Elgato EyeTV Mobile review: Live TV on your iPad comes up short on channels

Compatible devices
The EyeTV Mobile uses the "old" 30-pin port found on all pre-autumn 2012 Apple portables. Officially, Elgato supports the fourth-generation iPod Touch, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad, iPad 2, and iPad 3 running iOS 5.1 or later.

Using the EyeTV Mobile with the Lightning Adapter on an iPad Mini. Sarah Tew/CNET

Newer Lightning-equipped models -- the iPhone 5, fifth-gen iPod Touch, fourth-gen iPad, and iPad Mini -- are also supported, but you'll need to invest in a $29 Lightning Adapter. I was able to use that to get the EyeTV Mobile working on an iPhone 5 and iPad Mini, but the connection was very finicky; it seemed to recognize the EyeTV less than half the time.

Setting up EyeTV Mobile
In the box, you'll get the EyeTV Mobile dongle, a Micro-USB cable, and two antennas: a portable telescoping antenna, and a stationary antenna with a magnetic/suction cup base for desktop viewing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The portable telescoping antenna just pops into the port on the EyeTV's back. It'll stay in if you don't fiddle with it, but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence. In fact, the EyeTV Mobile as a whole feels rather brittle. I wouldn't expect this thing to survive much abuse, such as being stepped on.

Yes, the EyeTV dongle has its own battery that needs to be occasionally charged (using a spare USB charger or your PC's USB port). You can set the app to draw from the battery of the dongle or of the iPad/iPhone while in use.

Setting up the EyeTV Mobile is pretty simple. Just plug it in to the 30-pin port of an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, and you should be immediately prompted to download Elgato's free EyeTV Mobile app from the App Store. There's an annoying survey to fill out (why do you need to tell them your gender and year of birth?), but the EyeTV will then begin scanning for available channels. As mentioned above, I was able to receive the promised channels in both the New York and Philadelphia areas.

Scanning for channels. Sarah Tew/CNET

The EyeTV Mobile also includes a built-in electronic programming guide (EPG), so you can see what's on. Unfortunately, it took a few minutes to load, and only seemed to work for some of the channels.

Watching live TV
Watching TV on an iPhone or iPad worked well enough, but it was far from flawless. Picture quality was not particularly impressive, especially on the iPad. Dyle's picture size appears to be optimized for the small screen, which is why it generally looked better on the iPhone and iPod Touch. On the iPad, the flaws were magnified: the picture generally appeared blocky, with noticeable square MPEG artifacts, especially during high-motion sequences and during transitions (fading in and to black, for instance). Don't expect a crisp HD picture; instead, think "old-school YouTube" -- or maybe Skype or FaceTime during a bandwidth-challenged day.

It wasn't all bad, however. Among the highlights:

No Internet needed: For all other streaming video services -- Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Slingbox -- you need to be online; not so with EyeTV Mobile. As long as you're in an area served by Dyle Mobile TV, you can watch the available channels. (You'll need Net access for the EPG, however.) Among other things, that could make the EyeTV Mobile a good way to get TV during weather- or disaster-spawned power outages -- assuming, of course, your mobile device and the EyeTV are juiced up ahead of time.

Pause and rewind live TV: While EyeTV doesn't have the capability to record specific TV shows, it does buffer what you're watching. So you can pause, rewind, and fast-forward the last few minutes of action.

Closed-captioning support: Captions are important for the growing number of viewers who are elderly or hard of hearing or both. And EyeTV Mobile does support it.

Closed captioning works well. Sarah Tew/CNET

Aspect ratio control: Zoom control is available, so it's always possible to fill the screen. Again, though, the zoomed video often accentuates the lackluster video quality on many of the channels we tried.

It works in a vehicle: Supposedly, standard ATSC TV reception doesn't work very well when you're in a vehicle in motion. But when I hopped into a cab and watched WNBC for a good 20 minutes, the reception on the EyeTV Mobile was rock-solid (or, at least, no worse than when I was stationary). So if you're looking for a backseat babysitter, the EyeTV Mobile might suffice -- again, if you can find a worthwhile program, and if your vehicle stays within the local Dyle TV coverage area.

Conclusion
At the end of the day, EyeTV Mobile makes good on its promise of delivering live TV on the iPad and iPhone -- but there are just too many strings attached. For me, the short list of stations (at least in my area) is the primary reason why I wouldn't recommend this product. I'd instead suggest either a Hulu Plus subscription ($8 per month) or a Slingbox (around $200, including one mobile viewing app), both of which offer a wider range of available programming -- and, in the case of Slingbox, everything on your home TV, including cable, fiber, and satellite. If EyeTV's hardware price went south of $50, or if Dyle expanded to more fully reflect the full range of over-the-air channels, I'd probably feel more charitable. But if you want to take the plunge, you can do so knowing that EyeTV works -- just make sure adequate programming is available in your area first.

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Elgato EyeTV mobile

Part Number: CNET-elgato-eyetv-mobile Released: Nov 19, 2012
MSRP: $99.95 Low Price: $29.95 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov 19, 2012
  • CE Product Type ATSC tuner module
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