My other Mac is a DVR

38 Comments

Macs, as we all know, are the best thing for video editing. But what about TV watching and TiVo-like tasks? Before I used a Mac, my Windows computer had an ATI All-in-Wonder Pro PCI video card with 8MB of VRAM. (Remember when that was something cool?) ATI still makes the All-in-Wonder series, but not for the Mac. Obviously, that old card couldn’t do 3D for gaming, and it’s long since obsolete, so I’ve been scrounging through the Mac TV-card market for getting the same sort of thing on my newer Macintosh computer.

Then, for Christmas, I recieved the AlchemyTV DVR PCI-based card, and stuck that thing in my G5. Works great, but has a few issues that I don’t quite like. For instance, if you try to do anything else with the computer while it’s running a scheduled record, that recording will end up with out of sync video and audio. I’m continually trying to tweak the settings to keep that from being a problem, but it seems like the processor does most of the work no matter what, so there’s little change. Apparently, there are other cards out there that handle the video in various ways, but from the reviews I read, I don’t know if they can get the good resolution I’m getting now – 640 by 480.

Have you ever taken a TV recording on a video tape or digital recording device? You may have noticed that there are a couple lines with little white dashes that jump around at the top of the screen. Most TVs don’t show it, because those lines, from what I’ve been told, are basically the closed captioning data. This is something that irks me about my card – the AlchemyTV DVR doesn’t have decoding of this data. My old All-in-Wonder had it, and I really liked that feature. However, the El Gato USB 2 device (which is based on one of ATI’s products) does have it. Most of Apple’s new machines have USB2, so that seems to be the best solution. PCI also works well.

Something else that’s cool about the newer devices that use better bandwidth is their lack of the lag that older cards and devices had. The earlier El Gato devices couldn’t be used to, say, plug in your Gamecube or PS2 and play them. The lag would be almost a second long, which would mean that your enemies would beat the living slime out of you before you saw them coming. I haven’t tried this on my card, but the newer devices are able to handle it, and since mine is using PCI, I’d assume that this is no sweat.

Another thing that affects performance, that I hinted at earlier, is whether or not the TV device handles the encoding. If it doesn’t, it just hands it off to the computer. Depending on where the conversion/encoding/etc is done, you may or may not get lag or crappy quality. It also depends on how good of a job the software/hardware handling of this data is. El Gato seems to do a good job with software (that’s why they just licensed the ATI device, rather than making their own), and Miglia makes good hardware (the Alchemy devices), but their software leaves something to be desired. What I like about the Alchemy card, but I don’t know if the others do this, is that it just passes the video off to the QuickTime engine as live video, so some apps think it’s a FireWire camera, and you can even use it in Quartz Composer for a live video stream.

These are the major players for video right now, from what I can find. Formac used to be a major player, but it seems like they’ve fallen out of the market, since no one speaks well of them anymore. And their stuff costs more. Miglia offers a few select products – professional and consumer – at their website, www.miglia.com. El Gato Systems offers a large array of all sorts of video digitizers, both analog and digital, at www.elgato.com. I’d advise staying away from the U.S. “HDTV” devices (and HDTV sets, too), at least until the standards are hammered out, as it seems that the government can’t decide on anything yet. Analog is going to remain the standard for a while.

What’s my point in all of this? Well, just hook up one of the cooler of these TV cards into a PowerMac G5, and plug said G5 into a really nice projector, and you’d have a nice home theater. Most people don’t realize it, but the G5 has most of the stuff you’d need already. DVD drive, digital audio, etc. The optical audio out can plug into that huge Dolby Digital/EX system that you have (with the sub woofer that’s bigger than your car). Not to mention DVI, which can work well with the newer projectors that have DVI. Or an Apple 30-inch display. The makings of a cinema in your basement.

Are there any really good ones out there that I’ve missed? Put it in the comments…

38 Comments

Macjunk

Larry,

Yes, I have had great success with it. I have actually used it on several setups. My current setup is a G5 20″ iMac 2.0 Ghz, 2 GB ram, 10.4.4 …I have also used it on all versions of 10.4, also on 10.3.7, 10.3.8, and 10.3.9. I’ve used it on two Mac Minis (a 1.25 Ghz and a 1.5 Ghz) an iBook (1.4 Ghz) and a 15″ Powerbook (1.5 Ghz). What exactly is it yours is doing? Are you getting the software to start? Is it starting but the screen stays white? Have you tried using the different inputs on your myTV.PVR device? You may want to look in /Library/Preferences/ for the file com.eskape.TVPrograms.plist and delete it, also look in /Users/Your User/Library/ for the file MyTV/x.plist and delete it, then reboot (not absolutely necessary to reboot but I always do when getting rid of preference files), and then try your program again. See what happens.

