Video killed the radio star

Soon after the was born, a little over three years ago, sent me out with a shopping list, as follows:

  • Lansinoh
  • Cotton wool

I decided to get these from the big John Lewis in town, on the ostensible grounds that it was marginally closer to the car park than Boots. This also meant that I could browse the AV department. One thing lead to another, and I ended up leaving with the following items:

  • Lansinoh
  • Cotton wool
  • A Humax 9200-T PVR

Apart from making a shopping basket that clearly shouts “new dad” (nipple cream + superfluous technology), the PVR has been a godsend, not least because we’ve been able to pause live TV when putting the to bed. The clearly now assumes that a) you can pause live TV, b) you can rewind live TV, and c) you can watch Chuggington at any time. When he’s older, he’ll probably disbelieve me when I tell about the days when there were only three channels. Maybe I should hang on to my nan’s old channel-preset-less black and white portable?

Unfortunately, it’s been starting to look a little tired. We’d missed the over-the-air updates to the PVR’s software, so we don’t have any nifty features like series link. It’s also a royal pain to get data off the PVR; you can plug in a USB cable, but it perversely refuses to mount as a mass storage device, and the necessary client software is Windows-only, and both sluggish and error-prone. Most seriously, it has started to crash every couple of days, so there’s no guarantee that recordings will actually happen.

I’d been eyeing up its successor, the 9300-T, on the grounds that a) it had an HDMI output (no more fuzzy SCART on the 1080p flatscreen) and b) it had a larger disc. expressed a few reservations, so I’d also looked at other devices (the Topfield PVR, for example).

pointed out that there was a third route, namely a tuner in a desktop computer. After playing with his EyeTV for a bit, I took the plunge with an EyeTV Diversity on a Mac Mini Server (lovely machine – 2.56GHz dual core with 2x500Gb discs and 4Gb RAM). This also has given us a DVD playing solution – something we’ve been missing since a Certain Toddler lost the remote for our DVD player.

So far, our experience has been pretty good (pattern-matching recording schedules are ace), but there have been a couple of hiccoughs which are probably worth documenting:

  • EyeTV Remote. While EyeTV 3 has a reasonable ten foot interface, it seems a bit overkill to rely on a wireless keyboard and mouse to change channels on the TV. EyeTV comes with a fairly ugly but serviceable remote. What they don’t make clear is that this doesn’t speak to the Mac Mini, but to the IR receiver on the EyeTV tuner itself. Which is plugged into a USB port on the back of the Mac Mini. While I could stick it on a USB cable and have it draped over the front of the Mac Mini (Jules recommended cable ties), this offended my aesthetic sense.
  • Apple Remote on Snow Leopard. In theory, you can also control EyeTV 3 using the standard Apple Remote (and who doesn’t have three or four of these kicking about?) Unfortunately, Apple managed to break the Apple Remote for third party applications under Snow Leopard. There are a couple of workarounds, most notably those produced by IOSpirit: RemoteBuddy and Candelair. I’ve been using the former, having first tried the latter. Both worked well, but I was persuaded by the extra functionality of RemoteBuddy (namely the iPhone AJAX interface).
  • No MHEG-5 support. This is a bit of a pain. MHEG-5 probably means nothing to most of you, but you’ve probably all come across the ‘red button’ services on Freeview; MHEG-5 is the data format that drives these services. Unfortunately, Elgato (the manufacturers of EyeTV) regard this as a legacy format, and have shown little interest in supporting it.
  • No audio over HDMI. Again, this is a bit of a pain. The Mac Mini has both Mini-DVI and Apple Mini Display Port sockets, and you can get dongles for both to convert them to HDMI. Unfortunately, these only convert the picture, and not the sound. We’ve currently got the Mac Mini hooked up to the hifi on the grounds that I didn’t want to run yet another cable to the TV (the Mini has digital optical out, so I could have plugged that directly into the TV had I the right cable, but still – two cables). The Apple Store in town were pretty useless, but I did find that Kanex are selling MDP to HDMI adapters with audio. They’re out of stock on the digital optical adapter, but I’ve ordered the USB audio adapter and should hopefully find out how well it works before Christmas.

All in all, it seems pretty solid, but the hammering it’ll get over Christmas will be the real test.

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