front of the unit has an S-Video input and contains the infrared receiver, as well as an extremely bright (read: annoying) blue light that you will probably want to angle away from your viewing plane as much as possible. The back of the unit contains a set of RCA jacks as well as a coax connection for receiving standard analog cable signals. The 250 connects to your computer via a USB 2 cable, but I found the unit works well even over USB 1 thanks to the box’s hardware encoding (although USB 2 in necessary for some features). The EyeTV 250 also comes with a fairly large black remote (longer than the unit itself) allowing you to control the EyeTV software from across the room.


The EyeTV 250 ships with Elgato’s EyeTV software, pretty much the standard now for Mac-centric television recording. While the shipping version is currently only at 2.3, it is a very mature product and I found very few things to take issue with (although I wouldn’t be a very good reviewer if I couldn’t find something to complain about! But I will address that later).

When you first set up the software, you are guided through a fairly idiot proof set up wizard that helps you choose your TV provider (terrestrial, cable, satellite) and the appropriate cable connections to the EyeTV 250’s box. The setup ends with a free registration with TitanTV which allows for EyeTV to download program guide information. This program guide is what makes the EyeTV so easy to use. If you have analog cable television, you can set up recordings by simply skipping ahead in the program guide to the day/time/channel of the show you wish to record, and clicking on it to create a timer. You can set the timer to be a one-time only event or repeat depending on the show. This is very similar to the way all PVRs work, and if you are used to VCR recording, this will seem like a godsend.

Also, like most PVRs, EyeTV can “timeshift� live television, meaning you can pause or rewind a live broadcast if you missed something. The EyeTV is constantly recording into a 1-hour buffer, so you can always jump back an hour if necessary. Something I often do with the time-shifting feature is pause a live event (such as a football game) and then unpause and start watching after about a half-hour’s worth of time has built up. That way I can easily skip past commercials. There is a potential problem with this, however, as if you have an event set to record and you are watching “timeshifted� programming, when that timer launches, EyeTV will tune to the new channel, flush out the built-up cache from its memory, and you will loose whatever portion of the show you were watching on delay. It would be great to see a dual-tuner version of the EyeTV that can record one channel while watching another (Elgato notes it IS technically possible to use 2 different units simultaneously, although there are some issues).

Made for iPod

The coolest thing about having a video iPod is being able to play videos on it. The worst part about having a video iPod is paying $1.99 per show to get them on there. What I really love about the EyeTV 250 is that I can now easily export recorded shows to my video iPod, thus opening up a wealth of “free� content, most of which is still not available on the iTunes store. I can even record movies from premium channels such as Stars, HBO, and ShowTime, and put them on my iPod (that’s right, NON-Disney movies on an iPod!).

If the iPod’s small screen isn’t to your liking, and you happen to own Roxio’s Toast 7 software, you can just as easily burn recorded programs to DVDs. There is an Export to Toast button right next to the Export to iPod button, and the feature works great.

Additional features

The EyeTV 250 comes with some additional features that some people may find useful, although personally I didn’t have much use for. There is a “Game Mode� for watching live TV. The idea here is if you are using your computer screen as a monitor for a gaming system like an XBox or PlayStation, clicking the Game Mode checkbox will reduce the latency to zero by not buffering a cache. That way there will be no delay between the pressing of your controller pad and the movement of your character on screen. I did a test on my XBox with Simpsons Road Rage, and the results were good. The downside is, you cannot record in Game Mode, so if you for some reason wanted to record a copy of your latest and greatest high score, you would have to split the feed from your system to both a TV and the EyeTV 250 and play via your TV. Also, you are stuck with the EyeTV’s S-video and RCA connectors; so don’t expect to hook up your Xbox 360’s component HD cable.

Another bonus to the 250 is the included VHS-Assistant which makes it easy to digitize old analog tapes into EyeTV. Really the app is designed for novices, as most people should be able to figure out how to connect the VCR to the 250’s composite jacks. But still, the Mac is very much about ease of use, and EyeTV is very much about the Mac.

Watching recorded shows on a standard television set

The EyeTV 250 is really designed to record shows to your Mac and watch them back there (or on your iPod). If you want to watch your television shows back on the “Big Screen� (meaning on a standard television set) you will have to do a bit of work and spend a bit of money to do so. For $19.00, I went to our local Apple Store and picked up a DVI to Video Adapter. This takes the video signal from your Mac (assuming you have DVI out) and converts it to S-Video or composite. You can then hook that up to your television set. For audio, you’ll need a stereo mini to RCA adapter, another $7 or so. From there it is fairly straightforward. The Eye TV software has a fullscreen menu mode now, and you can navigate your recordings in fullscreen on your TV much like Front Row or a Windows Media Center PC.