Chris Baker

I finally returned my myTV.PVR because I was having so much difficulty with not being able to do anything with the files. I don’t want to have to spend 2 hours trying to get a 30 minute show to a DVD–every time.

Ironically, I then found a way to convert the files.

But really, the SW wasn’t that great and I had to leave the software running and/or the computer on (i.e. no sleep) all the time.

I just went ahead and got a TiVo instead.

Larry

Macjunk,

I see your last comment was way back in December, but I hope this gets to you anyway. I recently purchased a myTV.PVR, and have not had any success with it at all. I can’t even get a picture/channel on my screen. I’ve noticed that you seem to be having great success with yours, and was wondering what kind of specs you’re running on; i.e Proc/RAM/OS?

Thanks much,
-Larry

Macjunk

its too bad you gave up so easily, the Mpeg Stream Clip worked for me but the one that worked the best was the D-Vision 3. Also, it doesn’t matter if the audio is out of sync when you are converting it to a workable format. Like I mentioned before, once you can import it into iMovie you can extract the audio and get it to align. I’ve made DVDs out of everything I have recorded with my myTV.PVR

Chris Baker

I’ve tried practically everything on several myTV.PVR movies.

QuickTime plays them fine (I have the MPEG-2 component)– I can even go to any random point in the movie and the audio is in sync–but won’t export them with the audio track.

Handbrake, as far as I can tell, is for decoding DVDs.

FFMpegx screwed up the sync within the first 3 minutes of the movie.

I’ve tried MPEG Streamclip without success – demuxing to m2v and AIFF, and other things…

What -has- worked was copying the file to a PC and burning a VCD with Nero. But even that is too much trouble for something that should be so simple.

I am officially giving up and returning myTV.PVR.

Macjunk

you can use something like D-Vision 3 or Handbrake or ffmpegx or Divx Doctor to convert it from Mpeg2. You can also buy the plug-in from Apple. (All the programs I listed are free) I use either handbrake or D-Vision 3 as they seem to do the best job and are the quickest.

Chris Baker

But iMovie won’t import my MPEG-2s, only the MPEG-1’s (the VCD quality ones). Are you just using MPEG-1 VCD-quality (320×240) recording setting?

Macjunk

The video and sound getting out of sync has to do with the software you are using. Toast is notoriously bad at this. If you have them, use iMovie and iDVD to import and burn Your shows, I can/have imported and encoded two+ hour shows with no problem with sound getting out of sync. Another thing you can do is after you import into iMovie if the sound is out of sync you can extract the audio to its own track and move it till it is back on sync.

Chris Baker

I just bought the myTV.PVR and while it works fine (the SW could be improved) I can’t seem to write VCDs and DVDs from the files without the Audio getting out of sync.

I don’t do anything to the MPEG files, just drag them into Toast (v.6 and 7). A half-hour show gets really out of sync as the show progresses. I have tried many different recording settings without success.

It does work with USB 1, but some of the better quality recording options are disabled (I had mine plugged into a hub before I realized that the hub was probably USB 1, then plugged it into my computer’s USB 2 port.)

Macjunk

To answer your questions;

First, I don’t have an EyeTV but rather the Hauppauge myTV.PVR and yes I am VERY happy with it. If I were to buy another PVR(DVR) for my computer it would be teh same thing.

1) It does not have a problem with cable so llong as it doesn’t use a receiver box. With Digital Cable and Satellite you do have to change the channel, however with my satellite I can set the timer so it changes to the correct channel when I want it to, so really I don’t need to change it.
2)Its VERY easy to use. It’s easier than my Dish Network DVR. If I want to record soemthingits literally just a matter of pushing record, scheduling is jsut a matter of entering when I want to record and I’m done.
3)Burning the DVD is as easy or as hard as you make it. You can simply drop the file into Toast or iDVD (if you have it) and click burn. Depending on the unit you get will determine if you need to change file format. With my unit I do not have to. I almost always make it a little more challenging (not much mind you) cause I first go through the show in iMovie and delete all the commercials and any extra stuff before or after your show that you always get with the DVRs. Then I send it to iDVD and burn it to disc.
4)I’m using the Hauppauge acm unit. Specifically this one here Link and for $150 its more than I was expecting.
5)You don’t really have much choice, I think most of them are USB and I can’t say if they will work on USB 1.1 or not because I have only used mine on USB 2.0. Firewire would be nice but I have never had a slight hint of any problems with USB.
6)I don’t have much experience with TVs so I coudn;t reccomend one over another. I will say this though, with the Hauppauge unit you can record in HD. You can actually record in a number of quality outputs from VCD quality up to HD quality.

