On EyeTV, or, How Buggy Software Is Ruining Good Apple Hardware

On EyeTV, or, How Buggy Software Is Ruining Good Apple Hardware 1

Longtime iLounge readers know that we love to try new products, a fact that’s borne out by the sheer number of software and accessory reviews we publish every week. To the best of our recollection, there hasn’t been a weekday in the past five or so years that we haven’t spent playing around with at least a few things, and the general rule of thumb is that if we test something, we review it rather than holding our opinions back. Unless we’re buried under a pile of new items and need to prioritize what’s most important, it’s very unusual for us to sit on a product for a really long time without saying something about it. What follows is the story of an exception—actually, a number of recent exceptions—to that rule.

We’re most concerned with Elgato Systems’ EyeTV Hybrid, which we started testing in January, then put down in hopes that a software update to its EyeTV 3.1 software would fix the major problems we were having. Last night, we decided to take another stab at reviewing it with the updated 3.1.1 software, and spent several hours this morning trying to get it working. The problems were still there. As our accessory reviewing policy is based on a simple premise—products are supposed to “just work” when we get them, without the need to spend time digging through arcane settings or talking with a company’s tech support department—the typical accessory we’d cover would have received a D or an F based on the experiences we had. But because we’ve tried to be accommodating of the recent, major growth of the iPod and iPhone software scene—particularly in the App Store—we decided some time ago to try taking a wait-and-see attitude on certain releases, watching to see whether they got fixed or changed significantly after they first began to be sold.

That’s turned out to be a mistake. It sent the message that users—including us—were willing to tolerate patch after patch after patch to make a program work properly, a state of affairs that Apple has allowed to develop since the App Store premiered, and arguably before that with buggy iTunes, iPod, and iPhone software releases. Instead of software that “just works,” the App Store in particular has been spreading a staggering quantity of buggy, “we’ll fix it later” products and their updates alongside a small number of apps that are extremely polished, and a huge number that are utter junk, all apparently counting towards the same “billion downloads” number. As reviewers, we’ve had to decide whether and how to cover these releases, specifically whether to simply pan something outright when it doesn’t work properly on first release, or how to adjust a rating properly for various types and degrees of bugs. When possible, we’ve tried to explain our rationale in our reviews, but at some point talking about the process rather than the products takes a toll on us, and surely you, too.

There’s an additional behind-the-scenes component that you mightn’t know about, as well. Due to the sheer volume of products we review, and the requests we receive from developers for coverage, we now find our e-mail boxes filling up with requests for help finding, describing, and fixing bugs; you may have noticed that the App Store’s “reviews” these days often read more like bug reports than ratings of finished products. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or desire to serve as beta testers, chasing down and reporting bugs to companies every time we find them; there are just too many products and too many bugs these days. Our job is to test products from the standpoint of the typical user, and tell you whether they work, or don’t, and we don’t have the ability to even respond individually to all of the e-mail requests we receive from software developers these days.

On EyeTV, or, How Buggy Software Is Ruining Good Apple Hardware 2

That brings us back to EyeTV Hybrid, a piece of hardware that depends upon a piece of software to be useful for anything. Back in version 3.0, which shipped with the prior version of the Hybrid hardware, the EyeTV software relied upon a free service for TV program listings, but then Elgato switched to TV Guide—and a $20 annual charge after the first year—for those listings. Upon getting the 3.1 software, we used the Setup Assistant to set up a TV Guide account, complete with a one-year listing service credit, and the listings didn’t work. We’ve had this sort of thing happen with Elgato software in the past, and know that we sometimes have to wait a couple of weeks for an updated release before it gets fixed, then add a postscript to our original review. As you might imagine or know from our re-reviewing policy, which we changed back in 2005 because so many companies were releasing buggy products, this isn’t something we do or want to do with any regularity, and we don’t think it’s fair to either us or the early adopters who purchase new products and then have to wait around for them to work.


On EyeTV, or, How Buggy Software Is Ruining Good Apple Hardware 3

For whatever reason, the issues we were having with the EyeTV software continue today. Yes, we went back through the software again and repeated its setup and settings screens. Fruitlessly, we even went over to TV Guide’s web site and tried to set up an account there; this attempt at a workaround didn’t work, and we still couldn’t figure out what was going on. The program’s settings menu has a progress indicator that shows that it’s downloading listings, but it quickly stops, and never displays them. Separately, the software locates a huge number of local stations on the hardware’s TV tuner, but doesn’t identify any of the digital cable ones. And then there’s the new FM radio tuner that’s built into EyeTV Hybrid: we can only get the software to find a single local FM channel, and can’t figure out a way to manually tune others. Certainly, there are people out there who aren’t having issues with the software. But surely there are others out there, most likely people far less experienced with computer hardware, software, and accessories than us, who are having similar problems. We couldn’t quickly find answers on Elgato’s site, even if they’re buried somewhere there, and we feel strongly that users shouldn’t have to dig around or contact a company to make something like this work. For all of its limitations, a TiVo strikes us as a much easier, consumer-focused solution for TV recording at this point in time.


On EyeTV, or, How Buggy Software Is Ruining Good Apple Hardware 4

At the end of the day, spotlighting truly superb, consumer-friendly products is really what iLounge is all about. We bought Apple’s devices because we realized after years of using competitors that life was too short to waste waiting around for technical support. Even if it makes mistakes sometimes, Apple knows better than most companies that people are paying a premium for its products to “just work,” and that it needs to be focused on providing working solutions to customers rather than excuses or delays. Yet Apple’s third-party developers aren’t all on the same page. Thanks in no small part to the App Store, but also other considerations, far too many companies have taken on a “ship first, fix later” mentality for products, leaving customers in the lurch while they wait for things—even broken major features—to be fixed. This needs to change, and better pre-release bug testing is the solution.

