Recently, I was tasked by Snoskred to look into providing her with a program that we both like to watch, and just one more in a line of programs that she’s gotten me into, but that’s something for another day.
In the past, it worked out really well for me to grab things off of the TV with an analog capture device, but that was in the mid-2000s, just as HD was in its beginning phases, with a low number of people actually with those kinds of TVs. Even as recently as last year, I did use an analog device to capture this video which was downconverted from 1080i HD to 480i Letterboxed SD –
Sure, it works, but it’s not of the highest quality. Realizing that my MacBook Pro was one of the final ones with a Firewire cable on it, I wondered how easy it would be to do it.
With the right equipment, it’s easier than you think. 😀
Here’s what you’ll need to capture video in HD from a cable box –
- The correct Firewire cable for your computer and box
- Capture software
- Conversion software
- Editing software to cut commercials
Getting the correct Firewire cable –
The cable box is fairly easy. If you live in the US, an FCC regulation requires that all cable boxes manufactured after a certain point have a Firewire output built into it. Almost all boxes have a 6-pin output for Firewire. Somehow, I knew that inherently. What I did not know was which size to get for my MacBook Pro.
These are the ports on it – from right to left we have: MagSafe V.1, RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet), Firewire, DisplayPort, 2x USB 2.0, SD Card and Headphone/Microphone 3.5mm
Looking at the size, my assumption based on the options (4, 6, and 9-Pin), this must be a 4-pin port. I go to order it and 5 days later it arrives in the post. I connect it to the box and I go to connect it to the computer.
It’s too small. Damn.
Some frantic googling later, I discover that the MacBook actually has a 9-pin connector. I then purchase a new cable and it arrives on the next Friday; I take it out of the bag, look at the connector and look at my MacBook…and it fits!
That’s the cable sorted.
This is actually quite easy if you have an Apple product. All I had to do was go to the Apple Developer site and download Firewire SDK 26 from there, which was free.
One thing to note is that you will need an Apple ID to access the downloads. If you have an iOS device, or use iTunes for your music, you have an Apple account.
Once you install the SDK, making sure that if you’re using Yosemite or later you allow “untrusted” developers’ apps to be installed (despite this being from Apple Computer), there is a piece of embedded software called AVCVideoCap.
I will do a separate post on how to use AVCVideoCap, but one important thing to know is that when you first launch the application, you will need to find it through Spotlight; I would then recommend either placing an alias on your desktop or pinning the icon to your dock.
Important! When you are recording something, you must watch it on your box at the same time; you can of course watch something else if you have another input or a smart TV, but the box must stay on the program in order for it to correctly capture the program..
Step 3 – Converting the file.
After your recording is completed, you will be left with an .m2t or .ts file. This is what’s known as a transport stream. This is the file I got from a 5-minute recording –
No, this is not a misread on the file size. Since this is literally the raw output for the channel, it’s at full bitrate which is in the range of 5-8 Megabytes per second. A 60-minute recording will take 12 GB of space on your hard drive, etc.
You can see where this is going, and it’s not a friendly situation to share the file with your friends. Or, for that matter, to sites like YouTube if you are using a Digital Video camera that doesn’t support SD cards.
You’ll need to have some software to convert this monstrosity of a file to a more consumable size. Not only that, very few programs can read transport streams – VLC will, but not much else can handle it.
That’s where Handbrake comes in. I’ve used Handbrake to convert files from DVD to digital, and even to transcode movies to a more manageable format for my iPad.
This is something that is fairly straightforward. The only things that I will do when I do a conversion in Handbrake from the raw to an intermediate file is to downsize the image from 1920×1080 (full 1080i) to 1280×720. This helps reduce the file size greatly.
If you’re using a newer computer, you can expect this to take about the length of the program that you recorded or less. On an older computer, it can take upwards of 2-3x the length of the program due to it needing more processing power than the computer may have.
In the end, you’re left with this –
You’ll notice how much smaller this file is compared to the source file – from nearly 1 GB down to under 70MB, or a 94% savings in size! Typically, my intermediate file will be in the 1.5-2GB range.
Step 4 – Trimming the Fat
Since PythagoraSwitch is a 5-minute program, there isn’t any need to cut things from there for the most part. However, the show that I am recording for Snoskred is an hour-long program with about 19 minutes of commercials per episode, I needed to get something to delete the advertising from the program.
In one of the YouTube tutorials that I watched, the person recommended a program called MPEGStreamClip to edit your videos. So, I downloaded it. And it didn’t work. The video kept stuttering and the program was totally unusable.
This time instead of just going to Google and picking whatever comes up, I think…there has to be something on Reddit…and I find /r/videoediting which has a quick list of editors by price. Of them, I chose Avidemux, which I can tell is modern since it has both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
Avidemux is very easy to use even for a complete novice like myself. The keyboard shortcuts are straightforward (i.e. you can do things with single keystrokes) and it gets the job done quite efficiently.
In the end, if you have the correct equipment, this is a great way to preserve any TV shows that you may have been keeping on your DVR for ages and want to keep.