DVRs, such as the ubiquitous TiVo and even those nameless boxes that many cable companies provide, have changed the way we record and watch TV. While they do a great job of time-shifting your favorite TV programs, DVRs either tether you to your TV or require extracting and converting content for other uses. But with a Mac-based DVR and a little know-how, you can watch shows on your beautiful Apple Cinema Display or your laptop—or encode them and use iTunes to put them on your iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV.
Before getting started, you’ll need suitable hardware and software.
TV Tuning Device I recommend Elgato Systems’
EyeTV tuners for their simplicity and powerful hardware-software combination. Which one you choose will depend on how you plan to use it (for more hardware choices, see “Other TV Tuner Options”).
The newly released $200 EyeTV 250 Plus is a small white box that connects to your Mac’s USB 2.0 port. It has both composite and S-Video ports and can record analog NTSC television (the standard in North America) and free, over-the-air ATSC digital television. It includes a hardware encoder for digitizing content to MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 video, and it has a VHS Assistant for digitizing analog videotapes.
EyeTV Hybrid ( ) is a portable USB stick that can record the same analog and digital signals as the 250 Plus, but relies on the EyeTV software for encoding rather than using hardware.
EyeTV 2 Software Bundled with your Elgato hardware you’ll find a copy of the company’s
EyeTV 2 software ( ). It allows you to watch and record live television, organize channels through lists of favorites and playlists, schedule recordings, view program guides from within the applications, edit recorded programs, and export programs for playback on an iPod or Apple TV.
Roxio Toast Titanium If you’d like to burn your EyeTV recordings to disc—DVD, SVCD, or Video CD—you’ll need a copy of Roxio’s $100
Toast Titanium 8 ( ) or version 7. Installing Toast enables the EyeTV’s Export To Toast option, so you can send selected programs to Toast for burning.
Macintosh Elgato’s EyeTV 2 software requires a Mac with a PowerPC G4 or G5 or an Intel processor. For 720p or 1,080i HD video, you’ll need a dual-processor or dual-core PowerPC G5 or a dual-core Intel Mac. That Mac must be running OS X 10.4 or higher and must have at least 256MB of RAM (512MB is recommended).
Storage High-quality recordings can consume a lot of hard-drive space—a two-hour movie recorded on an EyeTV 250 at highest quality weighs in at nearly 4GB, for example.
Get the picture
Now that you have the necessary equipment, it’s time to route the TV signal to your Mac. After you plug the EyeTV into a free USB 2.0 port on your Mac, you need to connect an antenna, a TV cable, or an external video source to the EyeTV.
Connect It All For an antenna or unencrypted cable connection, you’ll string the coaxial cable between the antenna or cable and the EyeTV’s RF connector. For analog cable TV that comes through a cable decoder box, satellite TV receiver, or video source such as a VCR or DVD player, you have some choices. You’ll get the best signal from an S-Video connection. If your video source doesn’t include an S-Video port, choose the composite-video connector (the yellow plug). Connect an RCA cable to the two audio jacks on the EyeTV’s adapter cable (the red and white jacks). Note that while Elgato provides the adapter cable, it does not supply either an antenna or a coaxial, S-Video, composite-video, or RCA cable.
Set Up the Software Install the EyeTV 2 software from the included CD. On its first run, it brings up the EyeTV Setup Assistant to help you configure the software and hardware. During setup, the Assistant will ask for your country, the EyeTV model you’re using, and how you’ve connected the TV to the EyeTV hardware. In the United States, the software offers you the opportunity to create a free account with TitanTV, a Web site Elgato has partnered with to provide program listings to the EyeTV software.
When it comes time to choose how your EyeTV will get its TV signal, select the option either for antenna or cable TV, or for a cable or satellite receiver. With the first option, you’ll get an Auto-Tune TV Channels dialog box that will help you scan for your channels and add them to the EyeTV software.
With the second option, click on the Configure button when you get to the AV Inputs section. Then name your setup, choose the connection type (Composite or S-Video), click on the Change button to enter your zip code, and, from the Service pop-up menu at the bottom of the sheet, choose the service you use. I subscribe to Dish Network and receive local channels as part of the package, so I selected Dish Network With Local Channels. Click on OK to dismiss the sheet. The EyeTV software will now download the channels you receive.
Once the software has downloaded your channels, make sure to select Channels in the Categories pane of EyeTV 2’s main window. Then you should go through the list, deselecting channels you either don’t receive (such as premium channels you don’t subscribe to) or don’t plan to watch (the countless home-shopping channels, for instance). Channels you deselect no longer appear in the Program Guide, making it easier to find just the programs you want.
Within EyeTV 2’s Program Guide, not only will you find the day’s programming listed in a grid arrangement, but you’ll see a red target icon next to each program. Click on one of these icons and it changes to a red clock and adds the program to EyeTV 2’s Schedules area for recording. Alternatively, click on the title of the program to see a description. If you like what you see, click on the Add Schedule button to add the program to EyeTV 2’s Schedules pane (see “According to Schedule”).
