AlchemyTV DVR, by Miglia Technology Ltd
Posted: 24-May-2004

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Miglia Technology Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Robert Schumann Class: HARDWARE

Introduction
When I first got my Power Mac G4, I missed having the on-screen TV that I had with my old Mac. There were solutions available such as external USB tuners, but since I had available slots in my Power Mac and did not want an external box taking up desk space, I wanted a PCI TV tuner card that worked with OS X. The German company Meilenstein Software GmbH introduced the Televio PCI TV Tuner Card that was OS X only, but I thought the price was a bit high, so I waited. Finally, Miglia Technology Ltd of the UK entered into an exclusive agreement with Meilenstein to sell the product under the AlchemyTV name and market an NTSC version to the US. The DVR (Digital Video Recorder) software was added as an option and the card then had all the features I wanted at a reasonable price.

The version of the AlchemyTV DVR reviewed is the Power Mac G4-only version that includes an FM tuner and lists for $149. I purchased mine from Other World Computing for $129. Miglia also offers a G4/G5 compatible version that features a silicon tuner but no FM tuner that lists for $10 more than the G4-only version. Miglia also offers the AlchemyTV tuner card without the DVR software and remote control for $30 less list.

The TV Tuner card and software was reviewed on a Power Macintosh G4 Quicksilver 867 MHz with 1.125 GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.3.3. The version of AlchemyTV DVR software reviewed was 1.0.10, which includes AlchemyTV application version 2.0.7.

Requirements

  • PowerMac G4 with free PCI slot
  • PowerPC G4/400 processor and higher
  • 256 MB of RAM
  • Mac OS 10.2.4 and higher


What's Included

  • AlchemyTV DVR (NTSC) PCI card
  • Infrared remote control with Infrared receiver cable
  • CD with Mac OS X software, Installation and user guide
  • FM Antenna
  • Two years limited warranty


Technical Data

  • G4-only version: PCI card compatible with PCI bus 2.1 to 2.2 (5V)
  • Connectors: Antenna/Cable in, FM Antenna in, Composite in, S-Video in, Stereo Audio in/out, Remote in.
  • Max viewing size: 640*480 (NTSC)
  • Max audio sample rate: 32 kHz, 16 bits, stereo


Setup
The AlchemyTV DVR requires installation of the PCI card first and then the software. The G4 PCI card was easy to install in a free slot, and if you have never installed one before, refer to the user guide for instructions. I suggest reading through the user guide during setup process, as things are not always intuitive. After the Mac is closed up, attach the antenna/cable, FM antenna, and remote receiver to the proper inputs of the card.


AlchemyTV PCI Card


Be sure to download the latest version of software from Miglia. The software version on the CD that came with my card did not work with my Quicksilver. Open the ''Install AlchemyTV DVR" application, select your startup drive, and click on 'Install'. You will be asked for your administrator's password to perform the installation and it will ask to reboot after it has completed. Two applications are installed, the AlchemyTV application for viewing, tuning the TV, and recording on the fly, and AlchemyTV DVR for setting up scheduled recordings. Do not run both applications at the same as only one can use the card at a time. Next, launch the AlchemyTV application and setup the software by going to the AlchemyTV > Preferences menu selection. Here the proper video and audio sources can be setup along with video capture settings. Be sure to setup the TV Tuner to the NTSC format. To set up your TV channels, use the Channel Assistant that is also available under the Preferences menu. Make sure you are connected to the Internet then launch the assistant and follow the instructions. The Channel Assistant did a good job of properly identifying the available channels with only a couple channels needing correction.

A remote control is included with the AlchemyTV DVR. IR receiver is on a cable that is plugged into the card and the sensor at the end of the cable should be positioned in a spot will be in view when using the remote. The preferences for the remote can be set so that the remote will control the TV card even when the application is in the background. The remote control settings (accessed from the System Preferences) can also be programmed to control other programs such as iTunes.

If you wish to use iChat AV with a FireWire webcam, also install the included AlchemyTV iChat patch. Before installing the iChat patch, an "Application Enhancer" manager must be installed. A link to its download page is available in the iChat patch read me file.

In Use
The picture quality produced by the AlchemyTV is very good. The viewing window can be moved anywhere on screen and be sized to full, half, or quarter. The window can be minimized and viewed in the dock. The close and minimize control buttons will appear when the cursor is over the top left corner of the window. The buttons are hard to activate on the first try and seem to have a too small sweet spot. You can also view it in full-screen mode. There is a delay between changing channels. AlchemyTV version 2.0.7 seems much quicker than previous versions.


AlchemyTV picture sample


Software has a foreign feel to it due to its German heritage that leads to a few usage problems. For example, AlchemyTV uses ordinal numbering for the channels so you cannot change channels by typing the exact channel number; channels are indexed starting at one. In the US, we use the technical numbers to identify the stations with the channel numbering starting at 2. Example: ordinal Channel 1 = US Channel 2. Because of this, the channel number displayed in AlchemyTV will always be at least one less than the US channel number. The next software update will let the user choose between ordinal and technical numbering. (Note: Public Beta 2.1 has been released and combines the TV and DVR functions into one application. Version 2.1 allows you to set a check box so normal US channel numbers are used. I have tried the beta version and it indeed corrects this issue and has other nice features such as channel number displayed in the TV window when changing the channel. The maximum audio sample rate has also been increased to 48 kHz. I found it to be not ready for primetime but very promising.)


