How to capture recordings from your Cable Box

Recently, I was tasked by SnoskredΒ 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. πŸ™‚

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.Β 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. πŸ˜€

Equipment –

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 aΒ 6-pin output for Firewire. Somehow, I knew that inherently. What I did not know was which size to get for my MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro Ports

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.

Capture Software

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 –

1.01 GB for just over 5 minutes of video.

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 –

Keen-eyed folk will notice that the filename is different. That's because this is actually the original file I tested out to see if this scheme will work.

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. πŸ™‚

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 editorsΒ 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. πŸ™‚

Facebook: Fail times 1 million

Seeing that I am about one of about 10 people in the world left without a Facebook account, I’ve done a bit of investigation into the site and found out that there are some major faults with the site, and they have to do with their "recommendations" on how to keep safe.

If you want to play along, their page on safety is here – http://www.facebook.com/safety/

Anyway, they give you these "important safety tips" when using the site, 4 of them make sense, but the fifth one, in bold, makes absolutely no sense if you think about it:

  • Never share your password with anyone
  • Adjust your privacy settings to match your level of comfort, and review them often
  • Be cautious about posting and sharing personal information, especially information that could be used to identify you or locate you offline, such as your address or telephone number
  • Report users and content that violate our Terms of Use
  • Block and report anyone that sends you unwanted or inappropriate communications

Yep, I can totally understand not posting your address and telephone number on the public web, but they say to be cautious about posting information that could locate you offline…so, doesn’t that include one thing that would automatically identify you offline: YOUR NAME?!?!?!?!

Seriously, I can’t think of anything that can’t identify you faster offline than your own bloody name. So, wouldn’t the logical step be to sign up using an alias. Yep, that would be a smart move, but they’ve also put a major FAIL sign on that:

Remember that…using fake names is a violation of the Facebook Terms of Use

So, you can’t use an alias then, can you? However, I guess it keeps someone busy, having to report all of those fake names out there, and deleting their accounts.

Maybe I should stick to just watching random videos of soccer fans singing:

Hi from the iPod!

While the computer is busy working on burning a couple more DVDs, I figured that I would take a moment and try out a new app that I had downloaded for my iPod, WordPress for iPhone/iPod touch. There are a few cool things about this app – the fact that I can easily post anywhere I can find a wifi connection among them, but there is only one minor flaw:

It lets you put the device upside down (ie with the home button at the top and the (on the phone) speaker at the bottom) this is something unique and odd. Safari lets you do this but the screen will be upside-down.

Another flaw that I have now found is that there is no save feature included in the software. Let’s hope that I can publish! πŸ˜‰

Edit to add – I found the save button, yay! πŸ™‚

I totally get the iPhone now

And it’s not totally for the reason of all the features πŸ˜‰

If you know me, you know that I can fall in love with things for the most bizarre reasons, and the iPhone is not an exception to that.

They had two available for playing around with at Walmart – the 3G versions, natch, but that really doesn’t matter. So, I see these phones in the electronics section, and I go up to them and start playing with them – first just browsing on the web, then some more browsing and searching, playing with the pinch zoom thingy which is awesome.

Then on the other phone, I went to check out the actual phone portion of the phone that you use for, you know, calling?

An amazing thing happened. Naturally, I didn’t just try out calling locally, I typed in international numbers. Not so much to call, but just to see what happens (because most times phones don’t understand foreign numbering schemes). I type in an Australian mobile number, which is formatted this way – +61 4xx xxx xxx. I expected something odd, but it came up this way –

+61 4xx xxx xxx

Bloody amazing, if you ask me!

Aussie landline: +61 2 xxxx xxxx  – yep!

It gets international phone numbers – for me, that is reason enough to fall in love with a phone πŸ˜‰

Send my messages, Skype

This is one of those long-time bugs that I’ve experienced with a piece of software that I truly love because of what it can do with your phone budget if you have folks overseas (or just if you have a curiosity about free telephone numbers over there as well), Skype.

This particular bug involves trying to send a text message to a friend who is offline at the time. For some reason, whenever they send me a message and I’m offline, the message comes to me when I get online, but when I try to do it, I get the almost dreaded "Message not sent yet" note on the screen, even after they sign in.

The really annoying thing is that when I am fairly certain that person is online and I send a message with some unsent messages still there (because they didn’t get sent when they came online in the first place), those new messages get stuck!

It’s really fucking annoying and there is no reason that my messages can’t be delivered when both the sender and receiver are online. Thankfully there is one way to solve the problem, but it is quite annoying – calling the person usually gets the messages to go through, unless they are truly offline in which case I get sent to voicemail.

To be honest, as much as I love Skype, this problem is quite infuriating and should be something quite simple to fix, if you ask me. Of course I’m not a software engineer, so there ya go. πŸ˜‰