Monday, May 28, 2007

Replacing the EyeHome

As I blogged about earlier, my Elgato EyeHome died. I'm writing this post as I consider alternatives to replace my dead EyeHome.

New EyeHome Alternative

Getting a new EyeHome is out of the question. Elgato has discontinued it. (And even if they hadn't, I'm not inclined to buy more hardware from Elgato given that the EyeHome died on me in under three years...).

Syabas-Based Alternative

I could do something very similar to a new EyeHome though. The EyeHome is basically an Elgato-packaged version of hardware and software made by Syabas. Other vendors have produced their own Syabas-based products such as:
  • I-O Data's AVeL LinkPlayer 2.
    (This blogger did a setup with a LinkPlayer 2 and EyeTV 500.)
    Like the EyeHome, it doesn't seem like this product is being actively sold anymore either; Can't find a retailer with them in stock. New-in-box ones seem to regularly show up on eBay though where they fetch about $170, including shipping.)

  • Neuston's Virtuoso MC-500
    Like the EyeHome and LinkPlayer 2, it doesn't seem like this product is being actively sold anymore either; I can't find any retailers selling it, nor can I even find any on eBay...

Some other products that would probably also work (which are listed as having Syabas middleware) are listed on the features page of the Wizd project. Wizd looks to be an open source project to provide an alternative to the default software that comes with these devices (in my case, the "EyeHome software"). Googling a couple of them though, I couldn't find any that are actually still being sold (just like the EyeHome and the two above)...

The advantage of going with a Syabas based replacement is that I think it could pretty much be in a "drop-in" replacement (very little work on my part). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like any of these are still being supported by their manufacturer, and since my EyeHome died, I'm not thinking too highly of going with something based on the same technology...

A UPnP-AV Based Alternative with EyeConnect

A second alternative to consider would being getting the EyeConnect software from Elgato and whatever UPnP-AV supporting hardware I want. (OK, I guess it would probably be safer to go with something Elgato lists as tested to work.) A lot of the devices listed there actually look to be Syabas-based devices from above, in which case I should actually be able to just get the device if I wanted and wouldn't need EyeConnect. Although, as previously discussed - most of these devices don't actually seem to be purchasable. Googling some of the devices listed for EyeConnect that I didn't come across while looking for Syabas-based devices, they also seem to be "unpurchasable."

Being "unpurchasable," these alternatives are narrowing themselves out... Additional negative of this alternative: Giving more money to Elgato, who's shoddy product (the dead EyeHome) has put me in this situation to begin with...

Mac Mini Alternative

The blogger I mentioned above as using a LinkPlayer 2 with an EyeTV 500 actually also blogged how he replaced his LinkPlayer 2 with a Mac Mini. It has potential. I could throw FrontRow on there and I think that would be a pretty nice setup. The Mac Mini can actually play EyeTV 500 content on it's own (and EyeTV has FrontRow integration). Since my TV doesn't have DVI or HDMI though, I'd have to convert down to S-Video which feels like a big loss if I'm going to play the HD content recorded by the EyeTV 500 directly. Also, starting at $599, the Mac Mini isn't cheap (for this purpose; it certainly is rather low priced for a full fledged computer...).

AppleTV Alternative

The final alternative that comes to mind... AppleTV.

It's $299 price tag hurts a lot less than $599 for the Mac Mini.

Some drawbacks:

First, out of the box, it doesn't support the XviD video format, which is what my entire TV library (like 300+ GB) is encoded in. I could transcode it all, but, ick. Fortunately, hacks exist to get around this. Of course this means more hassle than a hoped for "drop-in" replacement like a Syabas based replacement. The hack, of course, is also a hack that likely voids my warranty...; Of course I can also leverage the hack to enable lots of other fun things like YouTube and RSS and NES emulation. Oh -- fun, fun, it looks like there is a way to boot using a USB stick to patch the Apple TV without voiding the warranty...

Second, there is a question of "will it work with my non-HDTV, non-widescreen TV"? I think so, but it's not super clear-cut. The AppleTV Tech Specs page says you need an "Enhanced-definition or high-definition widescreen TV capable of 1080i 60/50Hz, 720p 60/50Hz, 576p 50Hz (PAL format), or 480p 60Hz." My TV, a Sony WEGA KV-27FS100, isn't widescreen and doesn't support 1080i, 720p, 576p, or 480p. However, it does have component video inputs and the AppleTV has component video outputs. And, although not listed in those technical specs, the Rouge Amoeba reports the AppleTV also supports 480i (which my TV's operating instruction booklet explicitly states it does support) and they were able to use the AppleTV in 480i with a TV similar to mine.

Third, some people have reported/speculated that when playing 4:3 video on their AppleTV, the AppleTV adds black bars to the sides of the image to force the output to be in a widescreen resolution. If this is the case, on my TV, the video will have those black bars on the sides and then additional black bars on the top and bottom to compensate for the video being "widescreen" so I'll have tiny 4:3 content in the middle of my screen with black bars all around it. Yick. Going back to that Rouge Amoeba article though, they did not experience this (and the pictures they include, of 4:3 content, prove it), so maybe this was all speculation. (And, I'd find it surprising that the AppleTV would add bars to the output, INHO, it should be up to the TV/monitor as to if it wants to add letter boxing, it shouldn't be a responsibility of the video source.

Now, some additional benefits:

First, the iTunes integration will be nice. I'll have immediate access to all my video podcasts, which will be slick. And, if I start buying moves in the iTunes movie store, I can access those as well. Having all my (audio) podcasts will be nice too; my EyeHome didn't like low-bit-rate, mono-channel MP3s, so it didn't handle most of my podcasts which was a pain. Also, initially (I believe) the EyeHome did play some of the protected music I purchased from the iTunes music store, but it can't play anything recently purchased, and with the effective death of JHymn, this has gotten to be a pain. (The "better solution" to this is getting rid of DRM but that's a rant for another day...)

Second, when I finally get a HDTV, I won't have to replace this part of my system.

Third, h.264 is a fantastic video codec and unlike the EyeHome, the AppleTV knows how to play it. I will probably stop encoding my recorded TV as XviD and probably move to h.264, saving hard drive space along the way.


OK. I'm sold on giving the AppleTV a go. Looks like I'll be stopping by the Apple Store tomorrow...


Anonymous said...

I am holding my breath - did AppleTV work with your Sony non-widescreen TV?

kazoolist said...

Sorry for the delay, but in regards to if the AppleTV worked with Sony WEGA TV - it sure did!

Details are available in a post I followed up with: AppleTV Review (Replacing the EyeHome, Pt. 2)