Use your mac as a television

Large computer displays have become so affordable in recent years that many people who enjoy watching televised programming can now get by without owning a dedicated television set. This option can be particularly beneficial for those who live in smaller apartments or dorms.

Unfortunately, not all programming is available on Hulu or Netflix. If you want to watch over-the-air HDTV broadcasts on your computer, then you will need some kind of hardware TV tuner and an HDTV antenna. If you just want to watch analog or Clear QAM cable broadcasts, you won’t need the antenna, but you’ll need cable service.

We’ve tried a few tuners that have been sent to us for review over the last few months, and the one we like the most is the elgato EyeTV Hybrid for the Mac.

elgato's EyeTV Hybrid

The hardware is very compact. The entire unit is roughly the size of a Zippo lighter. It connects to your Mac via USB. The other end has a coax connection for your antenna or cable — nothing out of the ordinary. The bundled EyeTV software, however, is the real reason we chose this unit as our top pick. The interface is well organized and makes it very easy to view and search television listings, change channels, and record programs. It also allows you to rewind, pause, and fast forward live television (with the included infrared remote).

If you like keeping all your media files in one place, the EyeTV software will even allow you to export your recorded content directly to iTunes, so you can sync it with your iPod or iPhone.

So if you have limited space and you don’t want to deal with having a dedicated television and DVR, or if you would just like seamless integration between your DVR and your iTunes library, then you should definitely consider the elgato EyeTV Hybrid.

30 Comments for “Use your mac as a television”

  1. posted by Luke @ simplifi.de on

    Thanks for posting this review, it helped me settle on which tuner to buy (between the EyeTV Hybrid or 250 Plus).

    I recently switched to using my Mac as my “TV”, using Netflix, Hulu, etc., and I am planning on getting an TV tuner over the next couple of weeks, mainly so that I can watch the Vancouver Olympics!

  2. posted by Caitlin on

    When my husband was in college (2000-2003) he watched all his TV on this PC. He just had a regular old video card with a coax port built in (it was ATI, I think). You couldn’t fast forward or rewind live TV back then, but it worked great on his old 20″ monitor (which was CRT back then, haha) and saved him from having to buy a separate TV.

  3. posted by Ben E. on

    I actually just bought one of these. I’d rather spend money on a computer than a TV (as a student it’s either/or for me) and I simply couldn’t read the text in some of my video games on my 20″ CRT.

    It works GREAT for TV. There is a millisecond-or-so lag so playing games is definitely doable. Your first few gaming sessions will be a tad disorienting as you compensate for that split-second lag but once you get used to it it simply fades away. Of course, your reaction times for FPSs will be increased but for milder FPSs (like Mass Effect) and RPGs it’s a great alternative to a fuzzy TV.

  4. posted by Cory on

    We’ve had one of these for about a year now and we love it. The only downside I’ve found is that you can only record one show at a time, unlike some dedicated DVRs. No big deal though – any show we miss recording is probably on Hulu.

    Highly recommended.

  5. posted by Ben Zvan on

    Exactly the same way we did it last night. The only problem I’ve had with the EyeTV is that it overheats sometimes and I’ve had to make sure that there is plenty of space around it for airflow.

  6. posted by allen on

    we sell these here at work (yes, I’m at work while i type this), and the students LOVE it! We have it on for over 9 hours a day, and we haven’t seen any problems, for what that is worth.

  7. posted by Sue on

    I have the EyeTV 250plus. If I were not living in a basement next to a hill, I would receive a lot more QAM cable. As it is, I have cable coax plugged in for reception ($15/m limited cable). It’s great; record on iMac, use iMovie/Toast to edit and burn to disc if I want. Don’t miss having a “real” tv set. The 250plus has analog jacks for video conversion option too.

  8. posted by Aaron Francis on

    Fast forward live TV?

    Want!

  9. posted by timgray on

    Add in a install of XBMC and you now have a full media center along with the TV.

    works great, and is more functional than the built in software with OSX.

  10. posted by Jeremy W on

    I did a “speed presentation” on how to build an HD Home Theater on the Cheap last year (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6H4r7gAAZs) and I’m a huge fan of the EyeTV. They just came out with the EyeTV One if you are on a budget. Also, add in Boxxee and/or Plex for a complete media experience!

