One of my favorite and most frequently used devices on my old Beige G3 is an
ATI XClaimVR 128 card, a PCI card that gave my G3 the power to record and playback
video to and from external video devices. The XClaimVR card came with an external
tuner and software, and included a port for an additional higher resolution monitor.
On my G3, I use that port to hook up an Apple 17" flat screen CRT for superb
resolution. The main feature for me, however, is the video input and output. I hook
my coaxial cable into the external tuner, and I also connect my DVD/VHS player via
RCA cables into the tuner. The tuner connects to the XClaim VR card via a supplied
video cable, and the tuner's audio in and out connect to the G3's audio in and out.
With this setup, I'm able to watch and record video directly from my cable TV, as
well as record video from my DVD/VHS player. I've used this setup to record clips
from TV, from old VHS tapes, and from DVDs. The problem, however, is that my main
Mac is now a Quicksilver G4 running OS X, and neither the hardware nor the software
is compatible with this system. My task was to find a replacement for my XClaimVR
128 card. I didn't need the additional monitor port since my G4's port provides ample
enough video power for my needs. It was the TV tuner, video input and video reporting
functions that I set out to investigate.
After looking high and low for a good solution, I came across a number of products
that had some of the functionality, but none of them offered all of the features
I was looking for. Then I came across the Miglia AlchemyTV card, and from the information
on the Miglia web site, this product sounded promising.
The AlchemyTV card is
listed with the following features:
- Watch TV in window mode
or full screen on your PowerMac. Fast PowerMacs can even capture to your hard drive
in full size, full motion. Store them on your hard drive or burn them to VCD or DVD.
Thanks to its tight integration with QuickTime, AlchemyTV DVR gives you a full range
of capture options, including real-time MPEG-4 recording.
- Scheduled Recording
Functionality and iCal Integration
- AlchemyTV DVR's software
allows you to schedule recordings days or weeks in advance. These recordings can
also be programmed with Apple's iCal. AlchemyTV DVR integrates Decisionmark's TitanTV
EPG (Electronic Program Guide) directly into the software. TitanTV EPG makes it easy
to find your favorite shows and schedule them for recording or viewing with a single
- AlchemyTV DVR includes
an infrared remote control that allows you to watch TV and change stations without
sitting at your keyboard. Launching the TV application, adjusting the volume, switching
a channel can all be done with the remote control. The remote control software works
with most of your other Mac applications, such as iTunes, DVD player, PowerPoint
and many others.
- Open Plug-in Architecture
- Thanks to its open plug-in
architecture, you can expand DVR via third party software. Master and burn DVDs,
schedule recordings via e-mail and more.
- Composite and S-Video
- You can capture from
any analog device using the composite or S-Video connectors. Movies can be captured
in a variety of formats for editing or burning to VCD or DVD.
- PowerMac G4 or G5
- Free PCI or PCI-X slot
- PowerPC G4/400 processor
- 256 MB of RAM
- Mac OS X 10.3 and higher
The AlchemyTV DVR package
retails for $159.
There are two steps required to get the AlchemyTV (ATV) card up and running. First,
you need to install the PCI card into a free PCI slot. On my Quicksilver G4, this
was very simple, as the Quicksilver opens up easily, providing fast and easy access
to the PCI slots. I pushed the card into the slot securely, fastened the single screw,
and closed the case. For those with an iMac, Powerbook, or any Mac that doesn't support
a PCI card, this card will obviously not work for you.
The second step was installing the software and drivers. I ran the CD installer that
came with the ATV card, but I had nothing but troubles with the original software.
A lot of things didn't seem to work right. A quick visit to the Miglia web site resolved the issue. After downloading
and installing their latest software, everything worked great.
AlchemyTV PCI Card (Click picture for enlarged view)
There are a number of tests I performed with the ATV card, and I'll try to break
each down into detail. The basic tests I ran were watching TV, scheduling a recording
on TV, and recording clips from external devices (such as VHS tapes and DVDs).
With my coaxial TV cable plugged into the ATV card, I was able to use the AlchemyTV
DVR software to watch TV on my Mac. By default, the TV view window is displayed along
with the Controller, a small window with channel selector, volume controls, etc.
(if they aren't displayed, you can go under the View menu to display them). The first
thing I had to do was setup the channels. Under preferences -> "Channel Templates",
there are various templates you can use to setup your TV viewing. In the Templates
pane, I went into "AlchemyTV: TV Tuner: NTSC" and highlighted the only
option there, USA (Cable). A list of channels shows up in the Channels pane, ranging
from 002 up to 082. I'm not sure how this would work for those with boxes and/or
channels higher than 082, but this was fine for my needs. The list includes a checkbox
for whether you want the channel to display or not, and it includes the channel Frequency.
