Recording TV shows on your Mac

For the last several years my wife and I have been using Microsoft’s Windows Media Center to schedule the recording of TV shows on our respective PC machines. In general WMC has been working well, with just a few glitches here and there. Using some external tools (i.e.,DVRMSToolbox and ShowAnalyzer) I have a process in place to record TV shows, cut out the commercials, and converted the recorded shows to WMV format for our Zune media players.

Last year, out of frustration my wife switched from her Vista PC to an Apple MacBook Pro laptop. Since she can’t run the Microsoft Zune syncing software on her MacBook Pro, I kept her PC still up and running to continue recording TV shows and processing them for her Zune 120 player. A few months ago her Zune device stopped working (hard drive failure) so for Mother’s Day I bought her an Apple iPod Touch (32 GB) as a replacement. Mainly because it will easily work with her MacBook Pro using the iTunes software. She still uses her Vista Desktop PC for recording TV shows, but now I’ve modified some of the processing scripts to convert the recordings to MP4 format for her iPod Touch.

Unfortunately, her Vista PC was having trouble recording her favorite TV shows for some reason or another (e.g., couldn’t download the latest TV listings, conversions stalled because of Windows updates, etc.). Twice, I had to reinstall the WMC software because the PC couldn’t download the TV listings from the Internet. So yesterday, I decided I would switch her over to a Mac-based system for recording TV shows from our cable TV service.

Upon doing some investigating, it seems that the product called EyeTV HD was what we needed. This relatively new product is designed to work specifically for the Mac OS X, and has the ability to work with cable set top boxes for changing channels via an IR Blaster. The only issue we currently have, is that this device requires component input for the video and audio, and our current set top box from Comcast only output a coaxial line.

So, I took our current converter box down to the local Comcast office and asked to switch it for a converter that has component output. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t specify I wanted HD component video output so they gave me an old Motorola converter box that has the very old composite video output (think of the old Pong game console that used the composite video connection) which just didn’t work for my needs. I did ask two different people in the Comcast office if this converter would give me digital component output and each of them said, “definitely” without even looking at the connectors on the back of the converter. As such, I came home to verify that this box wouldn’t work (as I suspected) and I called Comcast on the phone to see if they could mail me the right unit. So in about a week I’ll have the proper converter box to continue with my TV recording setup.

The nice thing about the EyeTV HD is that it has a onboard MPEG encoder, so it won’t use the MacBook Pro’s CPU for the encoding. Also, the EyeTV’s software can convert recorded TV shows to both iPad and iPod Touch formats at the same time. So if my wife chooses, she can watch her TV shows on either her iPad or iPod Touch. As such, I probably won’t need to jump through very many hoops to get her TV shows converted to the proper format for her iPod Touch, compared to what I needed to do for my Zune with Windows 7 and Vista.

If this all works out ok, I’ll probably switch over myself to a similar system and then I can shutdown my Windows 7 PC permanently.

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