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Articles: Another Hybrid For Your Shopping List

A wise man once told me "Be careful what you ask for, you just may have to buy it." For me this advice has never been so relevant as it is now, with regards to the EyeTV Hybrid. Several years ago I reviewed Elgato's EyeTV 500 and was substantially unimpressed. In my opinion, it lacked versatility because it could only be used with over-the-air HD broadcasts. If you wanted to capture standard definition TV or an analog video source, you would have to buy a different EyeTV box, and use it with the EyeTV 500. I wanted both units in one box for a reasonable price, and that is just what I got from the EyeTV Hybrid. Not only did Elgato pack the contents of two boxes the size of hardcover novels into one unit, but it all fits in a case smaller than my two fingers put together.

The EyeTV Hybrid is similar to the popular EyeTV 250 in its analog features. It has a coaxial connecter on one of its ends for connecting to standard cable service or an antenna. It will tune the first 100-plus channels of most cable carriers, or if connected to an antenna, it will pick up the analog broadcast signals. That is to say, it will pick up the analog broadcast signals until they are decommissioned in the coming years. The EyeTV Hybrid also has a breakout cable that optionally plugs into a side port with input for S-Video, Composite Video, and Mini Jack audio. There is a Mini Jack to RCA audio adapter included in the box to ensure complete analog A/V support. The ports on the breakout cable could be used for connecting to a Digital Cable or Satellite receiver. As with most quality Mac PVR systems, the EyeTV Hybrid device is controlled through the EyeTV 2 software. With The EyeTV Hybrid, the software and your computer has to do some extra work on analog video, then with the EyeTV 250. The EyeTV Hybrid has no hardware video encoder, so video has to be encoded as it is imported. This video encoding uses a considerable amount of processor time, which makes this unsuitable for sub-1 GHz processors. Also, the EyeTV Hybrid is a USB 2.0 device, which can further limit compatibility with earlier Macs. The final hardware limitation comes from the decoding demands of higher-end HD signals. For that, Elgato recommends a Dual G5 or Intel Core Duo Mac. For most HD content I have found that any G5 or Intel Mac will handle the decoding workload.

The EyeTV Hybrid stresses your Mac system in two different ways. Analog video demands encoding work, and HDTV signals require massive processor support for decoding. Decoding, not encoding, is needed for HD signals because HD television is broadcast in an encoded format, MPEG-2. So just like a DVD, the video has to be decoded before playback. Unlike a DVD, some HD video sports a bigger resolution and requires more work to decode. Digital television is similar to DVD video in data size. Digital TV can be received over the air via the EyeTV Hybrid and will be decoded without issue by a modern G4 processor. It is often MPEG-2 video presented at a resolution of 704 X 480 and running 29.97 frames per second (fps). It is an interlaced signal like our traditional analog broadcasts, and is sometimes referred to as 480i. The 'i" at the end stands for interlaced. Interlaced describes how one frame of video is drawn. With interlaced video, odd numbered lines of horizontal video are written to the screen, followed by even numbered lines. For simplicity sake, imagine a 10-line tall video signal. If the signal was interlaced, then lines 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 would be drawn during one cycle. The very next cycle would draw lines 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. It would take two cycles to draw one full frame of video. There are 59.94 cycles per second in our video. That is why interlaced video only produces 29.97 fps; it only works on half the image per cycle.

Progressive-scan signals write all the data of the frame during each cycle. The 'p" of 720p stands for progressive scan and that signal has 59.94 fps. It is larger then 480i at a resolution of 1280 X 720. Not only is each frame bigger, but progressive-scan has twice the number of frames per second. That ends up being much more data. Digital 480i averages 5 Mbps- I found 720p to be closer to 16 Mbps. Data stream sizes vary, based on the type of video being transmitted. Progressive scan signals are sharp and responsive with fast-moving video. It is the preferred HD format for sports and action videos, but the frame is smaller than the king of broadcast: HD video.

At the moment, 1080i HD video is the biggest broadcast image, but it has an "i" in its name. That means that 1080i is interlaced, and although the frame size is bigger than 720p at 1920 X 1080, it has half the frames per second. Consequently, 1080i often has a smaller data stream size than 720p. Although there are many HD devices with available support for 1080p, it is not part of the broadcast specification and unavailable to the EyeTV Hybrid.

It is important to note that the EyeTV Hybrid, while functioning with many video signals, will not be an HDTV replacement. It can only tune over-the-air HD signals. It has no HDMI-in port for connecting HD cable boxes nor will it replace those boxes. Almost every network has HD or Digital TV signals now. If you have cable but also want to watch and record network HDTV on your Mac, then the EyeTV Hybrid is perfect for you.

The EyeTV Hybrid comes with a USB extension cable (I would recommend its use for port stress relief), Analog video breakout cables, and EyeTV software. One item noticeably absent from the North American version is an antenna for the HD signal. You must use some type of antenna to receive HD or Digital broadcasts. Some pictures of the EyeTV Hybrid show the European model with its included antenna. That antenna would not work in the States, and so it is not included. Accordingly, it's up to you to find one that works. I used an old and dusty pair of rabbit ears with a good deal of success.

With the EyeTV Hybrid, Elgato combines some of the best features they had in previous devices. It is small, tunes Digital TV, HDTV, and analog TV, captures analog video, and can record it all. Until Elgato develops more TV technology, the EyeTV Hybrid will be the best of all worlds. If you are interested in a Mac PVR or HD television this is your device, and because I asked for it, it's my device too.

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