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Review: Elgato's EyeTV Mobile for Dyle

Elgato has been making video hardware for a number of years, and typically I've found the offerings to be as good as any given consumer would need. As hardware has gotten better, Elgato's offerings have been able to pump out HD signals to your Mac or iOS device. Here I'll review an odd duck, a digital TV tuner called EyeTV Mobile, but it's only for a TV service called Dyle.

Unfortunately the Dyle service, which is tied to the hardware I'm reviewing, has no history of success. It appears to be an experiment by a consortium of broadcasters, and there's no telling if it will last. If you want broadcast TV on your iDevice, Dyle is only going to take you so far.

Hardware

Elgato's hardware is great. The 30-pin accessory (at the time I was sent the review unit the Lightning connector was brand-new) allows you to tune in Dyle.tv programming. You're able to attach a small antenna (seen in the picture above) or add a more substantial one (included) with a magnetic base. You can also plug in to USB, and apparently the accessory contains a small battery (although I was able to watch TV without it showing much of a charge). Unfortunately this USB port is not able to charge your iOS device at the same time, so forget about pass-through charging. This is just to charge the EyeTV Mobile, for reasons slightly unclear to me.

But as I said, the hardware is great. Elgato makes good stuff. It's the service that will leave you scratching your head.

Service

According to its site, Dyle is "the creation of Mobile Content Venture (MCV) -- formed by major broadcasting groups." Unfortunately those major groups wound up only agreeing to broadcast Fox and NBC programming. Not all of it, mind you. If you tried to tune in to the football game last night you couldn't -- it was blocked. Also, coverage is limited.

Also, unlike actual terrestrial digital television broadcasts, Dyle isn't showing you the full channel lineup of any given channel. Where I live, the local Fox and NBC stations have two channels on digital TV (not cable, this is free TV over the air), so I'd have 10.1 and 10.2 for my local NBC affiliate, and one would carry "primary" stuff like the national feed, and the .2 channel is typically local -- a loop of the weather or a local talk show, stuff like that. Dyle doesn't have this. It only has the national feed.

The channel guide is virtually useless. I wound up using i.TV to see what was on or coming up later. There is a tiny amount of buffering, in that you can rewind a tiny bit and pause playback, but it is not that useful.

So yes, Dyle is "free" TV over the air, but not free TV digital broadcasts as we know them. It's an alternative to these built by a consortium. And in the consortium's wisdom they have removed most channels (because those networks apparently refused to participate), removed all secondary channels, agreed not to show things like sports with blackout restrictions, and launched a product with less coverage than existing broadcast coverage. And one more thing; the quality of the image sucks.

AllThingsD tried the service in San Francisco and New York and found a couple more channels were available, but as with my testing, they also had issues with image quality and audio sync. Basically, it's like watching HD video compressed using Cinepak.

This really sounds like a brilliant plan, doesn't it? It's exactly the sort of design-by-committee platypus tech that a consortium of old world thinkers would produce. It's as if the King of Spain told Columbus to sail back to America, but in a concrete boat powered by a tiny sparrow and he can only bring back what will fit in his skinny jeans.

Dyle may not even be free forever, apparently. There's no telling what the future holds (because the consortium of geniuses who came up with this boondoggle refuse to say what plans they have, yet to refuse to agree to going forward). Maybe this will get better or perhaps it'll wind up on the scrap heap of failed ideas. While Dyle says it is working on big things, I just don't understand how this layer fits in the ecosystem. Do we need this intermediary? I feel like it's ill-conceived and superfluous, devoid of any real purpose now and merely a beta test to see if they can provide a real service (for a fee) later on.

Conclusion

If you gotta have free TV and live in a big city, the Elgato EyeTV Mobile for Dyle is great. It's too bad Dyle itself is so utterly terrible. If you want to just watch regular digital television broadcasts, get the EyeTV Mobile which supports actual digital television broadcasts, not this limp noodle of a service called Dyle. Unfortunately you'll only be able to use that in Europe, not America.