For those old enough to remember portable handheld TV's that captured video broadcasts over the air with an antenna, Elgato's EyeTV Mobile offers a tinge of Déjà vu. For everyone else, the product provides a way to watch real-time local area digital TV broadcasts for free (that is, no additional data charges incurred). So is this price of freedom worth the nearly hundred dollar cost for the hardware? Read on to find out.
I have been an Elgato EyeTV user ever since I hooked up their original DVR box to my old iMac nearly ten years ago, and have been using their EyeTV iOS app since the day it was launched. So when I first heard of EyeTV Mobile, I wasn't that excited by the announcement since I was already enjoying the benefits of slinging my favorite shows around using the aforementioned EyeTV combination. Of course, I only sling these types of broadcasts when I was on an unlimited WiFi network so as not to incur costly cellular data charges. However, after seeing Elgato's EyeTV Mobile in action, watching live TV while on the go will be much more heavily employed.
The package includes a wonderfully compact EyeTV mobile TV tuner which uses the old 30-pin connection found on older generation iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches. Newer iPads, iPhones and iPad Minis will require the 30-pin to Lightening adapter to connect the tuner to these iOS devices. Also included are a small telescopic antenna, a rod-based antenna for improved and more permanent installations, and a USB cable that can be used to charge the tuner's internal battery. While it's not necessary to have the tuner charged before use, it helps to cut down on the power consumption from the iOS device it's plugged into.
Setting up EyeTV Mobile was surprisingly simple. After plugging the tuner into the iOS device, a pop-up asks if the tuner can gain access to iOS hardware. If you didn't obtain the free EyeTV Mobile application
required to display over-the-air content, the tuner will pop up directing you to the App Store entry for the software to download and install. Launching the app for the first time will take you through a simple setup process asking for the year you were born, your zip code and optionally your email. I'm not sure why they need the birth year, but I'm guessing its probably used to block age-inappropriate content from being displayed. Still, I would have preferred Elgato be more forthcoming on why they need this information from me. I suspect the zip code is used to hone in on a database of over-the-air broadcasters in my area. Once these details are submitted, the tuner sniffs out and catalogs the broadcast signals around you. This can take several minutes to complete, but only needs to be done once (unless you plan to watch TV in a different city, at which time you will have to initiate another scan).
EyeTV Mobile uses the Dyle Mobile TV service for its broadcast capture. As such, the Dyle service must be available in your area for EyeTV Mobile to work. Large cities like Chicago, New York City and San Francisco are blanketed with Dyle coverage, but if you live out in a rural area, you may be out of luck. Therefore, before purchasing EyeTV Mobile, check for Dyle service availability in your area by entering your location at www.dyle.tv/coverage-map
The EyeTV Mobile interface is nearly identical to the original EyeTV for iOS app, so I found navigating the user interface was quick and intuitive. As an added bonus, EyeTV Mobile features a buffer that allows you to pause playback and scrub content back and forth just like EyeTV Mobile's big brother on the Mac. However, unlike the Mac version, EyeTV Mobile doesn't allow content to be recorded so it is by no means a DVR replacement.
So how did it look? Depending on the source material and the signal strength, the experience was reminiscent of watching YouTube video-quality playback on my iPad. Some stations were much better than others, with audio and visual clarity on par with local video playback. At times, video frames would drop or be temporarily downgrade to a lower resolution, or at worst, stop all together. There were also times when the audio would be out of sync with the video. These issues would manifest themselves more acutely while using the hardware during a train or bus commute. But considering the pricey alternative where pockets of cellular data service drops are frequent along the same route, the EyeTV Mobile experience was surprisingly good. We're not talking stunning HD quality good, but certainly on par with typical YouTube video broadcasts. But the real clincher for me was the fact that I could watch local content hours on end without incurring any data charges. I'm not sure how the Dyle service makes their money, but it certainly isn't from customer subscription fees. I do admit that I'm waiting for that other shoe to drop with fears that Dyle will be able to inject its own banner advertising on top of the live content being broadcast, but so far I haven't experienced any such intrusions. And because I can watch local broadcasts for free on my iPad, I can watch local sporting events, news, weather and other shows not normally streamed online. And even if they were online, I don't have to pay cellular network companies for the privilege of watching the content. It's like living in the pre-Internet era all over again!
In summary, EyeTV Mobile provides a novel way to convert your iPad into a terrestrial broadcast portable television. As long as you live within the Dyle service area, you can take advantage of data cap-free and delivery-free real-time television programming. If you're a sports fan, a frequent traveler or busy person on the go who must see live, free television broadcast events, EyeTV Mobile is a cool product worthy of purchase consideration.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars