Provides: TV tuner and DVR functionality
Minimum System Requirements: 1.6GHz G5 PowerPC, Mac OS X v10.4, 1GB RAM, 2GB hard disc space, built-in USB 2.0, CD-ROM drive, Internet connection (for activiation)
Processor Compatibility: Universal
Version Reviewed: 2.9.3
If you want to watch TV on your Mac, you basically have two companies to choose between: Elgato and Equinux. I think it’s safe to say that Elgato is a little better known for this kind of software, but Equinux’s The Tube has a number of features that Elgato’s EyeTV doesn’t, including some pretty interesting iPhone functionality. And that makes it quite tempting to look at the TubeStick over the EyeTV Hybrid.
The TubeStick itself is a small USB dongle that allows your Mac to interface with cable or an antenna to watch TV. It looks like it was designed a few years back when Apple dipped everything in white iPod plastic, but it’s by no means clunky or ugly. Included along with the TubeStick is a small antenna and the software that you’ll need to get some use out of it. The antenna won’t give you the best quality of reception, but it’s certainly better than no antenna at all.
The software is called The Tube. I can’t help but thinking that they originally wanted to call it The Boob Tube, but eventually decided it was a little too risqué. Installation is straightforward, and you’ll be required to sign into your Equinux account to register the software, which is a little odd for anything other than Equinux software.
There are a number of things I really like about The Tube. Its user interface is awesome. Unlike the white box of plastic that is The TubeStick, it is draped in a sexy, dark grey theme. To me, it feels like a pro app, which unfortunately fits the way it works as well. You can’t always easily figure out how to do everything. For instance, after you set up your episode program guide (or EPG) data, it is not automatically tied to the channels you’re watching. You’ll have to go to the preferences under EPG then Channels and apply the EPG to all of your channels. It seems like this should be automated; why wouldn’t you want to use the EPG for the channels you are going to watch? It’s also a little strange while watching TV. You can’t just flip from analog to digital channels while watching cable. This requires you to select a different source. This is not the case in EyeTV; it tells you that it’s changing from analog to digital, but you don’t have to change any sources.
As far as video quality is concerned, I’d say the TubeStick hybrid is almost as good as the EyeTV Hydrid. It could just be my eyes, but either way the difference is not that noticeable, so it’s not a reason alone to skip the TubeStick. Unfortunately, the reason that many people buy this sort of product, DVR functionality, could use some help. The EPG data is quite slim when compared with EyeTV’s TV Guide data. You can search for shows, but the depth and quality of data is just not there. I also could not find any way to automatically record all episodes (full season or more) of a particular show, or even any shows that fit a certain search criteria. That’s a problem. The playback also stutters from time to time. You could blame it on my machine, but I’m doubting that my unibody MacBook Pro is what’s the holdup here.
What The Tube will deliver to you are some unique features that you currently can’t get anywhere else. First, it’s compatible with both Mac and Windows, so if you run Boot Camp often, or are required to use a Windows machine from time to time, this could be a selling point for you. Equinux also has a number of great iPhone applications available for free on the App Store that add to the features of this package.
The first app, Live TV, can stream live TV to any iPhone on the same network as the machine with the Tube running. This would be infinitely more useful over 3G or EDGE, but still, if you want to walk around the house with a mini TV, this makes it possible. You can also start recording while you are watching, which is very handy if you’re semi busy but want to record something last minute. Like The Tube, it sometimes stutters, but it’s the only app to my knowledge that allows you to watch live TV on your iPhone, at least until the Slingbox app comes out. The other app, TubeToGo, will let you watch exported recordings on your iPhone from afar. You’ll need MobileMe, an FTP server, or a web server to store your files on to get any use out of this though. It, too, can be used to remotely schedule recordings.
The Tube definitely needs some work, but it has many other unique features that help to scoop the water out of the sinking ship. Thankfully, all of the problems I listed are software based, so I’m betting future versions of the software will be all patched up and floating. And I truly hope this turns out to be the case, because it’s good to have some competition in the market of Mac based TV tuners. In the end, the consumers win. The options you have to weigh are as follows: If you want fancy iPhone features like live TV and remote scheduling, but can deal with things like less than desirable EPG data and scheduling, go with The Tube. If you want excellent episode program guide data and extremely trustworthy DVR capabilities, you have to get the Elgato EyeTV Hybrid.
Buy The TubeStick