June 22, 2015

Media center update

I have been rolling with an Elgato media setup for a few years now. However, things got flakey this Winter and Spring and I had to do some diagnosing.

Original setup

I aquired an Elgato EyeTV 250 Plus around 4-5 years ago and it has performed well. Originally the price point was $150 but I see they are now more rare and pricier. The setup has consisted of an antenna, the EyeTV 250 Plus, our Mac Mini, and an external LaCie drive for recordings. I did a DIY antenna similar to this but with a backstop covered in aluminum foil. It worked well and gave us more than enough TV considering our schedules and family needs. Included was a signal booster within 7-10 feet of the antenna in the attic with a 25Db boost and and FM trap. I also used Comskipper for quite some time (for commercial skipping in real-time until it became broken under recent versions of OSX), as well as PyeTV while it was still possible.

Trouble

We began to have failed recordings that were misfires (recording nothing), or recordings of poor quality. I considered the following failure points:

  • Elgato EyeTV 250 Plus.
  • External drive.
  • USB cable from Mac Mini to EyeTV 250 Plus.
  • Coax cable from antenna to EyeTV 250 Plus.
  • Firewire 800 cable from current OWC external drive to Mac Mini.
  • Signal amplifier in attic.
  • Antenna in attic.
  • Attic temperature.
  • Weather.
  • Interferance (physical or electromagetic).

I switched out several cables (USB and coaxial) in the main media box and nothing improved. I connected the coax from the antenna to the TV itself and attempted to tune channels. Additionally, I got out an old digital TV tuner from the initial government roll-out period and neither could do any better than the current set up. I moved to the attic and removed the DIY antenna and put up a GE attic mount antenna which seemed to help but only for a few days. We had a moderate winter (sadly - I wanted to ski powder!!) but a very wet spring with repeated thunderstorms and I thought the storms were a factor. The storms settled down and the TV signal trouble persisted. I turned off the signal amplifier and the signal became worse. I tried a setting of 10-13 Db and no benefit was seen. I set it back to 25 Db and turned off the FM trap and the signal became much worse. Growing inpatient, I eventually put down more money on a different antenna which would be less directional and more sensitive. I purchased the Channel Master 4228HD from Amazon. I suspended it from the rafters in the attic with soft rope and then used a compass to aim it again based on AntennaWeb and TV Fool data to 205 degrees. All channels gained in strength and quality and we have not had any additional missed recordings.

Final setup:

  • Mac Mini.
  • Elgato EyeTV 250 Plus.
  • 25 Db amplifier with FM trap with amplification set to max.
  • Channelmaster antenna suspended in attic.
  • OWC drive for recordings.
  • Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions.
  • MLB.tv.

Future moves

Now that Comskipper is possible again under Yosemite I plan to re-implement it. I have not found a concise installation guide so I’m doing research to create my own.

I’m considering exporting all recordings to iTunes via script for access via devices and AppleTV.

If the EyeTV 250 Plus goes out I might get a dual-tuner unit (although the instances where we want to record two shows at once are not too common).

We are close to dropping Amazon Prime because we are low utilizers of the quicker shipping and the video offerings are not as good as Netflix, in my opinion.

I might drop MLB.tv because of time constraints but just like baseball too much.

Finish

I like this setup. We have saved a ton of money over the past few years by not shelling out for cable TV. We are busy enough that we don’t want or need 250 channels to watch. There are cable packages which may have a smaller number of channels and may be less costly than Netflix + MLB + Amazon. However, I have enjoyed not dealing with Comcast customer service, have valued the serial nature of watching shows on Netflix, and have not missed the sub-standard shows that are prevalent on cable TV (becuase they’ve got to fill all the slots with something), and have avoided the 3rd-year hike in cable package rates to $120-$150 per month. Once we eliminate Amazon we will be even leaner.

Additional reading

How to Get Rid of Cable - a guide

Should You Cut the Cord? - a calculator

EyeTV with Commercial Skipping HD DVR Server - an Apple Support Communities thread spanning 2012 to 2015 discussing EyeTV, Comskipper.

Elgato

Elgato EyeTV 3 software page

TV Fool and AntennaWeb - antenna guides for aiming your antenna. I prefer the former.

  • media center

  • Previous post
    Repackaging of ideas I find the repackaging of concepts and methods on the web to be interesting. Specifically I mean the repackaging of ideas in the productivity
    Next post
    Maps.me I’ve experimented with Maps.me recently while traveling. It ended up being my most valuable travel app. The app does not use wifi or cellular for