The one thing I would suggest is to have a lot of storage. The highest quality settings take upto 6GB (usually closer to 4 though) per hour of recording. Meaning a normal movie (1-2 hrs long) will take 4-12GB of space.

Mike G

Thanks for your prompt response. So, in other words, you are very happy with your EyeTV?

Misc. questions and question-like comments:

1) I hear it has trouble with digital cable and you have to manually change the channel before recording. True?
2) So, once the imac, the eyetv, and the TV are all hooked up and sitting nicely on our family room coffee table; is it easy to use? I am of the generally tech-savy generation and am good with this stuff. But will my parents, who operate our old replay DVR with competence (but not confidence) be able to work with it easily?
3) With Tivo….I’m sure burning to a DVD would be a touch of a button. Same with EyeTV….or will I need to locate a file….compress it to the right format…..drop it into toast….and click burn?
4) EyeTV? Which one? There are so many. Is EyeTV 200 the way to go? And how much do you recommend paying for it? Buy online or at compusa type store?
5) Usb or Firewire? This “old” imac is G4 and does not have USB 2. We each have our own ibook G4s (1-1.33ghz) and do not yet own a G5? Does this matter in your opinion
6) The least related question of all: We’re buying a new television and currently the choice is down to a 34″ Sony HD LCD and a 42″ Panasonic ED plasma, both at $1800. (HD Plasmas are too expensive). While I am hesitant to invest in ED when everything is rapidly becoming HD, the rest of the family loves the look of the ED plasma. Would EyeTV be equally good for both, and if so, which would you recommend?

Thanks again,

Mike

Macjunk

If it were me, I would take the $700 you plan on spending on the set-top box and subscription and buy a simple USB device (like the myTV.PVR or the EyeTV one) and (if you dont already have one) a DVD burner. Take the left over money and go on a little mini vacation, or buy more toys :D I can schedule, record, edit and burn all my shows or movies. I can also extract audio if I so desire. The TIVO can only do a few of those things.

Mike G

So here’s the big question: Do I buy one of the humax tivos with built in DVD burner, pay $300-400 for the device and another $300 for a lifetime Tivo subscription?

or…

Can I turn our G4 700 mhz imac into a tivo like DVR? If so, what is the best way to do this?

Thanks for your replies,

Mike

Macjunk

So I finally tried hooking-up a game console. Lets just say that as I had suspected, its impossible to play anything besides maybe chess or checkers (as long as its not timed :-) ) This was with S-Video too. As a matter of fact the lag seemed worse on the game consol than with the Satellite, Satellite is approx 1-2 second delay and the game console is about a 3-4 second delay.

Macjunk

I haven’t tried the S-Video yet but I’ll have to hook-up a DVD play (or game console) and try it out. Recently I was researching these DVRs and there was one that CLAIMED real-time encoding, can’t remember which one (I think it was one of the EyeTV ones)…if I remember I post back.

Macjunk

I have my satellite hooked up through it and it has about a 2-3 second lag from when I push the “Guide” button to when it appears on screen and about the same when I do anything else on the Satellite receiver (change channel, etc) so I would venture to say it would be impossible to play a console on it, maybe a game of chess would work :-)

Macjunk

I recently purchased the MyTV.PVR from CompUSA and must say I am pleasantly surprised with it. It does record in MPEG-2 format and the included software leaves a lot to be desired but it does what its meant to do (plays, pauses, and records live TV). I use D-Vision to encode it to another format (.avi) and then I can edit and do all I want to do in iMovie or iDVD. It also has several different settings for record quality from SVCD which is 1.5Mb/sec to full quality DVD which is 6.4Mb/sec. I have been using it on LiveTV quality which is 720×480 and 4.8Mb/sec and an hour long show is approx 2.3GB in size.

Paul

I returned the Convertx to Newegg after I found out it deinterlaces everything (no way to turn it off). This is bad for DVDs meant to play on a regular TV. El Gato and Plextor say nothing about this “feature”. But when I inquired to El Gato, they admitted they noticed it when they did the software development, couldn’t get Plextor to change it, and have no way of disabling it.

VideoArchivist

I’ve posted my review of the Plextor ConvertX at Amazon.com. I go into detail on why it only gets three stars, and is not anyone except the casual user. (Pro users should look elsewhere.

The Hauppage unit sounds interesting. If anyone can gmail me a small MPEG-2 clip, then I could see if the MPEG could be edited with PixeDV. PixeDV comes with ADS Tech’s USB Instant DVD, and it can also edit Quicktime-rendered MPEG-2 files. Unfortunately, it cannot edit MPEG’s recorded on Plextor’s ConvertX, or MPEG’s recorded on my relative’s PC setup. It’d be nice to know what other converters (Miglia Evolution, EyeTV200, Hauppage) would work well with PixeDV.

Dionysius

Have the ConvertX from Plextor using ElGato’s EyeTV software on an old G4 dual 450. Built the G4 as a DVR with 2 large HDDs w/ATA 133 PCI card and a 5 port USB2.0 PCI card.

It doesn’t take long to fill up the drives with video. Currently looking for S-video out to port video to TV. For DVD burning I’m considering MPEG2Work4 shareware, I’m too cheap to get Toast.

G4 doesn’t choke, most of the heavy lifting done in Plextor unit. However, export function conversion via EyeTV software takes forever (talking hours) to convert files.

MikeG

Hey Gilgamesh, have you taken delivery of that Plextor ConvertX for the Mac yet? If so, what do you think? I’ve been looking long and hard that this product. I’ve been holding off because I don’t know what I would be giving up in going for it. Why is it so much cheaper than either the El Gato EyeTV 200 or the Miglia EvolutionTV, both of which have similar functionality? Is the extra price for the EyeTV exclusively down to the Firewire connecter that obviates a power adaptor? What about the Miglia EvolutionTV? It’s US$50 more expensive, but has pretty much exactly the same functionality. I wish there somebody had done a head to head comparison of the EyeTV 200, the EvolutionTV, the ConvertX and the Hauppage MyTV.PVR. Anyone heard of it? All I want to do is be able to record standard definition TV over S-Video and audio jacks into my Mac, preferably with hardware encoding into MPEG-2,-4 and DivX, so that my poor underpower G4 doesn’t choke, then be able to burn the file to DVD for viewing on TV. I’m not sure the DVR functions are ready for prime time.

Gilgamesh

Eskape just came out with a low price device for the mac called MyTV.pvr. Haven’t seen it reviewed anywhere, but like the ElGato EyeTV, it does the encoding of video in its hardware, depositing on your hard drive as mpeg-2. It’s less that half the price of the EyeTV 200 at $145 at CompUSA, but its software is not quite as robust as ElGato’s – there’s no ability to edit out the commercials in MyTV, which you can do without any reencoding with EyeTV.
I just ordered a ConvertX, Plextor’s USB 2.0 version of EyeTV for the Mac. It uses the EyeTV software, and it does hardware encoding to Mpeg-2, and will also encode files in DivX and Mpeg-4, making it the most robust of the options I’ve found. Best of all, it’s under $200, only a bit more than MyTV, and a hundred or more less than EyeTV.
Even with a G5 (I have a 1 gig G4) you’re much better off with hardware encoding, so you can watch, pause and record TV AND still use your Mac for other stuff without much of a problem.

Jason Terhorst

Just check out centerstageproject.com

For some reason, that link in my previous comment broke. It sounds like they are still there, they just don’t like to waste time writing posts or emails. Instead, they like to code. Cross your fingers, and find ways to encourage them toward the goal.

Gregula

What happened to the Center Stage Project?

I ran across your blog when I was looking for the same thing… decent software to watch/record TV signals. So far, I have had no luck.

Jason Terhorst

Just to clarify the purpose of this article: I’m looking at TiVo alternatives to use with the Mac – things that let your Mac function like a TiVo, or even a Media Center computer. Since TiVo has decided not to support Macs, and have signed a deal with the devil himself (Bill Gates), we Mac users need other options. Check out this cool project that was featured a while back: Center Stage/Mac Media Center.

Here are the devices that they plan to make it inter-operate with: El Gato EyeTV, Formac Studio, and Alchemy TV DVR. All of these devices, and others not listed here, have various prices (like the iPods), and have features that you can compare. The Center Stage Project is accelerating development, and looks really cool. Because it’s open source, there is lots of potential for really cool stuff to come out of it. The reason that the TiVo is so cheap right now is because it’s unable to compete in what is becoming a very crowded market. The other offerings out there are just so much more appealing.

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