Using My Mac as a DVR

I currently use a digital video recorder, a Cisco CHS 435 DVR that is provided by Verizon as part of their FiOS TV package. Via Verizon’s ActionTEC Wi-Fi router and their Multi-Room DVR capability I can stream the DVR’s recordings to either of the two Cisco CHS 335 set-top boxes (STBs) in my home, which lack the ability to record.

But there’s a big problem, from my point of view. For as yet unresolved reasons, the Cisco CHS 435 keeps losing audio on channel 426, the HD feed of channel WETA-26. That’s a PBS affiliate from Washington, DC, whose programming is among my favorites. Too many of my ch. 526 recordings on the CHS 435 turn out to have no audio — when played on the DVR itself, that is. When played on one of the STBs, they usually do have sound. No one at Verizon seems to be able to explain, or fix, this anomaly.

In lieu of a self-contained DVR that has weird issues, I’ve recently learned that I could combine a Mac computer such as an Apple Mac Mini ($599; $568.99 at Amazon) with a clever product from Elgato Systems, the EyeTV HD ($199.95; $178.99 at Amazon):

The combination would let me record programs from a Verizon set-top box to the Mac.

For me, however, a Mac Mini is a “someday” solution. Luckily, the diminutive Elgato EyeTV HD works with any Mac, not just the Mini. Its 4.9” x 4.9” x 1.6” dimensions are small enough that I could easily palm it. It would be able to summon up HD or SD channels on any Verizon FiOS STB and forward programs for storage on either of my two current Macs (sorry, no Windows compatibility). Recordings could then be exported in formats that could be:

The EyeTV HD uses a component-video hookup to take in the video output from the STB, and a stereo audio connection for the sound. It does not use HDMI and does not support 5.1-channel digital audio. It can capture in high-definition even copy-protected HD programs from premium cable channels.

The EyeTV HD controls the STB with an IR (infrared) blaster that tells the STB to tune to any given channel at any given time. (This unfortunately limits EyeTV to recording one channel at a time. The Cisco CHS 435, like most DVRs, can record two channels at a time.)

The EyeTV HD’s EyeTV 3 software, running on the connected Mac, uses a TV Guide-provided program guide that would allow me to find out what’s coming on and set up recordings in advance.


This connection diagram from Elgato shows what I’m after:

It shows an iMac at top. I have an “early 2008” model of iMac. I also have a more recent MacBook Pro laptop.


More about the Mini

At some point, as I say, I might possibly buy that “someday” Mac Mini ...

… which, rather than living in my computer room, would connect directly to my bedroom or living room HDTV via HDMI.


Notice that the EyeTV HD connects to a Mini (or other Mac) via mini-USB-to-USB cable. The tiny EyeTV HD’s straightforward back panel ...

… has no power connector, and its USB 2.0 connection is bus-powered. The USB video/audio output from the EyeTV HD is converted (I’m not sure whether this is done entirely in the EyeTV or partly on the Mac) from analog to digital form, and can optionally wind up being exported in the compact h.264 format. The result can be — in addition to the original recording — two exported files in two different resolutions: HD (for high-resolution devices and HDTV screens) and SD (for iPhones/iPods).

Add-ons: The “someday” Mac Mini would require a separate Bluetooth wireless keyboard ($69) and, in lieu of a mouse, a Magic Trackpad ($69). If I used the EyeTV with my existing iMac, I could continue to use its wireless keyboard and mouse.

Wi-Fi Networking: The Mini, like most recent Mac models, supports 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless networking, so iTunes library videos and other content could be shared with other Wi-Fi devices such as Apple TVs and iOS handhelds (iPads, iPhones, iPods).

Plex: The Mini or any other Mac could also run Plex, a free client app for Mac OS X. Plex Media Center (the app’s full name, PMC for short) depends on another free Mac-based app, Plex Media Server (PMS). Both apps can be downloaded here. A Plex client (free) also runs on my Roku LT streaming player from Roku, and another Plex client ($4.99) runs on my iPad. Plex clients can play movies, TV shows, music, and other Mac-based content registered with PMS, as long as the content is not DRM-protected, à la videos from Apple’s iTunes Store. (Those can be played either directly by iTunes on the Mac or via my Apple TVs and iOS devices.) Plex clients can also stream various video and audio sources direct from the Internet.

I am now running PMS and PMC on my MacBook Pro, not (as yet) my iMac.

There’s also a Plex client for the Apple TV, but I haven’t checked it out yet.


¡Hasta la vista, TiVo dependency!

One of the reasons why I’d like to turn my Mac into a DVR is that I’ve pretty much had it with TiVo DVRs.

Over the years I’ve put TiVos in on each of the three levels in my town house. The first was a TiVo Series3, the first model to support HD programming and the CableCARD decoders needed to make them compatible with all cable channels. The Series3 was installed in my upstairs bedroom in 2006, and it’s still running just fine.

Since then I’ve purchased two TiVo HD units for use on two other floors in my house, and both have quit on me due to bad power supplies or failed internal hard drives — it’s hard to tell which. I replaced one of those two TiVo HD units with an updated model, the TiVo Premiere, in mid-2010, and its power supply proceeded to go up in January 2012 — after it was out of warranty, of course. I exchanged it (gullibly sending in some extra money) for a refurbished Premiere, and its power supply has gone bye-bye just recently. I now have yet another replacement Premiere in my living room, and who knows how long it will last?

All told, I’ve spent over $3,200 on TiVo boxes, TiVo service agreements, TiVo network adapters, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera over the past nearly six years. Some of my defunct TiVo boxes support expensive (and now useless) lifetime service plans. I admit that I haven’t been the shrewdest shopper with respect to some of these things. In my defense, though, how was I to know that a TiVo’s “lifetime” might be measured in a few short years or even months?

The two TiVos I now have running can share recordings with each other over my home Wi-Fi network, but only by making remote copies, not by streaming. I call it “pseudo-streaming.” Premium channels’ DRM-protected programming won’t pseudo-stream. I could replace my Series3 with a Premiere or the more recent Premiere XL and get true Premiere-to-Premiere streaming even of DRM-protected material. But I’m not about to trust yet again in the longevity of any TiVo in current production.

