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Review: TV Micro from Miglia - Watch TV on your Mac

We have all been waiting for Apple to introduce a Home Media Center. We can play DVDs and Movies, but what about recording our favorite TV shows? We don't want to buy everything on iTunes, that isn't economical. Luckily, Miglia has brought TV Tuner portability into the forefront with TV Micro, which will enable you to record all of your favorite shows right on your Mac. TV MICRO TV Micro is a small analog TV tuner that is only a bit thicker than an iPod Shuffle. In fact, it sort of looks like a fat iPod shuffle with a coax dongle on the end. If you have been searching for a solution that supports analog PAL and NTSC, TV Micro is one cool little portable TV tuner solution. First Impressions: The TV Micro unit comes with everything you need to get going. It contains the unit itself, the coax dongle to connect an analog antenna or cable, an external USB 2.0 extender cable, an infrared remote control, and EyeTV 2 software from Elgato. The requirements call for a pretty powerful Mac, since the TV Micro relies on your computer to do all of the video encoding and recording. To record in the highest quality (DVD - 720x480 NTSC) Miglia recommends a minimum of a Dual G4, Dual G5, or Intel Core Duo Mac. My test setup was an Intel iMac Core Due 1.86GHZ with 1.5GB of Ram, running Mac OS X 10.4.7. Setup: The very minimal quick start guide says to install the Eye TV 2 software first. You run the setup wizard and it asks for some basic info, such what country you are in, serial number, etc. Once you enter all of the data, you can connect the TV Micro right into the back of the iMac or connect it into the USB 2.0 extension cable, whichever you prefer. I connected it to the extension cable so that I could set it in plain view of the infrared remote control. I also did this because the TV Micro gets pretty hot, and I wanted to place it away from the computer, although you don't have to. To connect the cable or antenna, you clip the dongle into the end of the device and then you simply screw in your coax cable. Once you have a signal going into the device, you Eye TV 2 will go out and scan for all of the available channels, from 1 - 125. Additionally, if you have a free Titan TV account, you can get programming guide info that shows all of the channels and programs available in your area. I signed up at the web site, and then you simply enter your account data into the Eye TV 2 program. Once everything is setup, you have an on-screen interface with all of your channels and updated programming information. Simply click on a channel, and you are watching Live TV. tv micro Tivo-like functionality: Eye TV 2 can be setup to record selected shows, just like on a Tivo. You can set the recording to start two minutes before your show starts, which allows your Mac time to setup everything. If your Mac is asleep, no problem.. it will wake-up to start recording your favorite shows. You can setup playlists (groups of recordings), favorite channel lists, etc. Whenever a new recording appears, it is highlighted in blue, as a way to denote it. You can do all of the standard things you can do with your Tivo, such as play/pause, skip commercials, instant replays, fast-forward, and rewind. You can even setup the interval of seconds to skip ahead. Some of these are even customizable. For example, the skip ahead default is 30 seconds, but if you want to skip 60 seconds, you can set this up right in the preferences. This is great! Tvmicro Prefs Multiple-Windows: Also included is the support for multiple-windows. You can watch and record at the same time, just open up another window. This does come at a cost of CPU power, however. When I am recording at the highest quality on my iMac Core Duo, it takes up 40% of the CPU power. While recording and playing back, my CPU use went to 55% - which still allowed me to browse the web, write some mail, and even write this review, all at the same time. Recording from VCR: TV Micro is capable of recording from a VCR or DVD, but there are a couple caveats. The first one is the lack of S-Video or Component inputs. It only offers the coaxial cable input, and in turn, provides less than optimal recording from these sources. When you go from a lesser quality, such as a video tape, you always lose some quality on the conversion. If you are looking for a solution to convert your prized videos to DVD you may want to hold off on this solution. It can do it -- but you won't be getting the best quality. Front Row Integration: I have waited awhile to review this product because of the new version of Eye TV 2. It now offers integration with a Front Row interface! Now you can use your Apple remote and a front row interface to browse your recordings, play them, switch channels, etc. This is very cool indeed, to have the look and feel of Front Row with your TV recording. The only visual problem with it is the scrolling of the menus. They are a bit jerky, and don't scroll as smoothly as the ones in Apple's own Front Row do. Image & Audio quality: Image quality is on par with other tuners I have tested in this price range. Some of the colors are muted, but that has a lot to do with the quality of your cable provider and the content they are providing. For space sake, I recorded my re-run shows in VCD quality, which is a throwback to a VCR tape quality. If you made it for years watching VCR tapes, you will find this quality acceptable as well. You can bump it up to SVCD or DVD quality if you have a show you actually want to save for posterity. I found the higher digital cable channels looked better than the standard broadcast (2-13) for me. You aren't going to be recording masters here, but you will be getting more than acceptable quality from the TV Micro. devices I also tried converting an older video when I connected it to my VCR, and due to the video tape being so old, there were so many drop-outs, it would sometimes lose the signal. Audio quality could be better -- it doesn't decode stereo broadcast, so if you were wanting to record the latest concert, you won't be impressed with the mono audio. Hard drive space is also a consideration. If you want high quality DVD recordings, you will need a gigabytes of free hard drive space. An 1:45 minute movie, set to record in DVD quality, took about 3.5 Gigabytes of storage. lethal weapon Tvmicro Imagequality (the above images are captured from a VCR tape) Conversion Options: Eye TV 2 has a couple different conversion options. If you have the Roxio Toast CD/DVD Burning app installed, want to burn your show, you can simply click on it and then it will burn the program with Toast. If you are already recording in DVD mode, the burn goes much quicker. If you want your shows on the go, you can also convert them to an iPod video format, in H.264 or MPEG-4. The conversion can take awhile, depending on how long the program is. For a 30 minute show, it took about 25 minutes to convert to MPEG-4. Conclusion: If you are looking for a portable low cost solution to do some basic time-shifting recording with your analog cable or antenna, and have a Mac and OS version that meets the hefty requirements - the TV Micro is for you. It's good looking unobtrusive unit, and fully functional as a PVR with the help of the Eye TV 2 software. The only turn-off for me visually is the large remote, which is twice the size of the TV Micro itself. I would like to see this a bit more portable, and available in a color scheme to match the Mac. If you are looking for a HDTV or other high quality solutions, they offer those as well, and this would not be the best solution for you. If you simply want to record your analog antenna or cable TV, and you are looking to turn your Mac into a a digital media hub before Apple does it - wait no longer, and get recording. Pros: -Portable -NTSC and PAL compatible -Includes EYE TV2 software -Easy setup -2 Year Warranty Cons: -Requires high end Mac -No direct Burning - Requires TOAST -Large remote -No Stereo sound -Only Coax Input 4 out of 5