If you want to watch free TV on your Mac, we’ve looked at the best TV tuner for Mac in 2018 and 2017 which can receive analog or digital free-to-air TV channels. Although streaming sites such as Hulu, Netflix, iTunes and Amazon video have become the dominant way to stream video content on Mac, using a TV tuner is still the only way to pick up free-to-air and over-the-air (OTA) ATSC TV channels in the USA and digital TV DVT-B digital channels in Europe. With a TV tuner, you don’t need any expensive cable, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon subscriptions – you can receive all the same free TV channels you get on a TV on your Mac.
Most TV tuners are more than just receivers nowadays – they allow you to record, edit and share digital or analog TV channels with intelligent Electronic Programming Guides (EPGs) and provide almost all the benefits of TiVo or cable services. Some TV Tuners even come with remote controls and if you connect your Mac to a sound system, you can create a low-cost home entertainment system without even having to buy a TV or subscribe to anything. However, the market for TV tuners on Mac has changed significantly over the past few years and it can be confusing which still work on Mac and which countries they support. Here then we take a closer look at the best TV Tuners for Mac OS X and macOS.
TV Tuners For Mac: Essential Tips
Long gone are the days when there were lots of TV Tuners for Mac available. In 2018, the market for TV Tuners is now considerably reduced as less users choose to watch TV channels on their Mac, preferring instead to stream movies and TV series from services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime instead. However being able to watch TV on Mac is a great way to bring your iTunes and TV recordings collection closer together and avoids the expense of expensive cable subscriptions or even the cost of buying a TV if you’re limited in space or budget.
To complicate things further, the TV tuner market has become more complex over the past few years with different broadcasting technologies emerging, TV tuners being restricted to specific countries and regions and industry leader ElGato dropping support for TV tuners.
Here then are some important things to consider to avoid disappointment when choosing a TV tuner for your Mac.
- You will find there are many TV tuners out there but the vast majority designed for Windows PCs and will not run on Macintosh. Beware of sites that recommend TV tuners to Mac users that don’t actually work natively on OS X. The only way to make a PC TV Tuner work on Mac is to run Windows on Mac but this doesn’t always work and is an expensive and complicated solution.
- For a TV tuner to work on Mac, you’ll need to connect the device to your coax source i.e. a simple TV antenna or aerial cable, a digital cable or a satellite dish cable. Make sure that the receiver you buy supports the cable type you want to connect to. Older TV antennas attach to your roof will only receive analog channels but nowadays most TV channels require a digital aerial to pick up digital free-to-air TV channels. In fact in some countries such as the UK, analogue TV signals have been switched off completely. The terminology surrounding digital broadcasting can be very confusing but in Europe, free-to-air digital TV is known as DVB-T, DVB-T2, DVB-C, DTT or Freeview depending on the country so make sure the TV tuner you buy supports these. Note that DVB-T2 is the second generation of digital TV based on the MPEG-4 format and mainly available in European countries such as France, UK, Italy and Poland. In the USA, digital TV uses the ATSC standard (Advanced Television Systems Committee) and digital TV is usually simply known as Digital TV (DTV). It’s essential to make sure that the tuner you buy supports the digital broadcasting standards used in your country.
- The best TV Tuners for Mac allow you to watch, record, edit and even time-shift TV programs. This makes them a cheaper alternative to TiVo or a DVR box with the advantage that they are free of subscriptions. Some such as the Silicon Dust HDHomeRun will even allow you to record and instantly export TV shows in a format you can watch on mobile devices such as iPad, iPhone and other tablets. Most manufacturers charge a bit extra for Electronic Programming Guides (EPR) Personal Video Recorder (PVR) and DVR functionality and most also have apps to integrate them with other devices such as Apple TV and Amazon Fire Stick.
- If you want high quality video, then you’ll need an HD or HDTV TV tuner on your Mac. Almost all TV Tuners nowadays support HD but bear in mind that you’ll need a fairly new Mac with Intel Dual Core or Core Duo processors in order to process HD video properly. There are also hybrid tuners such as the ElGato EyeTV Hybrid (Europe only – no longer available in the US) which support both Standard Definition (SD) and High Definition (HD) TV so if your Mac can’t handle HD, you can still watch TV in standard quality. You’ll also need to make sure that your Mac has at least USB 2.0 ports or higher to handle HD video although all Macs made within at least the past 5 years have USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 ports. Check this article for more on the often bewildering world of connection ports and types on Mac. As a rule of thumb, the better the Mac, the better picture and sound quality you’re going to enjoy from your TV Tuner. The ideal setup for Mac users is to use a Mac Mini as your media center to handle all recordings as the only problem with using a Macbook or iMac is that your hard disk will soon get full with recordings especially if they’re in HD. However, you can also transfer recordings to an external hard drive on your Mac to avoid this problem. Most TV tuners allow you to record directly to an external storage solution too.
