One of the recurring minor questions of the technological age is, "Should we?"
Should we have, say, an electric blanket that can be turned on from the car 10 minutes before arriving home? Or a remote control that will pop corn while it's shuttering the windows for the 1:43 p.m. home-theater showing of "Rocky VI"? Should there be a "Rocky VI"? (Oh, wait. That's the subject of a different column. But no, there shouldn't.)
These sorts of questions arise when contemplating EyeTV, a product that brings digital video recording (think TiVo and ReplayTV) to the computer. Though it's made only for the Macintosh, several equivalent products are for sale for PCs.
EyeTV is easy to install, more or less delivers what it promises, and has a fairly reasonable price. But should we have one?
The first step toward deciding is to determine whether you're a DVR kind of TV watcher. Those of us who are don't understand the rest of you: Who wouldn't want to be able to pause live TV, skip instantly through commercials, and gain the other advantages that come with DVRs? For reasons inexplicable to us, we constitute only a tiny percentage of the viewing audience.
After spending a month with the product, my impression is that EyeTV won't be expanding the community any time soon, even if it matches much of what my TiVo can do, and even if it exceeds it in a few areas.
To begin with, there's the price. EyeTV sells for $200, roughly what new TiVos and ReplayTVs (with rebates) cost. EyeTV proponents would note that its programming is free, compared with the monthly or exorbitant one-time fees of stand-alone boxes. But unlike EyeTV, you only have to tell them once that you like a show, and they'll seek it out forevermore, even if its time slot changes.
EyeTV's programming is at titantv.com, in TV Guide-like grids. Just one mouse click records a show, but first you have to find it. At 20 channels per screen, it takes four clicks to survey three hours, which would be a burden even if the site weren't clunky. A feature allows repeat recordings, but it's still by time slot instead of whenever the show appears.
It could be said that another EyeTV advantage, at least compared with TiVo, is that shows download to DVD instead of videotape. (ReplayTV has an Ethernet connection that exports shows to a desktop, where additional hardware and software can make DVDs.) But when I tried to save the Patriots' win over the Dolphins a few weeks ago, my desktop DVD apparatus wouldn't accept the EyeTV export.
Perhaps the most substantial difference between DVR types is that TiVo and ReplayTV have hard drives; EyeTV uses your computer's. A half-hour show eats up about 700 MB; that Pats' game is just shy of 5 GB. That's not impossible to contemplate with a 60 GB drive, but it's no great improvement on the capacity of stand-alone boxes, either.
One of EyeTV's basic, and most touted, attributes is that it records to my computer, but I find that to be its most glaring defect. My Mac has a very impressive flat screen that displays digital photos with almost eerie clarity, but it still measures only 15 inches, compared with my TV's 27. And EyeTV playback works best at considerably less than full-screen size; the video tends to pixilate when stretched full.
Even if quality were equivalent, there would remain a basic difficulty: Who wants to sit at the computer to watch TV? If all else were perfect, it would be tough to get past that. It may well be that soon after its programmers were struck with the idea, "Hey, we could make a DVR for the computer!," they should have marveled at their ingenuity and then just moved on.