As tempting as it may be right now for developers to focus on churning out more software, people are looking right now for quality, not quantity, and where software’s concerned, the mark of quality is becoming very clear: it has to be polished, bug-free, and deliver value to the user right out of the gate. In the name of fairness, our software reviews going forward will hold all developers to the same standard we’ve used for accessory reviews for years: (a) if doesn’t deliver something special, (b) if you’re still looking for bug testers, or (c) if it’s not ready to be reviewed as-is, it shouldn’t have been released. End of story.

  1. Jeremy,

    It was very difficult to understand why Elgato did not include very explicit instructions to set it up. You don’t create the account at the TV Guide site, you have to create it through the Elgato Preferences. Then it should work as advertised.


  2. Steve: Elgato’s setup assistant is actually _required_ to set up the account. If you don’t use the assistant, there’s no way for the free one-year listing service to work, to the best of my knowledge, and signing up on the TV Guide site (later, and separately) was of no benefit. I’m going to add a screenshot and brief note to the article on this, so that no other reader is confused on this point.

  3. I have used EyeTV sionce version 1.0.
    Never had any problems -the software is wonderfull and saves me being able to time-shift the best shows…


  4. Ssince no one else did it, I’ll start by congratulating you on your new/renewed stance on reviews. The philosophy of “fix it later” will be acceptable once companies adopt the philosophy of “pay for it later”. If I buy your product, you have my money now, but I don’t get my product until later when you finally fix all the problems. That’s not fair, and it’s not right.

  5. Have to throw in my two cents on the TV Guide. I have been using the software since 2.5 and 3.0 sucked. 3.1 is better but with the latest update I had my program guide “disappear” on me similar to what the fellas are saying here. Funny thing is, it was working until the update. I restarted EyeTV I can’t count how many times. Redid setup so many times I was blue in the face. I finally rebooted and launched it again voila by some magic everything was back and I’m still running fine. I did use the titantv service before but neither were working ( just FYI ) as I still have my account with Titan and switched it when tv guide stopped working. There is a glitch in the new software for sure but it’s an odd one and I too could not find anything on the forum. At least mine started to work right again.

  6. I also had an issue with the TV Guide data downloading successfully into EyeTV. The downloading and processing bars would move, but then nothing would be in the program guide. From my communications with Elgato I got the sense that it is a known issue and has to do with something on TV Guide’s end. Finally I tried downloading the schedule first thing one morning and everything went fine and I have had not issues since then. Something is not playing right for sure, but I am not sure if it is on Elgato’s end or TV Guide’s…but it needs to be sorted out. FYI, while not able to get the TV Guide info to download I was able to switch back to TitanTV without a problem (their listings are mediocre at best though).

  7. Jeremy,

    Thats what I was meant, although it’s not in the preferences as you indicated it’s the setup assistant.

    After I got past that issue I haven’t had any problems, I don’t get the error/constant downloading.

  8. clear epg database and then update the epg program guide (right click on Program guide to clear db and update epg). It is a rather bad workaround, but at least it works. I agree that they could do much better.

  9. There are other PVR Packages for Mac out there and El Gato have certainly dropped the ball with EyeTV.

    The biggest problem is that EyeTV still tries to behave as a complete Library Manager when 90% of users would prefer shows to head straight for their iTunes Library, with maybe some basic Editing (for commercials), Trimming and Tagging Capabilities.

    Does anyone have recommendations on simple PVRs which integrate with iDVD, iMovie and iTunes?

  10. I have been using Thetube from Equinux. I am very happy with it, there is lots of support avalible and the best thing is that its nice and simple to use.

    It integrates into the Apple workflow for iDVD and iMovie and it does export straight to itunes in a number of different formats. I also use the two iPhone Apps so instead of copying the files onto my iPhone I just access my library over the web with tubetogo.

  11. I have been using an EyeTV Diversity with software version 2.5.x for about a year now. Here in the Netherlands the Program Guide is provided by TVTV. Setting up the account from within the EyeTV software went without any problems and everything worked fine until the beginning of this year when I suddenly got a similar message in the Program Guide screen and the Guide remained empty otherwise. Logging on tot the TVTV website I discovered that the program info for the Dutch TV stations I had selected was also missing online. I mailed TVTV a few times, but I got tired of that after a month or so when they failed to fix it. I then switched to using the DVB guide in EyeTV and that restored the Program Guide info in EyeTV. You lose some features using the DVB guide, but al least it works reasonably reliable (somethimes you have to make it update manually). I think the missing Program Guide info is not entirely Elgato’s fault, but they could make the software switch automatically to the DVB guide if the other service is not available.

  12. problem just started happening to me. Wondering if it’s related to the latest mac os update. Regardless, it’s unconscionable that the program guide should just stop working.

  13. I’ve also had mixed experiences with the Elgato software. I eventually gave up on using it to schedule recordings, but it always worked great for watching live TV in a window while doing other things on the computer.

    Until now. Turns out, their older units (from 2007 and before) now do not work with Snow Leopard… unless you’re willing to fork over $40 to upgrade to the very same buggy EyeTV 3 software you’re panning above.

    I’d feel a little better if the new software had any features I cared about at all. For now, I’m investigating alternatives. Know of any?

  14. Don, did you find any alternatives? I’m in the same boat. I just want something to watch the Mets on my Mac and have had no luck with the latest elgato release.

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