  11. posted by waterWolf on

    With the right software it should be possible to use more than one of these tv-cards on the same computer. Having two receivers enables watching one show and recording another. …or recording two shows while watching the recording of a third…

    - – -

    You’ve already guessed it. I don’t have a separate TV. My computer screen is a mere 22 inches but it’s large enough for us because the room is small. The system is easy to handle. One button on the wireless keyboard opens the player software in TV mode. The previous and next buttons change channels. If my daughter inserts a DVD into the drive the view switches to the movie without doing anything at all. The same software plays recordings and downloaded snippets from friends. All of this without the need of being a rocket scientist or computer geek (although i am guilty of being one of those). In fact, my six-year-old taught her friend how to handle the system in something like two minutes between playing games on that same computer.

    By not buying a dedicated TV i saved enough to buy a pair of high-end stereo speakers for my computer. Listening to my favourite music i get all of the details now and so much presence that it’s like being there in person. The speakers are so good they don’t need a subwoofer, and that reduces cable clutter even more.

    And remember that most new TVs can be used as huge computer screens for that laptop. All you need is a cable…

    Thumbs up for this article.

  12. posted by Lisa on

    I’m very interested in fast forwarding live tv. Let’s fast forward to the series finale of LOST right now! >> Hurley chops of Locke’s toe and… >> Jin & Sun give up trying to leave the island and open a ferry service for Darhma employees…>> Oh, there’s no fast forwarding live televison? Oh.

  13. posted by Jay on

    To be sure about this: this Elgato EyeTV Hybrid works with analog cable? We haven’t upgraded to digital yet. But this would be very nice to have since I just got the cables that connect my mini displayport to the hdmi on my 24″ pc monitor. :D

  14. posted by Molly on

    I love this idea.

    Does anyone have experience with these using Comcast? I’ve come across a few online reviews that say an additional adapter is necessary. Is it true?

  15. posted by Karen on

    @Molly. It depends on your cable set up. Look here for more info:
    http://support.elgato.com/index.php?_m=knowledgebase&_a=viewarticle&kbarticleid=3265#6 I would suggest e-mailing Elgato support if you don’t find the answer to your question here. Elgato support isn’t all that great, but they do answer e-mails, eventually.

    I have an EyeTV 250 Plus which did not require additional hardware with Comcast, but I did NOT have a cable box. I’ve since switched to DirecTV (because Comcast cable reception quality stunk). Without additional hardware (specifically an IR blaster), I have to change channels manually with the DirecTV box, I cannot change them with the EyeTV software, but that’s worked out fine for me. I’m very happy with it.

  16. posted by Stan on

    What about the other way around?

    I have made my TV into my computer by using my mac mini with a 42″ full HD 1080p LCD TV.
    Paired with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. The whole setup was cheaper than buying a iMac.

    Part of the television experience is sitting on the couch and relaxing with friends/family not at a desk on your own watching everything on a small screen.

    During the day you can use the TV as your computer and write all emails etc while having eyetv on the side at a size that is bigger than an entire computer screen.

    A few years ago it would not have been worth doing because the quality of television sets could not come close because 1it was too expensive and 2 the quality wasn’t there.
    The other advantage is that you do not need all of the extras such as DVD player, speakers or even a separate desk.

  17. posted by Rae on

    Living in an RV, I’ve decided to use my 24″ iMac as my media centre. The sound is good enough for music (which can be heard from stem to stern) and the picture quality is excellent. My den/study is only about 50 square feet, so a 24″ screen feels HUGE and the Apple remote makes you forget that you’re watching movies on a computer since it controls volume in addition to playback.

    I haven’t had cable in years, but an EyeTV tuner is on my list of wants since most RV parks I stay at include cable in the rent. It’d be nice to watch shows when they’re on instead of waiting for the DVDs to come out.

    Another thing I like about the EyeTV tuner is that it acts like ‘rabbit ears’, meaning you can capture the free digital signals. This would be nice when I’m overnighting in an urban area and don’t have access to free wi-fi; chances are I’d be able to watch tv instead.