Two other columns are Name (defaults to blank) and Offset (defaults to 0.00). You
can highlight a channel and click on edit to change both fields, or you can just
double-click on the field you want to change, such as the name, to change the value
on the spot. The offset value is used for fine tuning, which I did not have a need
to use. You don't see a preview of the station under this preference, so fine tuning
is really best done under the "Video Input" tab (where you can view the
station as you make adjustments). I clicked the checkboxes for the channels that
I wanted, and gave names to the ones that I knew the names of. Once you leave the
preferences, the view window and controller are displayed again, and the controller's
"list" menu now contains all the channels I've selected.
The standard TV viewing
window is 640 x 480 pixels (1:1 ratio), a decent viewing size for watching TV. There
are other options for different viewing needs. You can display the window at 1:2
ratio which is 320 x 240 pixels, or even as small as 1:4 (but I found that far too
small for any practical value). You can increase the size as well, either as 2:1
(double the standard size), or full screen. Full screen basically turns your computer
into a TV set, and clicking in the window returns the size back to the previous setting.
The greatest use I get from the tuner is for "incidental" TV viewing. If
I am going to do any serious TV viewing, I'll go downstairs and view it on my 36"
TV screen. However, there are many times when I have work to do (such as writing
this review), and there may a program on that I want to see, such as the latest happenings
in Survivor, catching the latest news, or the David Letterman show. For this purpose,
the 320 x 240 sized window is the best, as it provides a clear enough picture, but
can be placed in the corner of my screen without interfering with the work I am doing.
Scheduling a Recording
AlchemyTV says it uses TitanTV for it's scheduling of recordings, but it is unclear
to me how. When I show settings for the Titan plug-in, the TitanTV plug-in checkbox
is unchecked and grayed out (i.e., I am unable to check it). However, the scheduling
appears to work, because under View -> Scheduled Recordings, I'm able to setup
a scheduled recording and the program gets recorded.
When you setup the recording, you set the source input, the channel, and the filename
of the recorded file. You also specify the start time and the duration of the recording.
There's an input field for end time as well, but once you set the duration, the end
time is automatically adjusted. Likewise, if you edit the end time, the duration
is automatically adjusted. You can also set the recording as one-time, repeat weekly,
repeat daily, or repeat on specific days.
The compression of the recorded video is set under Preferences -> Video Input.
It's easy to get confused on this screen, because in the same window where you set
compression settings are options for setting the video device and channel. These
settings are separate from the settings used under Scheduled Recordings. The preference
device selection is used to distinguish which preferences you are editing (i.e.,
you can have different saved options for TV Tuner versus Composite).
A real-time recording is made from the station currently being viewed in the viewing
window. On the controller, there is a "record" button, and as soon as you
press it, whatever is being viewed is instantly recorded in real-time. Alternately,
to start a recording you can use the menu option Edit -> Record, or the F1 key.
Pressing the record button again (or using the menu or F1 options) will end the recording,
and the recorded file is saved.
The name of the recorded files are predetermined prior to the recording process.
The naming convention and the location of the saved files is determined under Preferences
-> Storage. The naming convention uses templates. For instance, I used <input><name>.<channel>,
so when recording on Channel 7 (ABC), the resulting file name is AlchemyTV.TV
Tuner.NTSCABC.007.mov (where <input> becomes "AlchemyTV.TV Tuner",
<name> becomes "NTSCABC" and <channel> becomes "007").
I'm not sure what the point of the "period" is in the template, because
it looks like the software adds periods where it wants anyway.
As mentioned earlier, compression of the recorded video is determined under Preferences
-> Video Input. There are a lot of compression options to choose from, similar
to options you would see exporting from Quicktime. For the best video, you can go
with no compression at all (30 seconds is about 65 MB). For some compression, but
still great quality, you can go with Motion JPEG A (30 seconds is about 27 MB). For
better compression, and if you happen to own Sorenson 3, you can get good quality
using Sorenson 3 (30 seconds is about 13 MB).
In addition to viewing and recording from the TV tuner, by hooking up an external
device to the ATV S-video or Composite ports, you can also view and record from a
VHS tape, a DVD, etc.. In my case, I used the composite route to connect a combo
VHS/DVD player. I connected an RCA cable directly from my player into the video RCA
jack in the ATV card. The ATV's composite audio port, however, is a single stereo
audio jack rather than left and right RCA ports, so I had to purchase an RCA to stereo
jack adapter to connect the two RCA cables from the VHS/DVD player. I would have
preferred to have had the adapter included with the ATV package. It would have been
more useful to me than the included remote control.
With the player connected, you then change the input selector from tuner to composite,
and voila! You can now watch and record DVDs or VHS tapes using AlchemyTV. This is
a great way to record clips to extract sound bites or for reference material.
