It’ll be going up on the Macworld site soon or appearing in the print mag later, but here’s my look at the Miglia TVMax+. Ssh, don’t tell anyone. But feel free to ask questions, in case you need clarifications: they’re quite technical at Macworld.
How much does a + add? The Miglia TVMax+ is virtually identical to the TVMax it replaces in almost every way. It looks like the TVMax, which in turn is like a slightly thinner, slotless Mac mini in appearance. It records video on your Mac via USB 2.0 in MPEG1, MPEG2 and MPEG4, just like a TVMax. It has composite and S-video inputs. It also has a TV tuner for viewing analogue television and a remote control for features like changing channel and Teletext. All just like a TVMax.
So what’s the difference? The singular addition seems to be the software that comes with the TVMax+. The TVMax came with Elgato’s EyeTV software, which is without a doubt the best PVR software available for the Mac. However, EyeTV doesn’t record movies in a way that’s useful for anything other than EyeTV, at least not without a laborious export process.
Where the TVMax+’s software comes into its own is in giving you the ability to record video in the native formats of other devices, especially the MPEG4 files needed for video iPods and the Apple TV. No conversion required: just press record and it will convert on the fly.
Compared with EyeTV, Miglia’s TVMax+ software is serviceable, but primitive, ugly and a little buggy. On first launch, you’ll be prompted to use a set up assistant to configure your preferences. These include picking a video input method. Of course, this is also where you have to make a big choice: where to put your TVMax+. Since you need to connect it to a Mac to view and record its output, next to the Mac might be the obvious location. But you still have to connect it to a set-top box or an aerial socket, depending on your input choice, so you’re probably going to have trailing leads of some variety.
If you plan on using the TV tuner, which has pretty good picture quality with a decent aerial, the assistant will scan for channels, each of which you’ll need to label manually. You’ll also have a chance to sign up for a month’s free trial with tvtv.co.uk, which you can use to schedule TVMax+ recordings. This is a bit of a comedown from EyeTV’s bundled one-year subscription and built-in electronic programme guide (EPG), but given the small range of channels available on analogue TV, not crippling.
Otherwise, you can grab video from anything that can provide S-video or composite videos signals, whether that’s a Freeview or Sky box or a video or DVD player. The TVMax+ can capture into DVD-friendly MPEG2 video, making it an excellent choice for archiving, particularly since it comes with a basic built-in DVD-authoring package, MovieGate.
Once set up, the TVMax+ software is a little hard to deal with, with most activities menu-driven rather than icon or dialogue driven as with other programs. The scheduling feature is a little clunky if you don’t have a tvtv subscription, since you’ll have to put in times, channels, etc yourself. If you’re recording off an anamorphic source, you’ll have to set the aspect ratio in advance of any recording if you want to capture widescreen content at its proper aspect ratio rather than in “squish-o-vision”. Setting the aspect ratio also seems more geared up for chopping the top and bottom of the picture rather than dealing with proper anamorphic input.
Picture quality for Apple TV and iPod recordings is very good, although falls a little short of the sparkling clarity you might have hoped for, even at the maximum allowed resolution and zero compression, where a 90 minute recording will take up 1.3GB of space.
After you’ve recorded a video, you then have to use the “Post process movie” function to do anything with it, whether that’s exporting it to iTunes, converting it to DVD or something really advanced like watching it. This has “developer” stamped all over it and will hopefully be stamped out in favour of something more user-friendly in later versions.
If you try to fill in the gaps in the TVMax+ with something like the Elgato EyeTV for DTT stick, be warned: the EyeTV software will recognise your TVMax+ as a TVMax box and try to configure it for use. Unless you have a spare serial number for the EyeTV software, you won’t be able to do this and you’ll find that the EyeTV might get confused about what it’s supposed to be recording from. Also, whichever piece of software you launch first will get priority over the TVMax+ box, preventing the other from using it, so it might be worth your while putting the TVMax+ software into your start-up items in such a situation. The response for our request for help from Elgato’s tech support staff was singularly unhelpful and suggested that there are no plans to resolve this difficulty in the immediate future.
As a way of digitising video without having to convert to another format at a later date, the TVMax+ is a great piece of kit, albeit one whose software needs a couple more iterations before it’s truly ready for primetime. However, the lack of a digital TV tuner and absence of a proper EPG make the TVMax+ decidedly less than Max as a TV.