TiVos lack built-in wireless communication, by the way, so you have to buy a pricey external network adapter to add Wi-Fi capability to them. Everything else on the market has internal Wi-Fi these days.

TiVos allow you to attach an external drive to increase their limited internal storage capacity for space-hogging HD (or more compact SD) programs. But only one kind of hard drive works, the 1TB Western Digital My Book AV DVR Expander. (In an example of “reverse evolution,” TiVo no longer supports generic USB drives such as the one attached to my Series3.) My experience is that it can be very hard for non-geeks to get the expansion drive properly “married” to the TiVo. But TiVo boxes are unable to reformat the “fat” MPEG-2 digital programs as “skinny” H.264 versions, the way the EyeTV can, so external storage is a must for many users.

TiVo boxes’ not-so-venerable user interface is downright clunky by today’s standards. The UI received an overhaul at its upper levels when the Premiere was introduced in 2010, with promises to complete the job rapidly. That hasn’t happened. You still have to drill down into a poorly laid out, uncoordinated, old-fashioned, confusing menu hierarchy to locate, for example, Netflix or YouTube. It’s also extremely hard for the uninitiated to navigate to the correct screen that gives the parameters needed for the cable company to get CableCARDs activated and paired.

Oh, and the remote that came with my Premiere likes not to register key presses, or else to send the same key twice. The all-important Select key is the worst offender.

So, I’ll keep using the TiVos I have, but I’m unlikely to buy another one.


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 1 — Planning the Connections

To get started, I’ve ordered EyeTV HD from Amazon for $178.99 with free Amazon Prime shipping. I’ll use it with one of my existing Macs: hopefully, my iMac.

I’ll get another Cisco CHS 335 STB from the Verizon Store and place it on the desk in my computer room. I’ll take the signal cable that currently feeds the ActionTEC router that is supplied by Verizon and use a two-way splitter …

… and two coaxial patch cables …

… to allow it to feed both the router and the EyeTV hardware.

The EyeTV hardware and software allow watching live TV directly on the iMac, so I won’t need to use an actual HDTV to serve as the EyeTV’s monitor screen.

I might connect the EyeTV to my MacBook Pro instead, if my old iMac turns out to be too slow.


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 2 — Ordering a Memory Upgrade for my iMac

I have the Cisco CHS 335 set-top box on my desk, ready to go. I just took the EyeTV HD box out of Amazon’s shipping carton, and then I read the info on the box carefully. It seems I have to have 2GB of RAM in my Mac for EyeTV HD software to work!

But my iMac, a 20-inch “Early 2008” model, has only 1GB.

I can add memory myself, using instructions here. The only tool I’ll need is a Phillips screwdriver.

At Newegg.com I have just ordered Kingston 2GB DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Memory For Apple iMac, a 2GB DIMM module that works with my “early 2008” iMac model, for $33.99 plus $5.99 for UPS guaranteed 3-day shipping, for a total of $39.98.

Meanwhile, I’ll plan to try out EyeTV HD on my MacBook Pro, which meets all the system requirements, but which lacks external storage and which I don’t want to tie down permanently to EyeTV.


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 3 — Making the STB Connections & Installing the Software

I have just hooked the EyeTV, the STB, and the MacBook together. I used the component video cable and the stereo audio cable supplied with the EyeTV to connect the STB to the EyeTV. I ran the supplied IR blaster cable from the EyeTV to the front of the STB. The EyeTV-supplied mini-USB to USB 2.0 cable that I used to connect the EyeTV to the MacBook is a shorty and will probably have to be replaced. (Later, I found a USB extension cable in one of my desk drawers and deployed it.)

The STB took a lot of time, after being powered on, before it started responding as expected to its remote: changing channels, mainly, since I can’t yet do much else without a connected TV.

The split cable feed to the router and the STB seems to be working. I can go online from my iMac, proving that one patch cable works, and the STB can (after a lengthy delay) switch channels properly at the behest of its associated remote, indicating that the other patch cable also works.

I’m now copying the 221 MB EyeTV app from the EyeTV installation CD to my MacBook’s Applications folder, and also a Documentation & Extras folder from the CD to my Desktop. The copying process is taking a long time.


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 4 — Using EyeTV Setup Assistant

The next step is to open the EyeTV application (which requires password authentication the first time it is run). Launching it brings up the EyeTV Setup Assistant (SA) to:

Gratifyingly, at this point a second EyeTV window opened on my MacBook screen displaying the currently selected channel on the STB, with picture and sound! Also opening was EyeTV’s on-screen remote controller.

I continued in Setup Assistant to:

Next, SA had me do Set Top Box Configuration:

Next came:

I then had to run a test to make sure the STB works with the IR remote. To do this, I had to power off the STB, then click the Begin Test button in the Setup Assistant window.

At first, no dice. I then slid the IR blaster several inches over to the right and tried again. The STB power came back on right away this time — whew! — and I clicked the SA’s Yes, it turned on button.

Next came:

Next came:

That was the end of the SA interaction. The MacBook informed me that I now had to type in an administrator password in order to install “a component of the EyeTV software.”

An EyeTV Programs window now opened, in addition to the window displaying the current live TV channel. The former is not unlike the main iTunes window. In addition to managing the recordings I make, it lets me do such things as list the channels I receive and identify those that are my favorites.


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 5 — A “Soft” Closed Captioning Problem

I’m watching live TV on my MacBook! It works!

However, there seems to be a problem with Closed Captioning, which I use since I’m partially deaf.

The EyeTV 3 software, according to its User Guide PDF, supposedly can show Closed Captioning or turn it off. CC on channels CC1 through CC4 can ostensibly be selected to be shown … except that telling EyeTV to show CC does nothing.

I can use the STB remote to have the STB superimpose CC on the picture it outputs to EyeTV, and that puts CC on my screen. But it makes for “hard” captions that can’t be turned on and off at the user’s discretion when playing a previously made EyeTV recording.

