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Thursday, 11 March 2010 18:27

Elgato Netstream shares the TV love


I've been a fan of Elgato's EyeTV family for some time, and the Netstream networked tuner appears to be a worthy addition.

The Elgato Netstream DTT sounded good on paper, and I'm even more impressed having seen one in action.

The Netstream is a small, flat unit containing two digital HD TV tuners plus an Ethernet interface. [Reference to "802.11n Wi-Fi" removed 29/3/10.] There's a keyhole slot on the base, so it could easily be mounted low on a wall near the antenna and power sockets.

As promised, it can send separate HD streams to two computers with no sign of hesitation. Admittedly, the demonstration setup had the Netstream, the wireless router and both computers within a few metres of each other.

The Netstream works in conjunction with Elgato's EyeTV software for Mac OS X, Terratec Home Cinema for Windows, or Windows 7 Media Center. The demo was all Mac, but I hope to get a chance to try it in a mixed environment in the near future.

Right now, a special build of EyeTV is needed for Netstream compatibility, but an imminent update will add this to copies of EyeTV 3 that were supplied with other tuners or sold as standalone software. That update will also contain more 64-bit code as Elgato works towards pure Cocoa software.

What else can Netstream offer? Please read on.

What won't be coming before the next major release of EyeTV is the ability to specify which tuner is to be used for a particular recording. That's not an issue with the Netstream, but if your were using another tuner that also includes either an analogue receiver (eg, to record Channel 31 Melbourne) or AV inputs (to record from a Foxtel box) at the same time as a digital transmission, there's no way to ensure that tuner is reserved for the analogue tuner.

An interesting touch is that the Netstream's channel list can be downloaded to a computer as an m3u file, which can be opened with VLC to watch live TV (eg, on a Linux system).

The obvious reasons for buying a Netstream are that you want to share the tuners between multiple computers, or because you don't have an antenna socket near your computer(s). By the time you've bought two separate tuners with EyeTV software, there's not enough left in the pot to have one, let alone two antenna points installed - compared with buying a Netstream, that is.

Another reason has occurred to me. My experience is that it is generally best to connect a USB tuner directly to the computer, not via a hub. If you've already short of ports, a networked tuner could be a convenient (though relatively expensive) answer.

If you're a football fan, you may be planning to record the forthcoming World Cup matches due to the time zone differences. One potential problem is that if a match goes to extra time, EyeTV's maximum padding of 30 minutes might not be enough to extend the times shown in the EPG to get through to the final whistle.

Consequently, Thomas Keil, Elgato's Sydney-based business development manager is lobbying the developers to extend the maximum padding before the tournament starts in South Africa.

What about the iPad and iPhone? Please read on.

Also under development is an EyeTV app for the iPad that will work with the Netstream. "We'll try to get it out as close to the iPad's launch as possible," product marketing manager Lars Felber told me.

And a new version of EyeTV for iPhone will restore the streaming over 3G feature that was previously removed at Apple's request - there's been a change of heart about this at Cupertino.

The Netstream was supposed to ship in Australia this week, but there has been a slight delay and it should reach the shops next week at $A399.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.



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