AlchemyTV Tuner


You can force the software to accept a given channel or bypass it by clicking on the 'Rec' part of the list. This is not very intuitive and I am not sure what 'Rec' stands for but I'll guess 'Receive'. If there are additional channels you don't want on your list such as scrambled channels, the difference between the ordinal and technical channel number will increase after the channel you removed from the list. The channel can be changed using the station's name from the 'List' drop-down menu on the on-screen remote control. You can also change the channel or the volume by using the keyboard arrow keys. The channel is changed with the up/down arrows and the volume with the right/left arrows. The volume changes do not affect the system volume levels.

The AlchemyTV software occasionally malfunctioned where it would not respond after launching or would be only a black window with audio. Each time I was able to correct it by reinstalling the software. I've also had random occurrences of incomplete dialog boxes (can't enter data via pull-downs) and incorrect sizing of the video window.

The AlchemyTV DVR software is a bit awkward to use at first but seems to work well except for one caveat: you cannot record back-to-back programs. For example, if you want a program recorded from 8:00 to 8:30 then switch to another from 8:30 to 9:00, the software will not record the second program since it wants to start five seconds before the first program ends. Thus, an error occurs and the recording stops. I could not seem to modify the seconds in the setup of the DVR even though they show up and looks like you can modify them.

For video capture, all QuickTime codecs are available with the recommended ones being Motion-JPEG and MPEG-4. The codec is selected in the Video Preferences under the Compression tab. The Motion-JPEG codec has large disk space requirements but requires less processing power to encode the video and can be edited in some video applications such as iMovie. Be aware that iMovie cannot import a video that is more than about nine and a half minutes long. Therefore, you would have to limit the length of the video clip or split it with another application. The MPEG-4 codec requires less hard drive space, but requires more processing power and cannot be edited by a video application. The quality of the recording can also be affected by the resolution chosen for the recording. I recorded the Super Bowl at 640 x 480 resolution using the MPEG-4 codec and each two-hour segment was about 7 GB. I used iDVD 4 to create two DVDs of the game and it took over twelve hours to encode and burn each one! The final quality was less than I hoped (I'll try the Motion-JPEG codec the next time).

It is not documented in the user guide, but you can also use iMovie to record from the AlchemyTV card. Since you cannot schedule it to occur, you must first set the channel via the AlchemyTV software, quit AlchemyTV, then launch iMovie and setup to import. Using the AlchemyTV card this way allows iMovie to automatically split the video into usable clips.

Using the composite, S-Video, or RF inputs, you can to capture any analog video source, such as a VCR, or camcorder, into a digital video file or into iMovie. To record, first select the connection type you wish to capture from with the AlchemyTV or AlchemyTV DVR application.

The FM Tuner was cumbersome to setup, as there is no automatic scan to find stations. You have to know the station's frequency and call letters. The sound quality was good, however, occasionally the stations would not tune properly. To correct it, I had success when I closed the FM Tuner then reopened it. You cannot use the FM Tuner and the TV Tuner at the same time if you have the desire to watch something while listening to the radio.


AlchemyTV FM Tuner


Support
The AlchemyTV DVR User Guide PDF file is included on the CD and covers the basic operations of the card and software. I suggest that you review this document before using the card, as it will clarify some of the conventions used and make the set-up and usage easier.

Software updates and the latest documentation can be obtained from the
Miglia website.

Summary
The AlchemyTV DVR is a PCI card and software that lets you watch TV on your PowerMac G4 running OS X. The DVR software allows you to program the time and date for scheduled recordings. The TV program will be recorded onto your hard drive for later viewing or export to a DVD. With the composite or S-Video inputs and stereo audio input, AlchemyTV DVR can convert the analog video from your VCR or camcorder and record it in a digital video format. Different QuickTime codecs can be used to fine-tune the level of video quality. An FM tuner is also included with the G4 AlchemyTV. The software is a bit buggy and could be made to be more intuitive. But despite its flaws, I really like and enjoy using the AlchemyTV DVR. Miglia has been actively updating the software to improve its functionality and eliminate bugs, so I have confidence that most issues will be addressed. Thus, I can recommend the AlchemyTV DVR to anyone with a Power Mac G4 running OS X.

Pros:

  • TV Tuner is a PCI Card, no desk clutter, FM Tuner included
  • Easy to use, good User Guide
  • Good quality picture and sound
  • Can digitize video from analog sources such as a VCR or camcorder

Cons:

  • Ordinal numbering for the channels
  • Software has some irritating bugs and requires occasional re-installing
  • Unable to record back-to-back programs without a 1-minute gap with the DVR software
  • Some user interface elements are not intuitive


Overall Rating:

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice