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Articles: ConvertX Vs. TVMax

In the pursuit of the perfect Mac PVR, I have sampled many hardware solutions that work with Elgato's EyeTV software. Miglia's TVMax has impressed me with its ability to encode video in MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and DivX. Elgato's own EyeTV 250 device can only encode MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. Both MPEG-4 and DivX are important video compression codecs for smaller file storage and multi system playback compatibility. That places the TVMax ahead of the EyeTV 250, but the TVMax is not the only device that that can encode in four codecs. Plextor makes a Mac PVR package like the TVMax, called the ConvertX 402U. In addition to the same encoding capabilities, the ConvertX has been around longer than the TVMax and has the trusted Plextor name attached to it. With all that the ConvertX has going for it, it should be a better solution than the TVMax, but that's not necessarily the case.

At the heart of the TVMax and the ConvertX is the WIS 7007-SB Hardware-Encoder-chip from WISchip Technology. This chip is responsible for all the encoding that both units perform on the video before it's sent to the computer. In many respects, that should level the playing field between the two units. The quality of the finished recordings is going to be nearly identical. Inside PVR hardware, the encoding chip is not the only device that matters. Tuners and USB chips also matter a great deal to the performance of these devices. The TVMax had the appearance of faster channel tuning and recovered from encoding format changes faster than the ConvertX. Unfortunately both units, which use USB 2.0, did not perform as well as the older EyeTV 200 device. USB 2.0 may have more theoretical data capacity then FireWire 400, but the real world use of devices prove to be the opposite.. For constant and reliable data throughput, FireWire will always beat out USB 2.0. The EyeTV 200 is no longer made and was replaced by the USB 2.0 EyeTV 250, so USB 2.0 will have to work. But I will be waiting in line for the next available FireWire Mac PVR hardware.

The differences in the two devices are found on the outside of their cases. Most notably, the ConvertX has no remote control or even an IR sensor for you to use one.. If you connect to a Mac with an Apple Remote, then this is less of an issue because the EyeTV software works with the Apple remote. But having a remote included with the TVMax is well worth the $11 difference in price for me. Another obvious difference is in the case design. The TVMax has all its ports on the back of the unit so as to preserve its Mac mini replicated look. The ConvertX utilizes a wider case with a finish more complementary to the design of the Mac Pro. Instead of hiding its S-Video and Composite video connections on the back, the ConvertX places them on the front. Front plugs are far easier to utilize than plugs on the back when connecting video cameras and other portable video sources.

The other big difference of the TVMax over the ConvertX is the Coaxial cable connector. The TVMax comes with an adapter that converts the European-style antenna connector to the North American threaded version we are used to getting from our cable companies. The ConvertX has just the threaded version, so connections are secure. With the European antenna connection, it's possible to accidentally knock the connection loose. As we know from the invention of the Apple Mag-Safe power adapters, being able to unintentionally unplug without damage can be a good thing, but some users may worry about quality of the connection. I have yet to find any issues with it..

You can spend hours investigating what hardware to buy, but the bigger concern with a Mac PVR is not with the hardware or software used, but the stability of your system. During my testing 10.4.8 came out and broke my PVR setup. All my scheduled shows failed to record during the day. After a week of troubleshooting, I found out that it was an issue with waking the computer from sleep to record. The only solution was to never let the system sleep fully. The recording breakdown demonstrated to me that an active system might not be the best home for my Mac PVR. OS updates can kill this type of software and cause an interruption in service. Tivo has an advantage in the PVR market because they update software infrequently. Tivo does just one thing and has no other responsibilities, unlike your computer. That limits Tivo but makes it stable.

To get that Tivo level of stability you may want to consider buying an older G4 tower with USB 2.0, and dedicating that computer to act as the media server of your house. It can record and export your videos to iTunes. Then iTunes can handle the sharing of your videos over your home network. Only update the operating system on your server after others have worked out the bugs for you. Then, and only then, you can be confident that your TV will be waiting for you when you get home.
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