I’m wondering whether the problem isn’t that “soft” CC is stripped out of the signal sent out by the STB across component video. CC is normally encoded in the vertical blanking interval for standard TV broadcasts, I believe. Obviously, it’s there when the STB receives the broadcast as a cablecast, but is it still there when the STB outputs the analog video signal on component video?

Apparently not.


The “Soft” CC Problem Explained

Whoops! I’ve found an Elgato support document here that says:

EyeTV HD is unable to read Closed Captions from the video signal.

To view Closed Captions with EyeTV HD, please enable Closed Captions via the settings of your cable box or satellite receiver.

Note that the Closed Captions displayed by your cable box or satellite receiver will be recorded on top of the video signal, and cannot be turned off within EyeTV.  

Recordings from your cable box or satellite receiver that are showing Closed Captions will always show Closed Captions, even after you export them to other formats.

Other EyeTV products apparently do handle “soft” CC properly:

If you need a product that can fully use Closed Captions, then please consider EyeTV 250 Plus, EyeTV Hybrid or EyeTV One.

These products can read and display Closed Captions information present in the video signal, via the Closed Captions command in the View menu of EyeTV.  EyeTV can turn Closed Captions display on or off, at your whim.

Exports to iPod, iPad, iPhone and Apple TV will have Closed Captions that can be shown or hidden.

OK, but those other products seem not to support HD programming!. I’m thinking that the EyeTV’s support for HD, via component video, is perhaps the reason why CC doesn’t work. The EyeTV Hybrid (the EyeTV 250 Plus and EyeTV One seem to be previous-generation products that are no longer sold) definitely does not do HD, and does not use component video for input. It uses the direct coaxial signal feed instead.

The inability of the EyeTV HD to handle CC flexibly is definitely a disappointment to me, but it’s not a deal breaker. Really I should have anticipated the problem, since at one time I think I knew that component video (as well as HDMI, I believe) fails to transmit “soft” CC.

(It’s possible that if I switched from component to S-Video input from the STB to the EyeTV, “soft” CC would start working. But that would sacrifice the ability to record HD, so, no, I won’t try it at this point.)


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 6 — Using EyeTV on My iPad

The iPad EyeTV app costs $4.99 at the App Store. I obtained it and installed it. It works without issue, as long as I know I have to open EyeTV Preferences: iPhone on the MacBook and check Enable access from EyeTV for iPhone/iPad.

The EyeTV iPad app is cool. It even allows me to change channels on the fly, and to schedule recordings! If I had any saved recordings at this point, it would let me select among them and play them on the iPad.

I also checked Use My EyeTV in order that “Elgato’s free My Eye TV service … can find your Mac running EyeTV when you are on the road.”

I then found that (to my surprise) turning off Wi-Fi on my iPad and relying on 3G connectivity, as if I were on the road, did not work.

No 3G!: Turning off Use My EyeTV didn’t help with 3G connectivity. When I tried to change channels, after a lengthy delay I saw “Could not connect to EyeTV to change channels.”

(While rooting around in EyeTV Preferences on the MacBook for a possible solution, I discovered in More Options under EyeTV Preferences: iPhone that I could select Prepare all new recordings for iPhone/iPad … as opposed to just for iPhone or just for iPad. I believe this has to do with the fact that all EyeTV recordings are “prepared” in advance to be exported as H.264 files. The question is: for what device(s)? This setting answers that question.)

I noticed that selecting Use My EyeTV provokes a test of my MY EyeTV account, which after several seconds shows My EyeTV: Working properly ... so 3G connectivity and My EyeTV connectivity seem to be two separate issues.

Following some teeth-gnashing, I realized — after perusing this Elgato support document, “How do I use My EyeTV with the iPhone?” — that, after Wi-Fi has been turned off on the iPad, I needed to go back out to the outermost level of the EyeTV iPad app and select Edit, so that I could add a second EyeTV source to the EyeTV iPad app sources list. No matter that it’s actually the same source, “Eric Stewart’s MacBook Pro.” With Wi-Fi off when I add the second source, the iPad app knows to ask me for my My EyeTV e-mail address and password. It then creates the necessary link, using 3G, from My EyeTV online to EyeTV on the MacBook. And that link now appears to work just fine!


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 7 — Using the EyeTV Programs Window

In my first use of the main EyeTV Programs window, I tried doing things like:

It went smoothly … until the EyeTV application on the MacBook displayed a weird error dialog, froze, and had to undergo a Force Quit. After that, the EyeTV application seemed to lose my TV Guide information and experienced numerous other anomalies. To recover, I had to re-run Setup Assistant, re-identify my cable provider, etc. What a mess!

I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but I believe the EyeTV application lost track of its .plist (parameter list) file. Running SA again gave it a new .plist file.

The crash also apparently invalidated several recording sessions I had already manually set up in advance. The first of these failed to be initiated at the proper time, so I deleted and re-specified them all. After that, the newly set up recordings were properly accomplished.


About Recordings and Exports

I was able to ascertain that EyeTV recordings are by default placed in the:

/Users/Eric/Documents/EyeTV Archive

folder. That default folder location can be changed in EyeTV Preferences: Recording: “EyeTV Archive” Location.

If you do nothing more than schedule a recording manually, that’s just what you will get — a “recording.” You can then, later on, look under EyeTV Programs: Library: Recordings to locate it, select it, and “export” it. When you select a recording, you will find two buttons at the top of the EyeTV Programs window that initiate exporting: one is labeled iPod or iPhone, and the other is labeled iPad or Apple TV or Apple TV HD.

You can also select Edit Schedule … on any individual program previously scheduled to be recorded, and then choose to have it automatically exported in either of the two formats designated in EyeTV Preferences: General, i.e., iPhone/iPod, or iPad/Apple TV/Apple TV HD.

You can also designate which of your previously established playlists in EyeTV the recorded version — as opposed to any subsequently exported version — will automatically be added to. Apparently, the exported version is always added to the iTunes library and put in an iTunes playlist called “EyeTV”.

This is all somewhat confusing to me, as in EyeTV Preferences: Devices: Encoding there is a pop-up menu for Quality that allows the choices Good, Better, Best ... and iPad. There is an associated Also create iPhone quality video check box. Do these settings affect only the recorded version, than, and not the exported version?

Yet More About Recordings

In the /Users/Eric/Documents/EyeTV Archive folder, following the recording of PBS NewsHour, there appeared the file PBS NewsHour.eyetv. It occupies 6.06 GB of space. Show Info in Finder even shows a Preview image for the file.

This folder also contains (for example) Bells Are Ringing.eyetvsched, 63.7 MB, anticipating an upcoming recording that has yet to be made. Also, the folder contains Live TV Buffer.eyetv, whose purpose is given by its name.

If I do a Finder search on PBS NewsHour, it comes up with the aforementioned PBS NewsHour.eyetv file and also PBS NewsHour.m4v, whose Finder icon — I am using Mac OS X 10.7.3 “Lion” — allows itself to be played/paused by a trackpad tap. That file was exported by EyeTV and resides in the folder:

/Users/Eric/Movies

I don’t yet see a straightforward way to learn the original recording’s aspect ratio, but I tricked SnapZ Pro X into revealing it to be the same 960x540 pixels when viewed at original size. This aspect ratio was probably the result of using EyeTV Preferences: Devices: Encoding: iPad. Later, I’ll change that to EyeTV Preferences: Devices: Encoding: Best and see what happens. (I can’t make that change right now, as a recording is in progress.)

In viewing the recording (not the exported version!)  of PBS NewsHour in my iPad’s EyeTV app — where it plays fine — I see Quality: iPad under the Watch Now button on the iPad screen.


Exporting Recordings & Using Them in iTunes

If I go into iTunes and select its EyeTV playlist, PBS NewsHour is shown there, along with another recording I have just made and exported, Sullivan’s Travels. (The latter is actually a movie from Turner Classic Movies, so in iTunes Get Info: Options I checked to make sure it was shown as Media Kind: Movie, and it was! And PBS NewsHour was correctly shown as Media Kind: TV Show.)

In iTunes Get Info: Summary, PBS NewsHour is shown as an MPEG-4 video with file size 2.15 GB. That’s about ⅓ the size of the original recording. The video dimensions (aspect ratio) in pixels are halved from the original cablecast’s 1920x1080, to 960x540. The total bit rate is 4832 kbps. The video codec is H.264.

If I choose Show in Finder for PBS NewsHour in iTunes, I see the file

/Users/Eric/Movies/PBS NewsHour.m4v

but there is no separate file containing a separate lower-resolution version for iPhone. I thought there would be, but no. So I went to the EyeTV Programs: Library: Recordings panel in the Mac EyeTV application and, in the array of icons across the top, clicked on iPhone. That caused an Exporting progress bar to appear fleetingly for PBS NewsHour. Then

/Users/Eric/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/TV Shows/PBS NewsHour.m4v

appeared on my MacBook, and a second PBS NewsHour appeared in the iTunes EyeTV playlist. iTunes Get Info: Summary showed it to be an MPEG-4 video file with size 622.6 MB. The aspect ratio (i.e., video dimension) in pixels is 640x360. The total bit rate is 1368 kbps. The video codec is H.264.

I’m not sure why the iPhone export didn’t happen automatically, as the Apple TV HD export did. There is an associated Also create iPhone quality video check box in EyeTV Preferences: Devices: Encoding, and I do have it checked.

Perhaps the explanation is this: This page in the Elgato knowledge base, “How do I record an EyeTV HD recording in HD and iPhone formats at the same time?”, says:

Whenever you record something using EyeTV HD, you have the option of recording a smaller version of the same file, for the iPhone.

Both the full size recording, and the iPhone recording, will be prepared at the same time, and ready when recording ends.

You can turn on this option in the Devices section of the EyeTV Preferences - select Also create iPhone quality video.

When I manually told EyeTV on the Mac to export a separate lower-resolution version for iPhone, it happened almost instantly. Maybe that was because that smaller version had already been “prepared” and was already sitting in the originally recorded .eyetv file!


An Interim Status Report

At this point, I have explored a number of aspects of EyeTV HD’s functionality and found nearly all of them satisfactory. The few that weren’t:

Still, these problems are minor ones. It’s pretty amazing that EyeTV works quite well! It does so pretty much as advertised, turning my MacBook into a combination TV set and DVR!


Some EyeTV HD Reviews

(1) This review of the EyeTV HD by Ronald Epstein is generally quite favorable, but Mr. Epstein had a few quibbles beyond those I just mentioned:

(2) This review of the EyeTV HD by Laptop Magazine also likes the product. But:

The Laptop Magazine review has one other thing wrong, I find. It says “a small LED [on the EyeTV HD hardware] turns green when the box is in use, and amber when idle.” Actually, it’s the other way around: green when idle, amber when in use.

(3) The review at TUAW.com is a positive one. There was only one real complaint:

The reviewer was wrong, however, to say, “EyeTV captures and plays back Dolby Digital sound. Using the digital optical audio output on newer Macs, it can also pass Dolby Digital 5.1 sound to home theater systems.” The truth is that EyeTV HD does not capture Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, only analog stereo sound.

(4) The review at ChipChick.com, while mostly positive, noted these drawbacks:

This review also points out that pointing your Mac- or iPhone-based Safari browser at live3g.elgato.com and typing in your EyeTV e-mail address and password will allow you to watch either your earlier recordings or Live TV. I find:

This also works in Safari on my iPad, and I assume it works with Safari on a PC. Impressive!


Making Best-Quality Recordings and Exporting Them

In my latest tests, I switched EyeTV Preferences: Devices: Quality: from iPad to Best for a series of recordings. The English Patient on Showtime HD, a movie with duration 2 hrs. 46 min., produced the file:

~/Documents/EyeTV Archive/The English Patient.eyeTV

(where ~ stands for /Users/Eric.)

The file size was 27.07 GB. That comes to almost 5.7 GB per hour, which is about the same size per hour that I was getting with iPad quality. But this time the “normal” image size, recorded at 72 pixels per inch, is a copious 1888 x 1062 pixels!

(This time I measured image size by first typing ⌘-3 in EyeTV to display the image at “normal” size as a recording was being played. Then, selecting Edit: Snapshot in the EyeTV menus put a file called EyeTVSnapshot.jpg on my desktop. When I opened it in Preview I could use Tools: Show Inspector to look at the snapshot’s image size.)

That 1888 x 1062 size is a tad smaller than the 1920 x 1080 associated with 1080i video. The reason, I think, is that in EyeTV Preferences: Display I have Overscan turned on (the default setting). “Overscan hides the extreme edges of the TV signal that do not appear on a TV set,” the explanation says. Translation: most TVs (as opposed to computer monitors) intentionally “overscan” the video image so as to put its outer pixels out of view.

Why? In olden times, the image on TV picture tubes would shrink as the TV set aged. So TVs were set up to initially overscan, in order that the shrunken image later on would still fill the screen. Broadcasters got used to the idea that they could, for technical reasons, leave unsightly “garbage” at the top of the image, and no one would know. That “technical garbage” is still there, even though newer TVs’ images never shrink, and overscan is no longer a good thing.

Possibly, EyeTV uses its own version of overscan to clip away said possible garbage when it makes a recording.

At any rate, iPad quality had produced a “normal” image size of 960 x 540 pixels, again using 72 pixels per inch.

The English Patient.eyeTV recording, made with Best quality, was automatically exported as an Apple TV HD file after it was recorded. The export had to wait, however, until the automatic export of the previous recording, Air Force One.eyeTV from Showtime HD, made in Best quality, was complete. That 2:06 movie took up 21.1 GB, as recorded, and when exported as the Apple TV HD file Air Force One.m4v, the export took up 4.84 GB. According to Finder’s Get Info, it took nearly two hours, from 4:45 AM to 6:39 AM, to produce.

My point here is that the export process takes a lot of time. I can’t presently be sure it’s a longer time than when the original is in iPad quality, though. More on that later.

I have just selected my Air Force One recording in EyeTV and clicked the iPhone icon in the EyeTV Programs window’s icon bar. My intent is to export it this time in a format compatible with an iPhone. But the status is now shown as Waiting....

So EyeTV can do just one export at a time. (However, it can export one recording while it is making another recording.)


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 8 — Upgrading the iMac’s Memory

This phase turned out to be a big disappointment. I had received shipment on a Kingston 2GB DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Memory For Apple iMac module from Newegg.com. Sadly, it did not work when I tried installing it in my iMac, so that that machine would have enough memory to run EyeTV.

The module is a “200-Pin DDR2 SO-DIMM,” its web page says. The compatibility is shown as “Apple iMac Intel Core 2 Duo 20-inch/24-inch 2.4 – 3.06 GHz (Early 2008).” I have an “Early 2008” iMac with a 20-inch screen. Its processor is a “2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo.”

The compatibility spec says “3.06 GHz,” however. Was that discrepancy the hangup? Who knows?

Anyway, after I installed it in the empty memory bay next to the currently used original memory module, upon bootup the system still recognized only 1 GB of RAM. The same was true when I swapped the positions of the two memory modules, proving at least that the formerly empty memory socket works. When I removed the existing module, leaving the unaccompanied new module in the socket formerly occupied by the original memory module, the system would not boot up. Instead, it proceeded to emit a beep every five seconds and otherwise just sit there.

Kingston tech support told me on the phone that the module I’d bought should work in my model of iMac and asked whether my Kingston module had duly clicked into place when I’d inserted it — as a failure to do so would indicate I’d put it in wrong. I was pretty sure it had clicked into place. Accordingly, the probability was (said the tech support guy) that the module was bad.

This happened on a Saturday, and Kingston’s warranty support department was closed. I would have to call back on Monday to arrange for a replacement module.

Impatient, I foolishly decided to tap Newegg for an RMA (return merchandise authorization). That turned out to be a clumsy process — nothing like as smooth as with Amazon. And it cost me $10.54!

It wasn’t free!!!

I’ll have to wait now until UPS delivers my returned module back to Newegg, and they then send me a replacement by 3-day shipping.

I’m much too impatient for that …  so I have just ordered the same memory module from Amazon, for $32.98 with free Amazon Prime 2-day shipping. If by some chance I need to RMA it, my experience is that the process would be handled smoothly by Amazon at no extra cost to me.

When I have both 2 GB modules in hand — assuming they both work and are right for my model of iMac — I’ll use them both in the computer and retire the original 1 GB memory module.

Yes, it’s true: I should have ordered my memory upgrade from Amazon in the first place!


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 9 — Video Editing

The EyeTV 3 software that comes with EyeTV HD contains a video editor!

If I select The Green Mile in EyeTV Programs: Library: Recordings and control-click on it, I can choose Edit in the resulting pop-up menu. An editing window opens. It shows the original video recording, but with a twist. Along the bottom are some editing controls, above which is an array of thumbnail still-image thumbnails, spaced some undetermined number of seconds apart.

If I put a checkmark next to Fine, the stills in the array above the editing controls switch to being (I believe) one video frame apart.

With playback paused, I can click use the regular array and then the Fine array to put the current point of playback anywhere I want. I can then click on a button that will put start and end brackets at that current point in the paused video. Then I can reposition the brackets individually as necessary to surround just the portion of the video that I want to keep, lopping off extraneous material at beginning and end. (With The Green Mile the end as recorded from Showtime came before the closing credits had wrapped up, but there was extra material at the beginning that I wanted to eliminate.)

Then I chose Save Clip as Recording from a pop-up button available in the right-bottom corner of the editing window, and EyeTV began to do exactly that.

The clip-saving process is taking several minutes. A progress bar at the bottom of the window keeps me informed as to how far along it has gotten.

Show Stream Info: While looking further into the EyeTV menu items as I was waiting for the clip-saving process to wrap up, I noticed that option-⌘-I equates to File: Show Stream Info, putting a small window over the upper-right corner of the image:

Video: H.264, 1920x1080, 29.97 fps

Audio: 48 kHz

Another option-⌘-I dismisses it. This seems to be the quick way I was looking for earlier to find out the size of the original image in pixels … though it does not seem to take “overscan” into account.