  18. posted by SM on

    Yes, like Stan, I use my small and cheap LCD TV as second monitor with my laptop. I use the rabbit ears to get my 3 PBS channels and such, but I can also have Netflix streaming fullscreen on the larger screen while I check e-mail on my laptop. It’s awesome!

  19. posted by Rich on

    I’ve got an eyeTC 250 and a 250 plus, can record 2 shows at once. Just had to put a splitter on the cable line. I have analog cable so (Cox) so can confirm that it works this way (no cable box upstairs with this setup) works straight from the cable.

    If you have an eyeTV you need to check out ComSkipper:

    http://code.google.com/p/etv-comskip/source/browse/trunk/src/scripts/ComSkipper/ComSkipper.py?r=54

    It’s a little on the nerdy side, but I didn’t have any trouble setting it up and the forum is full of helpful people.

    Comskipper tags the commercials in your recordings automagically (does a pretty good job) so you can come in after the fact, compress the recording in the editor and have a clean copy to watch without having to skip (or without compressing, pre-tagged commercials which skip all at once when you skip forward.

    Cheers

  20. posted by Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com on

    Wow that looks pretty nice. I’m gonna look into this when I get myself a Mac in a couple of months. Quick note. You know your url has the “n” missing off of television? Just checking! Grammar Nazi :)

  21. posted by Jeannine on

    I WANT one of these but do not have a Mac. How can I duplicate this one but for Windows? I would be very happy to give up cable tv except for my little remote for pausing, replaying, fastforward, etc. I could use a vcr as I used to, but I have fallen in love with the DVR. Any suggestions will be much appreciated!!!

  22. posted by Sue on

    @Molly – I use 250plus with Comcast coax cable (no converter box), no problem. Not sure about Hybrid though.

  23. posted by Derek on

    What a fascinating device! I’ve seen many different ways of getting my tv on the big screen, but I think that even the millisecond of lag would really bother me.

  24. posted by localhost on

    Also you can try not watching tv at all, and save your money plus get more time. I threw away my tv set in August 2009.

  25. posted by Dale on

    The above article gives me hope … I have a Dell Computer which can also be used as a HI DEF TV … to date I’ve gotten all kinds of advise about getting it to work as a TV but no one seems to know including Dell … I have Hi Def Satelite for my TV … the computer comes with “TV Input Device” and the instructions say to connect the Device to Digital Antenna Cable … If you want to watch over-the-air HDTV broadcasts on your computer, then you will need some kind of hardware TV tuner and an HDTV antenna according to the article above … please tell me what I need to have TV receptionn on this Computer … thanks … Dale

  26. posted by sandi on

    How can we use a stand alone computer monitor as a TV monitor without dedicating our Macbook to the task? We currently have a boxy TV, a VCR, a DVD player, a digital converter box and an antenna making a lot of clutter. We are fine with connecting our Macbook to the larger monitor to view DVDs, but very regular TV we hope to keep the Macbook free. We have no intention of signing up for cable and want to avoid buying a digital TV.

  27. posted by Clarkson on

    At the price you pay for a Mac, you won’t have any $$ left over for a TV anyways :(

  28. posted by Ethan on

    Ok So I have had the eyetv hybrid for about 3 years now (obviously this ones predecessor but it is basically identical save for the clear qam signal I believe) here is the biggest problem I have:

    The unit simply acts as a exterior graphics card to interpret the signal, but still uses your processor a whole lot. On my macbook pro (version 3,1), I get absurdly high temperatures thanks to the tuner… I might suggest the more expensive and larger eyetv 250 plus as I am told it does all that externally and just inports the final signal through USB

  29. posted by Brandy B, SC on

    i bought mine on newegg.com and got a decent price.

    i love it! perfect for a small dorm room. mac’s remote control can even change channels for the program.

    what’s more, you can record anything on tv!! i mean, how much do you pay for that service with a regular television?

    if you have parallels and etc. installed, you might be able to buy a windows-based tv tuner, which are generally considerably cheaper!

    thumbs up!

  30. posted by Tasha on

    Does anyone know if this would connect video game systems as well? I am looking to get rid of my TV and use just my 17-inch MacBook Pro, but I don’t want to give up my ‘old-school’ gaming systems (PS1 and SuperNES). Will this connect the video of those systems so I can still play my beloved games? :)

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