The problem, however, is when you are not in full screen mode, it is very hard to read your computer screen on the TV. If you want to surf the web or run Word, you’ll need to unhook the cables, and rehook up your monitor each time. This is kind of annoying, depending on where your computer is in relation to your TV and whether you use your computer for things other than recording TV. If done too often, odds are you’ll bend some connector or another at some point. If you really wish to use the EyeTV as a Tivo-like device for recording and playing back shows on your television, I suggest buying a dedicated Mac mini for the job, and just leave it set up to do that and only that. It is still cheaper than a Tivo system (after a year or two, anyway) and much more versatile.


I was very impressed with the performance of the EyeTV 250. I ran the majority of my tests on an Intel Mac mini 1.66 GHz Core Duo machine with 1GB or RAM. I was routinely able to record a live show while watching another previously recorded show, while ALSO exporting a third one all at the same time without any errors or dropped frames. Additionally, this was all happening over an external FireWire drive, as my library had gotten so large I needed more room. The 250 is a very slick piece of hardware that takes the compression load off your computer’s processors, so surfing the web or playing music can be done while recording.


I have used the EyeTV 250 daily for about a month now, and I loved almost everything about my experience. However I DID find a couple minor things that I feel could be improved upon, and I post them here merely as suggestions to EyeTV’s programmers and designers, not as a warning to potential consumers, as these issues really are minor quibbles about a great product.


First, the remote. The bundled remote is a large black remote, which looks nothing like the white EyeTV 250 (or any EyeTV unit for that matter). Make it white, or at least silver. Secondly, the remote’s buttons are poorly laid out. If you are using the EyeTV 250 as a TV, and using the recording/timeshifting features, you will find you use the play/pause/skip buttons more often than the numerical buttons. Move these navigation buttons from the bottom of the remote to the middle where your fingers can access them. For playback you CAN now use the Apple remote to control playback, but that is assuming you are only watching recorded shows, and own a Mac that comes with the remote. The minimalistic Apple remote is not all that useful when navigating the EyeTV software.

Aside from the remote, the main issue I have with the design of the EyeTV 250’s hardware is with the status light on the front of the 250. It is a VERY bright blue LED light and is on constantly. I would suggest a switch to a softer green, or a change in its placement (or both). Right now it is located next to the infrared port which needs to be facing you to use the remote, so this light is constantly visible, and distracting if near your screen (which it most likely will be). Also, it would have been nice if the engineers could have found a way to put the S-Video port on the back of the device with the rest of the ports, even if it meant rotating it 90 degrees.


As for the EyeTV software, as I said, it is a very well designed bit of software, and there is not much to dislike. The layout of the new EyeTV window borrows much from iTunes with features such as playlists, search, etc. However I do have a few small suggestions.

I am about 80% of the time a satellite user who manually records to the 250 without using the built-in program guide analog cable enjoys, and I do so specifically so I can export to iPod. Because of this, I find myself often manually labeling program titles and info. I would like to see the inclusion of Apple’s built-in spell checker feature used when manually typing in show descriptions and names. Additionally, I would like to see the use of iTunes’ ability to auto-complete entries as you type. For instance, if I have 3 episodes of Family Guy recorded, and I am manually labeling my newly recorded 4th, I would like to see “Family Guy� pop up in the “Show Title� field as I begin to type the letters “F-a-m� like iTunes does with musical artists. Additionally, I would like to see an option to export recorded shows so they show up in the TV Shows section of iTunes, not in the Movies section. Right now you need to go in and manually select TV for each one under its video tab in the Get Info box in iTunes. I think the majority of programs recorded using EyeTV will be television shows as opposed to movies. This would just make syncing the iPod that much easier. At least make it an export preference option.

Finally, now that iTunes supports multiple libraries, I would like to see EyeTV export videos to the current iTunes library, not just the movies folder. I set up a special library just for recorded shows on a separate drive so as to not clog up my system drive (where my music resides). But EyeTV doesn’t add exported shows to this library. I have to manually move the files and import them into my secondary library, which is a bit of a pain.


