When it comes to Macintosh TV tuners, it's hard to ignore the very large cat sitting in the corner. Elgato dominates the US market, but in Europe Equinux has been a big player and they've recently crossed the ocean with a new US-compatible tuner. The TubeStick Hybrid with its "The Tube" software arrives at a distinct disadvantage.
It's a small white box that you can attach to a spare USB port and use to watch channels both from over-the-air signals or connect to your cable TV. Equinux provides the software that turns the tuned data into a watch-able show on your screen.
The product and its software remains at a stage I can best describe as "beta". Yes, you can watch TV with it. Yes, you can tune to both ATSC (High Def) and analog channels. But many features like integrated TV listings are not yet available for the US. You're able to import your own Extended Programming Guide listings in XMLTV format, and Equinux recommends SchedulesDirect.org.
Follow the jump to read more about the Equinux Tube Stick Hybrid.
For me, the test of a good tuning package is the brainlessness with which I can install it, figure out what to watch and set a few recordings. The Tube software just isn't at the point yet where you don't have to work hard to get a recording or two to happen.
A few sparkly features do stand out: You can export recordings to your media player, placeshift your TV shows to iChat Theater, and participate in the TubeTalk live chat. The chat feature lets you share your Gossip Girl watching experience with other TubeTalk customers, although during my testing I never found anyone watching the same show I was watching.
The actual TV-watching experience was serviceable rather than exemplary. The tuner seemed to display a coarser, noisier signal using the same Mac and cable connection I use for my normal TV watching. Also, the software arrived with spamware in the form of a mandatory demo installation of their MediaCentral product, which still will not delete off my Mac after two successive reboots.
The TubeStick offers a lot of promise and it's good to have competition in what has been a pretty exclusive market on the Mac. Yes, there are other tuners available but no one has done quite as good a job yet, particularly in software, as Elgato's EyeTV (after reviewing the EyeTV a couple of years ago, I ended up buying a unit out of my own pocket).
As TubeStick matures in the US market, you can expect to see better scheduling options as Equinux negotiates for a US partner. Until then, if you're shopping for a tuner, consider checking out this Elgato 404 page sent in by TUAW reader Larry.
TubeStick hybrid and TheTube run on recent Macs (Power PC G5 1.66GHz and newer) with 10.4 or higher. The hybrid costs $129.00.