For over-the-air (antenna) and unencrypted cable television, the EyeTV software will switch to the channel found in the schedule and record the program as directed. It records digital content exactly as encoded by the broadcaster, while you can set the quality for watching and recording analog programs in the Devices area of EyeTV 2’s Preferences. Higher-quality settings produce better-looking results but consume greater amounts of hard-disk space.
If you receive television through an encrypted cable box or satellite receiver, you face an obstacle. The EyeTV software is incapable of changing the channel on your cable box or satellite receiver without some additional help. For this, you’ll need a device called an IR (infrared) blaster. This small piece of hardware carries an infrared transmitter that you connect to a free USB port and place in front of your cable box’s or satellite receiver’s IR port. The blaster’s software tells it to send a signal through its IR LED to change the cable box’s or receiver’s channel. The latest EyeTV 2 software supports two IR blasters—IRTrans’
IRTrans USB Module (€99) and studioZee’s
For most people, the ZephIR software will be easier to configure, since the developer has created a wealth of preconfigured profiles for common cable boxes and satellite receivers. Just launch the software, choose Browser: New Component, click on WebztIR in the ZephIR window, select the cable box or receiver brand from the list on the right, and double-click on the specific model you have (see “ZephIR Setup”). Its name will appear in the list of devices in the window’s left pane.
Now move to the EyeTV software, select Channels from the Categories pane, and, from the Service pop-up menu, choose Configure Set Top Box. In the sheet that appears, provide the exact name that appears in the ZephIR software, select the connection your EyeTV hardware uses (Composite or S-Video, for example), enter your zip code, choose your service from the Service pop-up menu, and click on OK. When you change channels in the EyeTV software or create a schedule that requires a channel change, EyeTV 2 will send the channel-change instruction to the ZephIR software, which will then send the correct code to the IR blaster.
If the ZephIR software doesn’t have your receiver in its database, you’ll be better off with IRTrans’ iRed software, which learns codes from your cable box’s or receiver’s remote control. Simply run its Tuner Assistant to walk through the process of recording the remote’s commands. Save your settings with a unique name—Dish or Comcast, for example. Open iRed’s Preferences window, choose Notifications from the pop-up menu, enable the Listen For EyeTV Channel Change option, and click on Apply. For the best chance of success, configure OS X to launch your selected software at startup.
The iPod and Apple TV connection
Now that you’ve configured the EyeTV hardware and software to record programs at your bidding, the final step is to move those programs to your iPod or Apple TV. This couldn’t be easier. Find a program you’ve chosen to record in the Schedules area of the EyeTV software, click on the small downward-pointing arrow in the Export column next to that program, and choose iPod or Apple TV from the pop-up menu. When EyeTV finishes recording, it encodes the program and then exports it to iTunes (you can even choose a specific playlist). Once it’s in iTunes, you can sync it to your iPod or iPhone, or stream it to your Apple TV.
Note that such automatic exporting to iTunes doesn’t provide the opportunity to remove commercials or trim excess material from the beginning and end. If you want to edit your video before exporting, skip the previous step and click on the Recordings entry in EyeTV’s Categories pane. Select the recording you want to edit, choose View: Open Editor, mark the sections you want to delete, and choose Compact from the pop-up menu at the bottom of the window.
Compact Recorder: The EyeTV Hybrid is tiny but does the job.
EyeTV: Configuration The EyeTV software needs to know how you’ve connected the EyeTV hardware, as well as which TV service you use.
ZephIR Setup: The ZephIR software includes profiles for common cable boxes and satellite receivers.
According to Schedule: View information about a program and, if you like, schedule it for recording.
Other TV tuner options
If you’re interested in something more than the two EyeTV tuner options already mentioned, there are other ways to view and record TV on your Mac. Elgato recently announced a bundle that includes SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun device and two copies of the EyeTV software. The $199 all-digital hardware includes ClearQAM and ATSC tuners, with dual-tuner support, and lets you enjoy different programs simultaneously on two Macs on your network.
Although Elgato bundles its hardware and software together, the EyeTV software works with several other vendors’ TV digitizers as well. Many models by Miglia, Pinnacle, Plextor, Terratec, and Twinhan include or work with the EyeTV software; if your model doesn’t provide the software, you can purchase the latest version of the program for $50. (This applies to users of older Elgato hardware as well.)
Elgato no longer supplies EyeTV software with devices from
Miglia, though the software still works with Miglia’s hardware. And Miglia has begun including its new software, called The Tube, with its TVMicro Express and TVMini HD+ products.
Speed up your encoding
Exporting programs from EyeTV 2 to an iPod- or Apple TV-friendly H.264 format can be slow going—particularly on pokier computers such as the Mac mini. If you’d rather spend your time watching programs than watching your Mac churn away for most of the day converting a two-hour movie, consider Elgato’s $100 turbo.264.
This USB 2.0 hardware-encoding device can make converting videos a less painful process. For example, it took my 1.67GHz Intel Core Duo Mac mini all night and much of the morning to export Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, captured from HBO, for my Apple TV. With the Turbo.264 connected, the same job took just over two hours.
And it works with unencrypted DVDs as well as QuickTime-based applications such as iMovie and Final Cut Pro, so you can use it even without the EyeTV hardware or software.
[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, second edition , and The iPhone Pocket Guide (Peachpit Press, 2007). ]