Nathan Torkington on TiVo and the Mac

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Technology
August 30th, 2004 • 4:18 am

O’Reilly writer Nathan Torkington talks about his rather dreadful experience trying to burn DVDs of his TiVo PVR recordings with Mac OS X.

While TiVo is not available in Canada and I have to use my satellite TV provider‘s own PVR unit, which doesn’t let me transfer its recordings to my computer (as far as I know), I can sympathize with Nathan and confirm his ultimate conclusion, which is that the Mac is simply not a suitable platform for burning DVDs from PVR TV recordings.

Since I couldn’t transfer my PVR TV recordings to my Mac, I purchased a stand-alone DVD burner that I hooked up to my satellite TV receiver/PVR. This works OK, except that, in this day and age, it’s a frustratingly limited solution.

Movie editing options are non-existent. (I didn’t buy a DVD burner with a built-in hard drive, which might have provided more options — but I doubt very much that the user interface and features for this type of unit are really worth the additional expense. Movie editing requires a computer, period.)

Editing title and chapter headings for DVDs on a TV screen with a remote control is extraordinarily painful, because you have to “type” by selecting letters on an on-screen keyboard. (I wish they had just included a USB port on the DVD burner so that you could plug in a USB keyboard and be done with it.)

Once I’ve burnt the DVDs, I can of course play them on my Mac. But that’s where my experience mirrors that of Nathan Torkington. Doing anything beyond DVD playback is impractical at best, and downright impossible in most cases. I too have spent hours fooling around with various more or less legal pieces of software design to extract stuff from DVDs (commercial or home-made), and I have been unable to achieve satisfactory results. I too have spent more than enough money on Apple and third-party software, only to realize that it wouldn’t be enough to let me do what I wanted to do.

One of the key problems is that MPEG-2, the format in which TV broadcasts are recorded on a PVR, is a highly compressed format. Even if you manage to convert MPEG-2 into DV so that it can be edited with the usual suspects (QuickTime Pro, iMovie, etc.), converting the resulting DV file back into MPEG-2 (by burning it on DVD with iDVD, for example) will cause a degradation in video quality that is not exactly negligible.

So what we need is some kind of video editing tool that lets us edit MPEG-2 files directly, without converting them into another format. And that kind of tool simply doesn’t exist for the Mac.

Based on what Nathan is saying, this kind of stuff is readily available for Windows. In other words, the problem is not that it’s technically impossible. It is that there doesn’t appear to be a big enough market for “video hacking” on the Mac. And it’s unfortunate. (Needless to say, most of this “video hacking” is perfectly legal. It’s about burning DVDs of legally acquired stuff for personal, private use. Regardless of what the MPAA and RIAA would have you believe, fair use is still legal.)

2 Responses to “Nathan Torkington on TiVo and the Mac”

  1. Josh says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve hacked my DirecTiVo and can easily extract the files, but my Mac lags behind my PC in handling the files once they’re free. I don’t want to transcode to DV and then back again to MPEG-2.

    This hint helped a bit:

    …but was too kludgy, and didn’t actually EDIT the files, it merely set the in/out points. (ie: the file size doesn’t decrease.)

    I ended up using Womble’s MPEG-VCR on my PC, which works perfectly:

    I am still developing my perfect workflow for archiving from DTiVo to DVD, and it looks like I’ll be doing it on a PC. Which is a shame, I really would have preferred to use iDVD or DVD Studio Pro.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks for your comments. I guess I could try to do some research and see if my ExpressVu PVR (based on the US Dish Network models, as far as I can tell) is hackable like a TiVo or your DirecTV PVR is, but since I couldn’t do much with the resulting MPEG-2 files on my Mac anyway, it’s hardly worth it.

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