Elgato Netstream full review

Watching telly on a computer is easy. But now that often homes have several PCs or laptops, how about trying the Elgato Netstream digital tuner, which can plug into a wireless network and stream live TV around your home?

Elgato has built its reputation on solid-performing digital TV adaptors, originally for the Mac platform but now with drivers enabling easy use on Windows PCs too.

Up until recently, these TV tuners have all been of the direct-attachment type, originally using FireWire, and now all via a USB 2.0 port. While this allows one computer to easily function as a TV, it does restrict you to siting your PC near to a wall outlet or extension cable for a roof-top aerial.

A portable antenna is always included in the box, but it’s of limited use in the UK unless you live close to a TV transmitter.

The Elgato Netstream introduces a new way to watch television in the house, as it carries television over your local network. So rather than plug into a single computer, it connects to your network router via an ethernet cable, distributing its TV channels to anywhere in the house that your network reaches – whether that’s a wired or wireless network.

The Elgato Netstream is a twin-tuner device, enabling two different programmes to be watched on two different PCs. It's powered by an external power plug, and just needs a network cable and antenna to for operate.

Unlike similar solutions with two separate tuners, such as Elgato’s own EyeTV Diversity, it only requires one antenna. That’s handy, but also creates a fractional drop in signal sensitivity for each tuner module.

While it saves having to find two aerials or use a Y-splitter cable, since the RF feed must be shared between the two tuners, good reception strength is beneficial here.

Elgato Netstream

Elgato Netstream sits on the network and just needs DC power and an aerial connection

As well as streaming two different channels to two PCs, you can watch one channel while recording another on the same computer.

If another PC then tries to ‘tune in’ over the network, a message appears that both tuners are in use — although with the help of a four-digit admin PIN code, you can overide someone else’s viewing and take control of a tuner.

So you could have your media centre PC in the lounge viewing BBC One, for example, while a laptop elsewhere in the house tunes into E4.

It does not multicast though: two computers both tuning into Channel 4 will use up both available tuners, and a third user who simply wants to watch the same channel will be unable connect.

That’s live TV — but what about recording? With Elgato’s software for Mac especially, recording is a cinch. Then to watch programmes recorded on a different PC, you just switch on Sharing from the app’s preference panel.

You can also enable access for iOS devices, with the help of a £2.99 app from the iTunes App Store. We’ll be covering the impressive capabilities of this app in a separate review.

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