There was a difference with recording TV versus composite. I noticed that every time
I started a recording using the composite input, the video lightened (both in the
view window and in the recorded video). I'm not sure why that happened, but to adjust
for that, you can go into the Preferences->Video Input and choose the Image tab
to lower the contrast and brightness. Getting it just right is trial and error since
you don't see the actual results until you are actually recording.
If you don't have composite or S-video connectors on your player, you could use a
coax cable from your player box to the ATV card. In this case you could view and
record anything coming through the player. The caveat is that changing the station
is controlled through the player, not the AlchemyTV tuner. Also, video quality is
not as good through coaxial cable as it is through S-video or composite.
Under Preferences -> Plug-Ins, you can see all of the installed plug-ins that
come with AlchemyTV. With version 2.2.3 of the software, the following plug-ins are
- AlchemyTV Setup Assistant
- AlchemyTV Reveal in Finder
- Remote Control Plug-In
- AlchemyTV movie player
- AlchemyTV Movie Opener
- AlchemyTV Tuner
- Schedule with TitanTV
- Sync With iCal
- AlchemyTV Devices
Most of these plug-ins
don't have any options, and for all practical purposes, you don't really even need
to know that they are there. They provide integrated functionality in AlchemyTV.
I did play with the iCal plug-in to see how that worked. You can configure ATV such
that whenever you program a scheduled recording, that shows up in your iCal calendar.
I'm not sure what benefit that provides, but the option is there if you like.
The other nice thing about plug-in support is that you can get third-party plug-ins
to add functionality to AlchemyTV. Miglia provides a few to download from their web
site. Two that I tried out is MovieGate and DVR Edit. Some of the plug-ins have their
own installers (such as MovieGate), while others you must manually add to AlchemyTV
(by "Showing Contents" on the application, finding the Plug-ins folder,
and dropping the plug-in into that folder). The plug-in instructions don't indicate
it, but you must restart AlchemyTV after installing a plug-in.
The DVR Edit features allows you to edit scheduled recordings that have completed.
It pulls up a view window where you can highlight portions of the video and delete
them (great for editing out commercials).
The MovieGate plug-in also works off of scheduled recordings. After a recording is
completed, you can choose the MovieGate option to open a MovieGate. From there you
can add chapter markers, and then convert the video to be used for DVD content. However,
on all my attempts to use this plug-in, after I clicked on start, the processed failed
with an error "result.m2v file not found."
Neither of these plug-ins provided a way to work on real-time recordings.
The AlchemyTV DVR package comes with a small lightweight remote control unit that
allows you to control some of the ATV functions without having to be at the computer.
Programming the remote is done from the "Remote Control" system preference
that is installed with AlchemyTV. You can also program the remote to perform functions
in other applications (such as iTunes). Using a remote to change volume, channels,
and other features, is an interesting idea, and worked fine in my tests. However,
this isn't something that I'll probably ever use. The only time I'm going to watch
video on my computer is when I'm sitting at the computer either working on that video
or working on something else.
The AlchemyTV software is a work-in-progress. I stumbled across a few bugs and a
number of interface annoyances during the review process. The good news is that it
currently provides the tools you need to use the ATV card for viewing and recording
effectively. During my review, there were a number of updates released, which is
a good sign that Miglia is dedicated to improving the user's experience. On the other
hand, many of the problems I experienced continue to exist from update to update.
Hopefully the issues I present in this review will help Miglia further refine the
One problem I had was the viewing size versus the recording size. When viewing video
(such as TV), you can change the view window size using the View -> TV Window
Size option. For recording video, you set the size using Preferences -> Video
Input -> Size. The sizes are set by changing the ratio (with a 1:1 ratio equal
to 640 x 480). In all my tests, however, the size of the recordings always matched
the view size, not the recording size. In one case, the viewing size was set at 1:1,
and the recording size set to 1:2. The video was not recorded at 1:2, it was recorded
at 1:1. Likewise, if the view size is 1:2, and the recording size is 1:1, the recorded
file is at the 1:2 size.
One of my biggest complaints is the popup menu for channels. On the onscreen remote
control window, there is a button called "list" which is a channel popup
menu. The problem is that it does not adhere to Apple interface guidelines in the
way the menu behaves. For example, in a long list of channels, I had the tuner set
to channel 3. I then clicked on the list menu to change it to channel 4. I expected,
as any Mac user would, that once I clicked on the menu that channel 3 would be highlighted,
and then I'd just move down one line to select channel 4. Instead, when I clicked
on the list menu, there was a checkmark next to channel 3, but the menu highlighted
channel 30 (several lines down from channel 3). In order to move from channel 3 to
channel 4, I had to go up 19 lines instead of down one. It appears that the highlighted
menu item is different depending upon where the control window is located on the
One feature to the software which "begs" to be implemented is the ability
to have ATV turn on your Mac. Right now, when performing a scheduled recording, both
your Mac and the ATV software must already be running. This means you could miss
an important recording if you forget to turn your Mac on and start up the ATV software.