- Be careful what type of TV tuner you buy. If you’re in the USA, you’ll need an NTSC-ATSC TV Tuner to pick up free-to-air analogue or digital TV channels. If you’re outside the USA, you’ll need Tuner that supports DVB-T, DVB-T2, DVB-C or DTT. Note that DVB/DTT Tuners will not work in the USA and NTSC-ATSC tuners will not work outside the USA.
- If you want to be able to watch and record from analogue sources such as VHS players, DVD players or anything else with an S-Video or RCA Composite Analogue source, you’ll need to make sure the TV tuner has an analogue connector.
- For the best sound quality, look for TV tuners that at least support Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. Even better, if it’s got a digital optical output, you’ll get the best sound possible.
- If the digital reception is poor in your area, you may also find that your TV tuner cannot pick up channels without adding an extended digital aerial adding to your roof or home. If you live in an apartment block, this could be an issue if you require permission from other residents or housing association.
- You should check which digital channels are available in your area so that you know exactly what you’re going to get on your TV tuner. In the USA, you can check AntennaWeb to check what channels are available in your region. In Canada, check TVFool, in the UK Digital TV, Australia MySwitch, NewZealand Freeview NZ, Denmark Digi TV and France TVNT.
- Finally, if you live in a country when you have to pay a TV license for certain channels, be aware that using a TV Tuner is considered the same as having a TV. So for example, in the UK you must still pay for a TV License if you use a TV Tuner on Mac to watch channels.
The Top TV Tuners For Mac
With these things in mind, here then are the best TV Tuners for Mac. The reality is that in 2018, the market has reduced so much that there are only two TV tuners that work well on Mac anymore – ElGato EyeTV and Silicon Dust HDHomeRun. Unfortunately, the situation is even worse for US users because ElGato EyeTV is no longer officially available in the USA (although you can still get them via resellers).
Here we take a closer look at them both.
Silicon Dust has rapidly filled the vacuum left by Elgato EyeTv Hybrid in the USA (see review below) and is now easily the best alternative to ElGato EyeTV for Mac users in North America. Even in Europe and other regions, Silicon Dust HDHomeRun now poses a serious alternative to ElGato EyeTV. Silicon Dust HDHomeRun is different from a traditional USB TV tuner like ElGato EyeTV because it’s a box that sits in the middle of your home and streams TV content to all devices including Mac via DLNA. In some ways this is better than having a USB TV tuner sticking out of the side of your Mac that has to be connected to a cable. You can just connect your cable or digital aerial to the box and put it anywhere you want in your home. The wireless nature of Silicon Dust HDHomeRun is why Silicon Dust call it’s users “cord cutters” for those receiving TV via Antenna and “cord shavers” for those that receive TV via cable as it requires far few cables than most TV Tuner setups to distribute TV to any device in your home. There’s no need for an extra box or extra subscriptions – as long as your Playstation, SmartTV is a DLNA device, it can receive channels from Silicon Dust HDHomeRun which makes it a very cost-effective home entertainment setup for your Mac. You can even pause a show on one device, and restart watching it on another which is really useful if you want to continue watching a show on the iPad or TV in the bedroom for example.
Like Elgato EyeTV, Silicon Dust HDHomeRun has an easy to use Electronic Programming Guide called “Slice View” and allows you to set series and individual programs to record to an external drive or Network Attached Storage (NAS). Slice View is free but if you want to be able to pause, rewind and record with the DVR service, it costs an extra $35 per year. You can also record programs remotely if your away from your Mac using the Silicon Dust HDHomeRun DVR mobile app. There are even apps for devices such as Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV so that you can make your Silicon Dust box record from it. Managing recordings is really easy on the Silicon Dust HDHomeRun and arguably better and more intuitive to use than ElGato EyeTV. However we strongly recommend using a large capacity external hard drive along with your Silicon Dust Box otherwise your Mac hard drive will get full very quickly, especially if you’re recording in HD. Check our guide to the best external drive for Mac for some suggestions.
Like with ElGato EyeTV Hybrid, you have to be careful that you buy the right Silicon Dust HDHomeRun box for your region. You must purchase separate boxes depending on your region including USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
Another bonus is that you can also use Plex Media Server with a Silicon Dust box. Plex is a free home entertainment software that keeps all of your video and media in one place and is popular with users that want an alternative to iTunes or want to stream from other devices such as Roku to Mac.
There are three different versions of Silicon Dust HDHomeRun – Connect, Extend and Prime and pricing depends on what kind of channels you want to receive. You can see a comparison of the different services available below but basically Prime is for those with a US cable subscription and Connect for free-to-air digital channels in the USA and Europe. Extend is the same as Connect with the additional possibility to stream video wirelessly in a format that can be watched on phones and tablets. This is definitely worth the money as it takes a lot of your Mac’s processing power to convert to a mobile friendly format.
There are some slight drawbacks to using Silicon Dust boxes on Mac rather than PC. One of the biggest disadvantages is that DRM protected content is not available on Mac using Silicon Dust boxes. It also can’t be used to connect to satellite dishes or services. However, it’s still our favorite device to receive and watch free TV on Mac.