Anyway, I do not yet know whether EyeTV’s built-in editor allows using multiple sets of brackets to chop out commercials in the middle of a show. I’ll try that some other time.

After about (I’m guessing) 10 or 15 minutes, the “clip” representing the movie with no extraneous material at beginning or end was finished. I closed the editing window and noted in EyeTV Programs: Library: Recordings that The Green Mile was now Exporting …! So reconstituting the original recording, which is what the editor is intended for, represents an occasion for reconstituting the exported recording as well! Again, though, the export process is a time-consuming one.

I know this discussion of editing makes it seem arduous. It’s not as bad as it seems! I’ve used various Mac video editors in the past, and this one takes the cake as the easiest to use (in a possible tie with Video ReDo, which works only on Windows PCs).


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 10 — Using EyeTV Away From Home

Yesterday I had jury duty, so I took my iPad with me to the courthouse. I spent several hours in the jury waiting room, where I found a free Wi-Fi connection.

Unfortunately, I could not get the EyeTV app to make a successful connection to EyeTV running on my MacBook. I am not sure why this didn’t work.

I tried to use the iPad’s Videos app to stream exported videos from EyeTV, but that didn’t work either. Maybe because iTunes on the MacBook will only stream via Home Sharing to iOS devices on my home network.

I did get EyeTV connectivity via 3G, but it streamed EyeTV original recordings too slowly, with a lot of pausing and stuttering.

I’ll explore these issues more in the future ...


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 11 — Moving EyeTV to My iMac

As I mentioned earlier, EyeTV needs 2 gigabytes of computer memory to run, and my iMac has long contained just 1 GB. I bought a 2 GB Kingston upgrade module from NewEgg, but it failed to work. After spending too much money to purchase a return merchandise authorization for purposes of replacing it at NewEgg, in a fit of impatience I ordered the same item from Amazon.

I just installed it, and now I have fully 3 GB of working memory in my iMac!

When the NewEgg replacement arrives, I’ll swap out Apple’s original 1 GB module for it, and there will be a whopping 4 GB on board the iMac.

But 3 GB is enough, and then some. So I have just installed the EyeTV software from the CD into the iMac’s Applications folder. I have exited the EyeTV software on the MacBook and switched the EyeTV hardware’s USB cable over to the iMac. Now I am about to fire it up and use the built-in Setup Assistant ...

… which went exactly as it had on the MacBook, and now EyeTV is up and running on the iMac.

I am currently watching a Baltimore Orioles broadcast on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network HD channel. If I expected the slower processor on the iMac to impair video quality, I was wrong. It is fine.

I really is cool to be able to watch any cable channel, live and in full-screen, on my computer monitor.

The next thing I want to do is to repeat the process of identifying my favorite channels in the EyeTV Programs window. For example, I can go to LIBRARY: Channels and in the Search box enter 230 to find the Turner Classic Movies channel. I can then drag it under CHANNELS along the left side of the window. The software rather foolishly calls the channel Untitled at this point, rather than use its name. I must right click on the new favorite channel’s folder icon, choose Rename..., and enter TCM 230.

Smart Guides: Now, to replicate my existing Smart Guides. I haven’t covered Smart Guides yet. In the EyeTV software, if I choose New Smart Guide... from the File menu, I see a dropdown menu asking me to name the new Smart Guide. I enter Showtime and click the Create button. Now I see along the top of the EyeTV Programs window a strip saying Match the following rule:, with a set of three popup menus. The popups allow me to select, for example:

Channel  | is | 865 Showtime HDTV (East)

Once I do that I click on the strip’s Save button and notice that there are 218 programs listed in the main part of the EyeTV Programs window. I can select any of these and cause a recording of the program to be scheduled.

I can use more than one item in the Smart Guide criteria list if I click on the + button to the right of an existing criterion. For instance, for my PBS NewsHour Smart Guide I use:

Title | contains | NewsHour

Channel Number | is | 522

For that one I click on the Options button in the Smart Guides strip and put a checkmark by Record All Matches and also by Keep: ______ shows, with the blank filled in with the number “1.” This allows me to record each show and then delete it when the next recording is made. That means I always have just the most recent show on hand to be watched.

Typing ⌘-N three times in the EyeTV software’s EyeTV Programs window lets me create playlists into which I can insert various and sundry recordings as they are being made:

TCM

PBS

Showtime

If I go back to Options for my PBS NewsHour Smart Guide, I can click Create Smart Playlist to create a PBS NewsHour Smart Playlist that will automatically contain all recordings made with the Smart Guide of the same name.

Now I need to choose a capacious location for my EyeTV recordings, so in EyeTV Preferences: Recording I clicked Change... under “EyeTV Archive” Location. Using the standard file dialog that appeared, I then put it at ...

/Volumes/New 2TB Drive

… where almost the entire 2 terabytes are currently available.

My next task is …


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 12 — Moving EyeTV’s Existing Recordings Over To My iMac

On the MacBook, in

/Users/Eric/Documents/EyeTV Archive

I have several EyeTV recordings, such as The English Patient.eyetv. I want to move them all into

/Volumes/New 2TB Drive/EyeTV Archive

on the iMac. This location is on one of the external hard drives connected to the iMac.

To do this I had to manually create the /Volumes/New 2TB Drive/EyeTV Archive folder on the iMac, as setting the “EyeTV Archive” Location in EyeTV Preferences on the iMac seemingly was not by itself enough.

(Too late I realized I had failed to note EyeTV’s clear warning, “Changes will become active the next time EyeTV is launched,” or words to that effect. I should have just quit and re-launched the application, it seems.)

Anyway, from Finder on the MacBook I simply then did a Finder copy of the relevant files from the MacBook to the iMac.

As the file copy series proceeded, I noticed that each copied file began showing up in the EyeTV Programs window, under LIBRARY: Recordings.

