Sunday, November 13, 2005

Spice up your putie's TV diet

Sunday, November 13, 2005

It's not often that I purchase a piece of computer gear and find that it works exactly as described without having to spend hours devising elaborate workarounds to counteract its infuriating design flaws, Apple kit exempted of course. This is why I feel it's my duty to recommend the Cinergy T2 digital TV Freeview receiver from Terratec.

The diminutive device is clearly inspired by the silver-sided, white-topped Mac Mini, making it the perfect accompaniment to Apple's low-end consumer machine. Placed side by side, the combination serves as a complete Tivo-esque media centre, making your traditional TV, VCR, DAB radio and hi-fi redundant. The technology graveyard will be bursting at the seams!

While the T2 package includes a dinky desktop aerial, there's no substitute for a proper roof-top antenna. You wouldn't expect to get a decent reception using a flimsy, TV-mounted, coat-hanger style aerial with an analogue TV so why some people assume they'd be able to skimp with digital TV is a mystery to me. In any case I'd imagine making do with the desktop aerial would only be a consideration for on-the-road laptop users. For everyone else living in a Freeview enabled area (you can check by entering your post code into the search engine on the Freeview home page), plugging the Mini-Me, Mac Mini, TV gismo into the wall socket should provide a clear picture and crackle-free audio.

Connect the T2 to your Mac or PC via the supplied USB cable and click the 'auto-tune' button within the idiot-proof TV viewing software and you'll have immediate access to almost 40 TV channels and over 20 digital, crystal-clear radio channels. It's not called Freeview for nothing either - once you've bought your TV equipment, there are no subscription fees to pay.

The T2's best feature for me is its programmable recording facility. Granted, any old VCR can be set to record at a given time, but instructing them to do so is fiddely, long-winded and involves lots of tape foraging and swapping. With the T2 you can select channels from a drop-down menu and type in the exact start and finish times of programmes rather than bashing the fast-forward button 200 times as you would with a traditional VCR remote control. Shows are recorded in the DVD quality, uncompressed, MPEG-2 format and therefore take up two gigabytes of disk space per hour, though can be shrunk to a more manageable size later if required. Personally I record, watch and then delete shows so tweaking them to save disk space would be a waste of time.

Nevertheless, should you wish to edit your recordings, to remove commercials for archival purposes for example, it is possible to do so from within the included viewing software - quite a perk considering dedicated video editing software can have a steep learning curve and a hefty price tag. Likewise, the record facility comes in handy when you want to pause live TV - technically that's what you're doing when you press the pause button; recording a show into the hard drive's allocated buffer zone, although you'd never know as it all takes place seamlessly in the background. Perfect for all those moments when you haven't got the heart to tell your family or friends that the TV is more important to you than what they have to say! ;)

Another thing I found pleasantly refreshing about the T2 is the competency of its technical support staff - something you can't take for granted in the computersphere. I emailed the Elgato team several times regarding feature usage queries and was amazed to receive a reply within half an hour in each case. What's more, they didn't just fob me off with barely relevant FAQ copy-paste jobs; they took the time to answer the questions I'd actually asked! Where I posed a problem, they offered a real solution. Gasp!

The infra-red unit does come equipped with a slick remote control, but I've yet to find a reason to use it. If anyone out there would like to buy me a 40" monitor for Christmas so I can sit a bit further back from my computer when I watch my T2 I'd be happy to post a full review. :|

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