This review was updated on December 6, 2012, with additional information and clarification on how long Dyle TV's service is guaranteed to be free.
The lush Retina Displays of the iPhone and iPad just beg for video to be watched on them, so it's no surprise that many people use them as de facto TVs. The problem, of course, is getting real, live TV programming onto those devices.
The latest device aiming to bridge that "TV on your iPad" gap is the Elgato EyeTV Mobile. It's a small antenna dongle that snaps onto older 30-pin iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch models, enabling them to access over-the-air digital TV signals -- no Internet access (nor monthly fees) required.
It's a cool idea, and it mostly works as advertised. But it comes with a list of notable caveats that keep the EyeTV Mobile from being the holy grail for iCouch Potatoes. The biggest one: you'll only get a handful of channels, sometimes as few as three, depending on your area.
Global product, multiple versions
International readers take note: the EyeTV Mobile is a U.S.-only product. If you bring it overseas -- or even to Mexico and Canada -- you won't get any channels.
That said, there are two very similar versions that work specifically for the many markets that offer the DVB-T (Freeview) or ISDB-T digital TV standards. The first, also called EyeTV Mobile, "has been confirmed to work in Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, as well as any country that broadcasts standard definition MPEG-2 or MPEG-4/H.264 video," according to Elgato. (This one, of course, will not work in the U.S.) It retails for 90 pounds in the U.K.
The second international EyeTV version is called the EyeTV Micro. The Micro, which costs 60 pounds, is basically just an Android iteration of the European/Japanese EyeTV Mobile described above, with a Micro-USB dongle replacing the Apple 30-pin connector, and a corresponding free Android viewing app. Compatibility appears limited to a handful of Samsung Galaxy devices and the Nexus 7.
Just be sure you're getting the EyeTV device that's designed to work in your location -- and with your hardware.
What you can watch: Dyle Mobile TV
The U.S. version of the EyeTV Mobile only has access to a service called Dyle Mobile TV. That's a free (for now) service that rebroadcasts some -- but not all -- of the over-the-air channels available in some -- but not all -- U.S. cities.
Note that we said "free for now." Dyle's FAQ explicitly states "Dyle mobile TV is available with no subscription fee through the end of 2013." When we asked Dyle for a comment, a company representative told us "[t]his does not imply that there will be a sub fee after 2013. We are just evaluating a range of business models." So take that under consideration if you choose to buy the EyeTV Mobile, or any other Dyle TV product.
As mentioned, Dyle's service isn't available everywhere in the U.S. Thankfully, Dyle's Web site has a handy coverage map, which lets you know how many channels are available in your area, if any. It goes without saying: make sure you examine, and are happy with, the channel lineup in your area before investing in the EyeTV Mobile.
In New York City, the coverage was typical -- NBC, Fox, Qubo (children's programming), and Telemundo. (In fact, the EyeTV hardware also picked up a fifth station, New York City's public affairs channel.) No ABC, CBS, PBS, or CW affiliates, nor their digital subchannels (4-2, 7-2, etc.) -- all of which you could otherwise receive with a TV and over-the-air antenna.
Reception also differed by location. In midtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, I generally got four out of the five channels; in downtown Manhattan, only two.
I also tested the EyeTV in southwestern New Jersey, where I pulled in three Philadelphia-area stations -- again, NBC, Fox, and Qubo -- but not nearly the full range of local channels.
For whatever reason, ABC and CBS stations seem to be available in fewer locations, but according to the Dyle Web site they are broadcast in at least some cities.
This limited channel selection is the biggest issue with the EyeTV Mobile. It's a subset (Dyle TV) of a subset (local over-the-air broadcast stations) of the full universe of TV channels. Don't expect to see any cable or satellite TV, for instance. And even if you're already a cord-cutter using an antenna, the Dyle offerings will likely be fewer channels than you're used to.
The EyeTV Mobile uses the "old" 30-pin port found on all pre-autumn 2012 Apple portables. Officially, Elgato supports the fourth-generation iPod Touch, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad, iPad 2, and iPad 3 running iOS 5.1 or later.