I had 13 recordings to copy, many of which were movies about 2 hrs. long. The time estimate for all copies to complete: “About 6 hours.”

*****

iMac on the iPad: While I was waiting, I fired up the EyeTV app on my iPad. In the outermost screen, I tapped the Edit button.That brought up an Add EyeTV button which, when selected, let me log in to my My EyeTV service online. But that didn’t give me a chance to add my new EyeTV setup. I quit EyeTV on the MacBook and, with it active on the iMac, tried again. No dice. I deleted all the existing EyeTV accounts in the iPad app and tried again. That reinstated Eric Stewart’s MacBook Pro, not what I expected. A visit to my.eyetv.com was no help.

Then I realized I’d forgotten to checkmark Enable access from EyeTV for iPhone/iPad in EyeTV Preferences: iPhone. (I also now checkmarked Use My EyeTV so my iOS devices can “find your Mac running EyeTV when you are on the road.” And, no, I don’t know exactly why this failed to work yesterday when I was at the county courthouse, using Wi-Fi, and couldn’t stream my recordings unless I switched to 3G.)

At this point my iMac showed up as if by magic on my iPad!

My suggestion to Elgato is that they make this the default behavior in future updates.


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 13 — Re-Exporting EyeTV’s Existing Recordings

Instead of copying the exported versions of my 12 existing recordings from my MacBook to my iMac, I have decided to re-export them on the iMac itself.

Under LIBRARY: Recordings on the iMac I see all 12 of my existing recordings — and each already has a checkmark placed in the box under the iPhone column. I selected a recording, Agatha Christie’s Poirot — The Dream, and I then clicked the iPhone icon in the top row of the EyeTV Programs window. The resulting 640 x 360-pixel video was placed in

~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/TV Shows

on the internal drive of my iMac. Its filename extension was .m4v. It was added to my iTunes library under TV Shows.

That location of the file on my main hard drive didn’t suit me, since I have several capacious external drives and prefer to keep my videos on them. I went looking for a way to control the location in which EyeTV places its exported files.

I found that clicking the “gear” icon in the top row of the EyeTV Programs window when an individual recording in LIBRARY: Recordings has been selected pops up a menu within which there is an Export... item. Choosing it produces a Save As dialog which lets me choose any specific folder on any of my external drives as the destination for the export. It also lets me choose among the following export formats:

iPhone

iPod

Apple TV

Apple TV HD

iPad

HD 720p

HD 1080p

There is additionally a Show All Formats selection which if selected lets me re-display the Format: popup menu, this time with a slew of extra formats as long as my arm.

I re-exported Agatha Christie’s Poirot — The Dream, using this dialog, to produce an Apple TV HD-format file in an EyeTV Exports folder I created on one of my external hard drives. That resulted in a 960 x 540-pixel .m4v file which was likewise now found under TV Shows in iTunes. (Oddly, the “name” given to these two videos in iTunes was The Dream, and Agatha Christie’s Poirot became the “artist.”)

I should note that in Preferences: Advanced in iTunes I have unchecked Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library.

Next, I iPad-exported Agatha Christie’s Poirot — The King of Clubs, with similar results: a 960 x 540-pixel .m4v output file. I don’t know what internal differences it had from the previous Apple TV HD file.

Next, I HD 720p-exported Air Force One. This time, the Save As dialog had a check box checked next to Open QuickTime Player when done. Before, it read Open iTunes when done and was also checked by default.

The result of this export was a .mp4 file rather than .m4v. The export process this time took a huge amount of time; the earlier ones took mere seconds, or at most a few minutes for the iPad export. The QuickTime Player indeed opened at the end of the export process, and I could view the result. No entry for Air Force One showed up automatically in iTunes.

I believe the time it takes to export a file in EyeTV-favored formats is expedited by the initial recording process in accordance with how I set up More Options... under EyeTV Preferences: iPhone. Initially, there is a check mark next to Prepare all new recordings for iPhone/iPad, and under that there is a Format: popup menu that initially has iPhone selected, not iPad or iPhone + iPad. I have now changed it on the iMac to iPhone + iPad, which is the setting I had given it on the MacBook. I think all of the recordings (or at least most of them) copied to the iMac were made with this setting in force. Accordingly, I think iPhone and iPad exports tend to go swiftly, as do any exports in other formats that are easily derived from those, such as Apple TV HD. But HD 720p is not easily derived, and so exports in that format take a long, long time.

The resulting file took from 8:47 PM to 1:53 AM, or 5 hrs. and 4 min., to produce, for the 2:06:51 Air Force One movie. The movie played automatically in QuickTime Player when EyeTV finished making it. Its lovely frames were fully 1280 x 720 pixels in size, at a frame rate of 29.97 fps. I was able to manually add the h.264 Air Force One.mp4 file to iTunes, where it has joined the Movies part of the library and plays just fine on my iMac screen.


Trying out EyeTV HD: Phase 14 — More on Exporting

I tried exporting in the HD 720p format above as an experiment, but I’m not sure what real-world purpose is served by it. True, it is in high definition, as was the original 1080i cablecast on Showtime HD. But I probably should try HD 1080p-exporting it to capture every original pixel instead.

I now want to use EyeTV’s built-in editor to trim off irrelevant material at the beginning of the Air Force One recording, so that it always starts playing at the exact start of the movie. That’s easy to do:

What good is exporting? As I wait for the export to finish, I’m pondering the question of what good all this exporting does. The original recording itself can be viewed:

Any exported EyeTV recording (regardless of format? I’m not sure here) — assuming it’s been introduced into iTunes on the EyeTV iMac — can also be viewed in those same locations in my home:

The format of the exported version can impose limits on the pixel count and overall quality of the video. The original recording is of quality

Good

Better

Best

______________

iPad

depending on what is chosen in the EyeTV Preferences: Devices: Quality: popup menu. I’ve tried iPad and Best. iPad seems to give the original recording 960 x 540-pixel quality. Best gives it 1920 x 1080-pixels. Air Force One was recorded at Best quality. I’m now exporting it at Apple TV HD’s 1280 x 720-pixel quality. The process is taking a very long time.

