- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

Alchemy DVR is a card that’ll slip into G4 and G5 PowerPC Macintosh computers and let you hook up a cable line, over-the-air or satellite antenna, and turn your Mac into a “personal video recorder,” or PVR, as well as a rather nice desktop TV.

One of the greatest attractions is the price: $159 for the board and software, which is a bargain of sorts, because competing products, mostly external boxes that connect to the Mac, can cost double that, if not more.

But a bargain is no bargain if it doesn’t work: My first unit couldn’t be “seen” by the Mac’s brain, no matter how hard I tried. A replacement card did work, which leads to a moral: Make sure you know the exchange policy of your dealer if you choose to buy one of these.

Better yet, see whether they’ll test your card in the store before you go.

When working, however, the card offers some rather elegant features.

On learning my ZIP code, it found the potential cable systems I could use, and let me pick the right one. The card scanned the available channels and stored their names, which were for channels 1 through 99, because I was connected directly via a coaxial cable and not through a converter. In the latter case, I could probably go through channel 124.

Despite this limitation, the unit performed very well in terms of tuning and playing video/audio. The Mac I’m using has some very nice external speakers and, coupled with a 20-inch LCD display, make for a very nice viewing experience. Even better, I can watch the TV picture in a small window while working — or full screen.

The PVR features take a bit of getting used to: The Alchemy product uses the online TitanTV listings grid, which is a very good system and can generate instructions to program the computer to view and record a show. This is done through the Apple ICal application, which can be a bit balky, and recordings have been somewhat hit-or-miss for me. I’ve recorded several important shows, but missed others. Bottom line, you will need to practice with this before depending on your Mac to get the season finale of “Desperate Housewives.”

Once you’ve recorded a show, you might want to put it on a DVD for later viewing; the files recorded by the Alchemy, about 10 to 12 gigabytes per hour, might need some massaging before such a transfer, because most DVDs are in the 4.7 GB range. To be honest, I’ve not tried doing this yet, but Apple’s IDVD application might hold the answer, or perhaps an adjustment of record settings will do the trick. Unfortunately, the otherwise comprehensive manual for the Alchemy is silent on what to do in this instance, even if there are hints given.

There’s also an infrared remote control you can connect to the card, but I didn’t even bother. My office setup is such that it’s easier to use a keyboard or mouse to control the tuner, so I did.

Bottom line: The Alchemy is a good product, but it may need some refinement from its maker — and a steeper learning curve for users like me — before it qualifies as great. But if all you want or need to do is record and/or view TV at your desk, it’s a tremendous bargain. Details can be found online at www.miglia.com/index.html.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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