The EyeTV is an amazing piece of software, and the EyeTV 250 is an equally great piece of hardware. They work together seamlessly to deliver a Tivo-like experience without all of Tivo’s invasive program tracking and monthly fees. Adding storage space is as simple as buying an external hard drive; no messy hacks and mods necessary. The EyeTV 250 works best if you have standard analog cable (i.e. no cable box) but even as a Dish Network subscriber who has a 90-hour PVR, I found the EyeTV to be great for unloading content to make room for new recordings, and for burning commercial-free DVDs of my favorite shows and movies. If you own a video iPod, the EyeTV 250 is a must-have device that pays for itself quickly when compared to the cost of purchasing television shows online.

EyeTV 250 by Elgato

Price: $199.95

Pros: Intuitive interface, easy to use, delivers high quality recordings, exports shows to iPod or DVD (requires Toast 7), no monthly subscriptions like Tivo

Cons: Remote could be better, it is a bit of a hassle to watch EyeTV recorded shows on a regular TV

9 Responses to “Review: EyeTV 250 by Elgato”
  1. Thomas says:

    Great article and couldn’t agree more with the improvements they could easily do to the EyeTV 250. That light is annoying and I wouldn’t want to make such a slick piece of hardware look silly by sticking a piece of tape on the front. You would think the engineers or product designers would have thought that one through. Personally, I watch most of my shows in low-light, so the bright blue light is a definite distraction.

  2. Austin McGuire says:

    Overall I am very happy with my 250, however there is one issue that you did not mention. The export to iMovie or DV format (Interlaced) interlaces in the opposite format that DVD players expect. Computers and some DVD players read the header that state which interlace format is used, but most DVD players do not. This results in a jumpy video because the interlacing is drawn out of order. On a computer this does not happen, but on the DVD player it is very annoying.

  3. Macgoog says:

    Have an eye TV 200 (firewire) the video quality is terrible. There is no support for the product. I have since bought a Panasonic DVR with 120 gig HD and a DVD recorder for about $300. No subscription. Set up for weekly recording. Why over work your computer for poor quality when you can enjoy it on your TV. High Speed dubbing from HD to DVD. Edit commercials. You can always use HandBrake to convert a show for iPod.

  4. OZ says:

    I have an EyeTV 250 and I am pretty impressed with it. As a satellite user myself it does kinda suck that we cannot use the TitanTV stuff, but that isn’t anything Elgato has done wrong. The part about the brightness of the status LED is very true. I found it so bad that I actually took the thing apart and applied a piece of electrical tape over the hole the light comes through. It is that bad. Other than that Elgato really hit the mark, except I don’t find the “Game Mode” fast enough to play games.

  5. TowerTone says:

    Just now found the article and enjoyed it. I started to buy a 250 but opted for the 200 for the firewire and no need for power cable. Also, got it mainly to turn analog tapes to digital, and the 200 seemed an easier setup. The video quality is very good on my InteliMac 20 Core Duo, not sure what Macgoog’s problems were. I look forward to getting a vidoe capable iPod to export to.

  6. Alex Rainert says:

    Hi there,

    So I wanted to clarify something if you have a moment. I have Time Warner Cable in Brooklyn NY… will I need to get a digital cable box (thereby eliminating any Tivo like functionality because there’s no IR Blaster to change channels) or should I be able to go directly from the COAX into the EyeTV?

    I can’t find the answer to this anywhere. Any help would be much appreciated.


  7. In theory, if you have “regular” cable (the kind you can plug into a Cable-ready TV and see channels) then you are set, just plug that coax into the Eye TV instead of your set.
    But if you have a DIGITAL cable box and system, (or satellite, or any system where you have a box between your wall jack and TV) then you will not be able to change channels via EyeTV, you will need to change channels via your cable box.

    Although there ARE IR blasters that will work with EyeTV, irf you want to go that route and have Digital cable or satellite. Check EyeTV’s site and FAQ, they list them there, as I recall.

    Hope this didn’t confuse you more.

    -The Doc

  8. DML says:

    I’d like to watch tv on my computer, bcause the reception for tv in
    my apartment building is so bad. (I do not subscribe to cable tv; I watch
    just the few channnels of regular “broadcast” tv, with an antennae.)

    So, will the picture I receive on the computer screen be clearer than the almost unwatchable picture I get on the television screen?

    Appreciate any explanation you can provide. Thanks.


  9. Hey Donna,

    No, sorry. The EyeTV would just hook to your antennae, and as far as I can tell, should get the same quality signal you are already getting. Perhaps you should invest in a better indoor antennae, a powered model like thos sold at radio Shack.

    -The Doc

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