German-based company Elgato is well known for its range of digital television tuners that turn a Mac (and more recently a Windows PC) into a fully-fledged PVR/TV as well as its easy-to-use EyeTV software that has become the standard for Mac-based PVR functionality. Released in February, the EyeTV Netstream DTT is the latest bit of hardware to join Elgato’s venerable line of hardware that lets users go mobile by streaming digital television or recorded programs over a wireless home network. We took a unit through its paces to see if it lives up to Elgato’s previous offerings.
Out of the box
On unboxing the unit the first thing users will notice is just how sexy the device looks. It’s aluminum casing makes it a perfect match for Apple’s aluminum MacBook Pros - although the wireless nature of the device means most users will probably squirrel it away out of sight. The unit is also reassuringly weighty for such a small device and feels well constructed. It is split horizontally by a thin black strip that contains a green LED in the front that is the only visual feedback for users on the device. At the rear there is an Ethernet port, power connector, coaxial socket and a small reset button.
Setting up the device proved a breeze. Hooking it up is as simple as connecting the power cable, (kudos to Elgato on the power plug that doesn’t take up more than its single spot on a power board like some powerboard-hogging devices nowadays), plugging in an antenna and connecting to a router or switch using the included Ethernet cable. The package also includes a small travel antenna but it needs to be located in a good signal area as I was unable to detect any usable signals with it. Being in a poor reception area I wasn’t expecting any miracles and instead plugged the device into my rooftop antenna.
As I've already mentioned, Elgato’s EyeTV software has become the standard against which all other Mac-based digital TV/PVR software is measured – and with good reason. Once installed and started up it scans for available channels picking up all available digital TV and radio signals available in my area. For me this means a doubling up of channels broadcasting identical content, so creating a favorites list was called for. This is accomplished by creating and naming a new favorite folder and dragging and dropping the desired channels within the Program Window.
The Program Window is also where the 14-day Electronic Program Guide (EPG) can be viewed and recordings scheduled. This is as easy as selecting the desired program on the interactive program guide and adding it to the schedule of programs to be recorded. As the Netstream includes dual tuners it’s possible to schedule two recordings for the same time; watch one channel while recording another; or watch two different channels at once (Picture in Picture or in two different windows) on one or more computers.
Recorded programs are saved to a specified location on your hard drive and these show up in the Library, which is also viewed within the Program Window. From here they can be viewed at your leisure, burnt to a DVD using Toast or exported to a number of different preset formats including iPod and Apple TV. Using Elgato’s iPhone app (uS$4.99) users can even access and control the Netstream DTT remotely.
Not having access to a Windows 7 PC I wasn’t able to test the included Terratec Home Cinema software, but this offers the same functionality for PC users and works seamlessly with Media Center.
The picture supplied by the Netstream DTT was great on both my MacBook Pro’s 17-inch display and my 1920 x 1080 24-inch LCD. Both were clean and sharp without artifacts. Using an 802.11n wireless connection there was no noticeable stuttering even when viewing two channels at once on the same computer while surfing the Internet. In fact, having previously used Elgato’s EyeTV Hybrid I noticed no difference in performance or quality between the USB Hybrid and the wireless Netstream.
It should be noted though that the Netstream uses the DVB-T1 standard, which means the device can handle the Full HD signals used in most of Europe, Australia and New Zealand. However, for those in the UK with DVB-T2, you'll be limited to viewing SD channels.
Throughout testing the Netstream DTT was a pleasure to use. After the initial setup of the Netstream hardware it was a case of out of sight out of mind with the unit functioning flawlessly over a number of days. But the real strength of the package lies in the excellent EyeTV software. Now in version 3.3.3 it is a highly polished piece of software that harnesses the power of a computer to make managing your TV viewing extremely easy.
So, if you want to turn your laptop into a truly portable TV without carting around a USB tuner, then I find it hard to go past Elgato’s EyeTV Netsream DTT. It’s a great option if you have a TV some distance from an external antenna and the "rabbit ears" just aren’t cutting it. The device also solves the problem of having to purchase multiple tuners if you’re in a household where more than one computer is being used to watch digital TV.
We believe the Netstream DTT is a worthy addition to the Elgato stable. It is available now for €249.95 (approx. US$338).