The idea behind the Elgato EyeTV Netstream DTT is simple enough, but no-one has ever thought to pursue it before. This device takes a digital Freeview signal and transmits it around your home network, so any PC or Mac can become a digital TV recorder. It also has two tuners, so you can watch programmes on two computers at the same time.
The Netstream costs about £180, which seems like a fair chunk of cash, so let's find out how it can earn its keep.
The Netstream's simple surfaces adhere to the Apple aesthetic. It's finished in a Macbook Pro-style silver, and it's tiny. You could easily slide it into the back pocket of your jeans.
The rear of the Netstream is home to an Ethernet jack for connecting it to your home network, a power socket, and an input for attaching the bundled aerial that receives the Freeview signal. These sockets sit close together so, if you want to use an aerial splitter to share the TV signal between this and another device, you might need to get a reasonably compact one, to prevent it interfering with the other inputs.
You'll also find a reset switch on the Netstream's rump, which you can press in case of any problems with the device's configuration. It's worth noting that, to reset the Netstream, you need to hold this button down with the power lead disconnected, and then reconnect the power lead while still pressing the button.
No built-in wireless
If you were hoping that this little device would beam wireless signals out, then you'll be sad to note that it doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi. To be fair to Elgato, getting wireless functionality into a device this small would be nearly impossible, and, for people with 802.11g networks, moving video around is better left to a wired Ethernet connection. If you have an 802.11n network, connecting the Netstream to your router will enable you to view video on wireless devices simply enough.
We used a powerline network to get video from the Netstream to our PC in a different room, and that worked pretty well, even given our home's creaky and ancient electrical wiring.
No configuration -- at all
Getting the Netstream up and running requires no configuration at all, beyond plugging the device into your network and providing it with some power. The Netstream makes extensive use of Apple's Bonjour networking service to make itself available to devices on your network.
That said, should you need to fiddle with the configuration of the box, it does have a small and simple Web interface that offers you the option to give the device a static IP address, if your network demands that. We're of the opinion, however, that, if the Netstream seems to be working okay, you should give the settings a wide berth, as there's no advantage to be gained by meddling with them.
Two viewing options
If you're a Windows user, you have two ways of watching video via the Netstream. The first is by using the supplied TerraTec Home Cinema TV software. In the box, you get two licences for this software, so you can use two separate computers to view TV channels at the same time.
The software itself is alright, although it's far from beautiful. The set-up process involves scanning for channels, which is easy, even if the software does take a while to perform its magic. If you want to get better listings information, there's the option of a one-year trial of tvtv, an online listings service. This provides more detail, and listings further in advance, than the over-the-air, eight-day electronic programme guide.
The second option is to use Windows Media Center on your PC. This is by far the most elegant solution, but it will require you to download a small driver from the Elgato Web site first. Once you've got this, and installed it, you'll be able to use Windows Media Center's built-in 'live TV' function to tune in and watch channels.
You can also use Windows Media Center's EPG to schedule recordings, as you would with any personal video recorder. Windows Media Center also has the advantage that it can be used on an extender too, such as the Xbox 360. This means that, if you've made recordings you'd like to catch up on, you can do so via the 360 with minimal fuss. "Top banana," you might exclaim.
Dual tuners FTW
The Netstream offers twin tuners. This increases the flexibility of the box, allowing you to record one channel while you watch another, or simply watch two channels on two different computers. When you're using Windows Media Center, this is a really handy function, and one that will help you get the best out of the hardware.
Excellent image quality
Even though the network we used the Netstream on wasn't the best or fastest, we had no problem persuading our PC to pick up the signal either via the TerraTec software or Windows Media Center. The picture quality was surprisingly good, with most Freeview TV channels looking just like they would have done using a TV tuner attached directly to a PC. We found this thrilling -- it meant we could watch TV in our bedroom, which doesn't have an aerial socket of its own.
Scope for future improvement
The Netstream is good at what it does but we'd love to see it come with software for viewing TV outside your home, à la Slingbox. Also, it would be great to see a future version that can cope with Freeview HD, as well as standard-definition channels.
We love the Elgato EyeTV Netstream DTT. It's not exactly cheap, but it's enabled us to watch telly in places where we otherwise wouldn't be able to. Cooking alongside Gordon Ramsay is no longer difficult, and lying in the bath watching Doctor Who has become much more viable. For geeks, it's a must-have little toy.
Edited by Charles Kloet