If the shareware product, iRooster, can turn your Mac on to signal an alarm,
I'm sure this can be built into AlchemyTV. Currently, it is not.
There are other minor interface issues as well. When going into preferences, the
category that you are currently editing (aka, Storage, Video Input, etc.) is not
highlighted as you would expect. For saving real-time recordings, there should be
an option to name the recording on the fly versus using the filename template. The
Video Input preference can be confusing, as it is not obvious that the settings on
the right (Image, Compression, etc.) are saved separately for each device type. When
viewing at the 1:2 size, if you have the window butted up to the right of your screen,
and then switch to 1:1 size, ATV should re-adjust the position of the window automatically.
As it is, it displays the 1:1 size window with half the window off the screen. Under
Scheduled Recordings, I would prefer the date and time inputs to be the Apple standard
where each component of the date and time is a different field (see Date & Time
system preferences). As it is, you have to carefully place your cursor on the component
you want to edit and then type in the change. You cannot view the TV window while
a scheduled recording is taking place (even though you can view the TV window during
a real-time recording). That might have something to do with the TitanTV plug-in,
but whatever the reason, I would have liked to have the option to preview the video
while it's being recorded. Likewise, when you switch to edit the preferences, the
TV view window is closed. In many cases, I was missing parts of a show I wanted to
watch while I was making some preference adjustments.
To Miglia's credit, there were a number of bugs that were fixed in the last few updates,
so there is definitely work being done to improve the software. There was an issue
where switching the window size caused the view window to go black (aka, no video),
and switching from Composite to Tuner also resulted with a black screen. Both of
these were fixed as of version 2.2.3 of the software.
The AlchemyTV card does not come with a printed manual. Under the Help manual is
an indication that the software comes with an electronic version of the manual, but
after choosing this option, the only thing that came up is a one-page PDF that said
that the electronic version is no longer included with the software installer. It
instructed me to go to the web and download the manual and then run a script to integrate
it into the software. Downloading the manual from the web was pretty easy, but getting
it integrated into the software was another story. I was instructed to run a script
called "Install AlchemyTV DVR Manual" (located in the AlchemyTV DVR folder),
but there were a couple of issues with that. First of all, the script had a bug in
it. One of the variables had a spelling error in the name which resulted in an error.
I had to edit the script and add a "t" to "theFileChooserPrompt"
to get it to run. The next issue was that it would not recognize the PDF file that
I downloaded. I had to first rename it to "PDFHelp_en.pdf". However, even
after renaming it, the script refused to recognize it. I debugged the script and
determined that it was looking for a name that ended with "_en.pdf", but
the actual pathname variable ended with "_en.pdf'" (note the single quote
right that follows "pdf"). After I made that change, the PDF manual was
finally integrated into the software. Needless to say, there *has* to be a better
way. I know few people that will go through that much trouble.
The PDF manual itself, however, was informative, and provided good information on
how to use the software. You may be better off just accessing the PDF outside the
software (i.e., opening it from the Finder). For additional help, Miglia was very
helpful with some of the issues and confusions that I went through during my testing.
The AlchemyTV DVR
package by Miglia is a full-featured solution for viewing and recording TV and external
video devices on your Mac. The package includes a PCI card that installs easily,
a remote control, and the AlchemyTV software. The software supports a wide range
of viewing and recording options, including some excellent and very fast compression
settings. The features to schedule recordings or record real-time work great, and
I especially like that I can switch from TV tuner to external device easily and on-the-fly.
There are a number of interface issues with the software, but Miglia has demonstrated
a good history of updates in the past, so I'm hopeful that these issues will continue
to be worked out. In terms of working with TV and external players, I was able to
perform everything that my old G3 XClaimVR 128 card performed, and more. The XClaimVR
card came with an external TV tuner, but on the AlchemyTV card, the tuner is built-in.
I did not find much need for the remote control unit, and would have preferred an
RCA adapter and a manual instead.
If you have an interest in watching David Letterman while you're up at night catching
up on email, or would like to record some clips from a VHS tape or DVD for a project,
the Miglia AlchemyTV card is the perfect OS X solution for those needs, and at a
very decent price. I think this card is great, and highly recommend it to other Mac
- Built-in TV Tuner
- Composite and S-video
connections for external players
- View and record with
a sleu of options
- Fast and efficient compression
- Schedule your recordings
or record on-the-fly
- Some interface annoyances
- Scheduled recordings
will not turn on your Mac
- No manual included, and
integrating manual from download is difficult
- Adapter for hooking up
external devices not included
4 out of 5 Mice