I reiterate from earlier: If I go to EyeTV Preferences: iPhone: More Options... and put a checkmark by Prepare all new recordings for iPhone/iPad, selecting iPhone + iPad from the Format: popup menu, then all recordings made from that point on — regardless of the recording quality selected in the EyeTV Preferences: Devices: Quality: popup menu — are apparently “prepared” such that a later export in either iPhone or iPad quality can happen very fast.

That’s because (says the Preferences panel) “EyeTV will create a copy of every new recording in H.264 format.” That means the (unknown) internal format of the EyeTV recording will be augmented by the selected external formats. These extra copies can then be used for the actual exporting operation.

I’m guessing (having not yet confirmed it) that if the original recording quality is iPad, then the extra iPad-format copy will be easy to generate swiftly (if not identical). The extra iPhone-quality copy will probably take little time, as well, since the reduction in pixel dimensions and other necessary changes are probably quite straightforward.

That general strategy — iPad-quality originals, iPad- and iPhone-quality copies for export — is probably a good one for general-purpose recording. True, it sacrifices true high-definition video at 1080i or 720p — depending on the cable channel — for at best 960 x 540-pixel video. But I for one don’t notice a big difference with my aging eyes on any of my HDTV screens, or on my smaller computer and iPad screens. (On the iPhone, of course, the resolution gets pared down even further.) And I am one who does not like to wait for an operation such as an EyeTV export to take several hours.

By the way, the Preferences panel I just mentioned “helpfully” adds, “This is much faster if you own Elgato’s Turbo.264 HD product” — i.e., “preparing” new recordings’ H.264 copies can be sped up if you insert Elgato’s $99.95 Turbo.264 HD video-conversion accelerator in a USB port on your Mac. I own an earlier, non-HD version of that product, and I have to report that I gave up on it when it insisted (due to some bug) on ruining many of my videos. I hope the newer version works better. I may try it at some point.

But I return to my earlier question: What good does it do me to export my EyeTV recordings? I wondering whether the answer is that it makes it possible to watch my videos at remote locations. My only attempt so far at watching exported-into-iTunes videos while not at my house ended in failure at the courthouse, while I was on jury duty.

I need to do some more experimenting in this area.

So today I tried using my iPad to view these videos at the public library. I found:

When I came home, I found that my Apple TV HD-quality export of the Best-quality, 1920 x 1080-pixel recording of Air Force One had wrapped up, having taken 5 ½ hours from 10:55 AM to 4:24 PM. Apple TV HD-quality turned out to give 1280 x 720-pixel video frames. That meant a large amount of computing had been needed to render 1920 x 1080 as 1280 x 720.


Trying Out EyeTV HD: Phase 15 — Why Export?

I have belatedly realized that the movies and TV shows hosted in iTunes on a Mac or a PC have never, ever, been streamable away from home. That’s why I’ve long been using the Air Video app on my iPad. Wherever you take your iPad or iPhone, Air Video streams videos remotely, via 3G or via a local Wi-Fi hotspot. It does so by virtue of being able to compress video on the fly on the host computer so that it requires less bandwidth when streamed over the airwaves. iTunes is unable to do that, working in tandem with the Videos app on an iPad or with any other app.

In Apple’s original implementation of iTunes-hosted video — which has never fundamentally changed — movies and TV shows were meant to be synced (downloaded) to devices such as an iPod Touch or an iPhone — this was in a time pre-iPad — while the device is temporarily connected to a computer running iTunes. The handheld device could then play the synced videos anywhere.

Music was handled the same way … but now, iTunes Match has been implemented to allow users to in effect store their music in the iCloud. That allows users to stream/download music to their iOS devices anywhere they go, even for music not previously synced to those devices.

And Apple’s recently implemented Home Sharing capability allows all Apple devices — desktop computers, laptops, iOS devices, Apple TVs — connected to the same wired or wireless home network to share music, videos, podcasts, etc. stored in any of the computers’ iTunes libraries.

That’s a marvelous thing. The downside is, though, that when portable Apple devices are taken away from home, video content that is not stored on them or in the iCloud cannot be accessed by them. Movies and TV shows are not presently stored in the iCloud, the way music is. So, unless previously synced, those videos are inaccessible away from home.

That’s why I was unable to stream EyeTV’s exports to my iPad when I was at the public library.

So I ask again: what good are EyeTV exports?

The answer seems to be that EyeTV exports represent one of three ways to get EyeTV content that resides on your Mac onto your TV screen:

  1. You can do as I anticipate doing one day: buy a Mac Mini and connect it via HDMI to your TV. You can then run EyeTV on the TV-connected Mini, allowing it to grab content from a set-top box stationed nearby. That content (or even live TV) can be played directly onto the TV screen by the EyeTV software, via the Mini’s HDMI connection to the TV.
  2. You can do as I do now: use my iPad, my Apple TV, and AirPlay (another recent Apple innovation) to stream EyeTV content from my iMac to my iPad’s EyeTV app, thence to the Apple TV and the TV screen itself. If you don’t have an iPad, an iPhone or iPod Touch will serve just as well. This multi-hop, AirPlay-based method may seem quite roundabout, but it works well, and the iPad-quality picture on the TV screen, even though not strictly high-definition, looks fine.
  3. Or you can rely on EyeTV exports that have been placed by EyeTV in your iTunes library and are therefore playable by an Apple TV.

Option 3 is the least costly: no Mac Mini required, no iPad. You do need a Mac running EyeTV software and iTunes, an EyeTV HD, and a $99 Apple TV, and you’ll probably need to rent an extra set-top box from the cable company. (And, of course, as with option 2, option 3 requires you to have a wireless router providing Wi-Fi connectivity in your home.)

And option 3 is the answer to my question, what good is EyeTV exporting, anyway? If you don’t use option 3, you don’t need to export.

That’s because you’ll use either option 1 or option 2 while at home, and for away-from-home EyeTV streaming you’ll rely on live3g.elgato.com in Safari on a laptop, or on the EyeTV app itself on any of Apple’s various iOS handheld devices.