Elgato EyeTV Hybrid is easily the most established TV Tuner for Mac on the market although since 2016, ElGato has stopped making TV Tuners for the US market. ElGato EyeTV Hybrid is therefore no longer officially available in the USA and the product has been sold to German company Geniatech which now focuses EyeTV on the European market. For European users therefore, ElGato EyeTV Hybrid is still a valid option. US users can still get older ElGato EyeTV Hybrid Tuners via resellers on Amazon that still work in the USA but as they are increasingly hard to find, they are expensive currently selling for anything up to around $500. However, it’s still one of the only decent TV Tuners for Mac on the market and if you’re serious about a home entertainment solution without on-going expensive subscription fees, it’s still worth looking into, especially if you can get one cheaper.
The US version of ElGato EyeTV can receive analogue, digital and satellite channels although the European version no longer supports analogue. In Europe, the EyeTV 3 DVR software costs an extra €79.95 and allows you to watch, pause and rewind live TV, schedule recordings, edit content and share content instantly with other Mac users on the same network. However, it seems this software is no longer available to users in the USA meaning you can’t enjoy one of EyeTVs best features unless you’re in Europe.
The EyeTV 3 software gives a very TiVo like experience but in a familiar iTunes style interface with added touches such as Smart Series Guides, Playlists and the ability to view content on the iPhone. It definitely feels a bit dated compared to a TiVo EPR or the one included in Silicon Dust HDHomeRun though. One thing that shows extra consideration for Mac users is that Elgato EyeTV Hybrid exports recordings directly to iTunes making it easier to keep all your digital recordings in one place. This makes it very easy for example to record your favorite TV series on your Mac and then watch it on your iPad in iTunes via iCloud – something that costs a bit extra with Silicon Dust HDHomeRun.
There are some big drawbacks to ElGato EyeTV Hybrid however. The biggest for North American users is obviously the fact that it’s now very hard to get hold of and no longer supported by ElGato. For European users, there are also some issues to be aware of. For example, ElGato EyeTV Hybrid it is not compatible in Europe with analogue TV signals, Freeview HD, and encrypted channels. There are also specific DVB-T2 incompatibility issues including lack of support for certain DVB-T2 formats such as DVB-T2 HEVC and DVB-T2 h.264 in Austria (although other DVB-T2 h.264 broadcasting countries are supported). One other thing we’ve found is that the ElGato EyeTv Hybrid USB stick tends to get quite hot during operation although it doesn’t seem to affect the quality of the video. There were however some stability issues after prolonged use which required force quitting the EyeTV software in order to get it working again. You can also only record the channel you are watching – previous editions of ElGato EyeTV supported both analogue and digital which meant you could record one channel in analogue while watching another channel in digital but that’s no longer the case.
If you want closer integration between your iTunes collection and DVR and want a cheap alternative to TiVo on Mac, ElGato EyeTV for Mac is still the best out there – at least for European users but no longer in the US unfortunately.
SlingBox isn’t strictly a TV Tuner but it does allow you to watch TV channels on your Mac although the device has gone downhill somewhat and should be considered a last resort to watch TV on Mac. Slingbox is a simple device which attaches to your receiving device – such as your cable provider or satellite box – and allows you to “sling” the channels it receives to your Mac and other mobile devices anywhere in the world. You can even control your DVR remotely sing Slingbox meaning you can watch your home TV channels anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the internet.
The drawback is that you obviously need either a cable box from your cable provider or a satellite box to receive channels in the first place. Slingbox then connects to these either by an Ethernet cable or a WiFi connection which it then uses to sling the channels anywhere you want. To watch Slingbox on your Mac, once your Slingbox is connected, you simply go to watch.slingbox.com and you can start watching channels immediately on your Mac. In older versions of the Slingbox M1 and M2 there was a Mac desktop app but that has now been discontinued and no longer needed. The Slingbox 500 is now the company’s main product and retails for around $299 although you can usually get it discounted either new or refurbished on Amazon.
Unfortunately, Slingbox isn’t quite the product it used to be. Although it claims to be easy to setup, there are often problems and there seems to be no support. In addition, the company has now started injecting ads into the programs that it slings to your Mac which is extremely annoying, especially if you’ve already paid a few hundred dollars for the device. However, as a last resort, if nothing else has worked for you, it is a way to watch TV channels on your Mac.
As we’ve seen, traditional TV tuners have become virtually obsolete on Mac. The death of ElGato EyeTV in the USA was a big blow for North American users although it’s still a very good option for Mac users in Europe. However, although not a USB TV Tuner in the traditional sense, Silicon Dust HDHomeRun is easily the best solution for watching TV channels on your Mac for users on both sides of the pond. It’s easy to use, is still widely available in the USA, Europe and other parts of the world. Slingbox remains a last resort and seems to be another TV viewing solution on Mac that’s dying a death.
We hope this article has helped you find a way to watch TV on your Mac but if you have any questions, problems or experiences with the products featured here, let us know in the comments below. If you’re already a Roku user, you may also find our article on how to stream from Mac to Roku useful too. If you’ve been frustrated by problems using Netflix on Mac, also check our guide on how to fix Netflix streaming issues on Mac.