Saturday, September 26, 2009

How to make 720p DVDs from Set-top box recordings

Just wanted to share my experiences from solving this problem:

Set-top boxes used in Cable or Satellite Digital Television Transmission will mostly encode recorded content into proprietary file formats and offer no interface at all for transferring industry standard HD* (say AVCHD) recorded files from their HDD** to attached external Media disks or computers***. They're often equipped with Ethernet or/and USB ports, however, these cannot be typically used for file transfers between their own HDD and attached external appliances. Thus, the problem remains: how do you extract a recorded program from a set-top box for permanent storage in your own multimedia hard disks or own burnt DVDs? Preferably on HD resolutions (min @ 720p, a.k.a. HD-Ready)?

I recently touched upon this subject, but today I'd like to share my success in solving the problem, whereby the Set-top box in my case was a HD Digicorder obtained from Telenet in this country. This set-top has one HDMI, one Component and one SCART Composite video outputs. It also offers one S/PDIF and a second RCA standard Stereo Audio output (typically for audio use in conjunction with the component signal), in addition to the audio outputs embedded in the HDMI and SCART connectors respectively. Other set-top boxes offer almost identical connectivity, I reckon... especially if they happen to support HDTV. Therefore, the process I describe is readily applicable to any other similar set-top boxes out there. An interesting detail about component video is that it bypasses encryption that is often applied to 'author locked' TV programmes when HDMI connectors are used. Component connectivity is analog, unlocked and offers great HD resolutions at the same time, in other words, it's a dream beauty!

  1. Sony Bravia Full-HD television (basically, this is not necessary for the actual process other than watching the programme while recording...)
  2. Telenet HD Digicorder (used to decode the cable signals and also record programmes on its HDD)
  3. Hauppauge HD PVR (to encode Component HD or SD Composite input A/V signals, via USB and into the Mac)
  4. MacBook Pro (Sorry folks, I can't go back to Windows after my Vista experience...)
  5. Connecting Cables (obviously... these being, a component RGB cable, a S/PDIF or an RCA stereo audio connector for A/V, and a USB cable to connect the computer with the PVR)
  6. Empty writable DVDs
  1. EyeTV 3.1.x
  2. Toast Titanium 10.0.x
  3. Mac OSX - Snow(y) Leo(pard) in my case
To do steps:
  1. Programme the Digicorder to record a given HD channel. Currently, plenty of TV content, free or paid, is offered at 720p by Telenet in Belgium.
  2. Turn on the PVR.
  3. Connect the Mac via USB and launch EyeTV. The Component Signal is visible on the EyeTV window, and is identical to what we see on a Flat HD-Ready TV (ie. Bravia connected to the Digicorder via HDMI)
  4. Use the Digicorder controls to locate the recorded programme and hit play.
  5. Hit EyeTV's 'Record' button. Watch, or go have a few drinks until it's over...
  6. When recording reaches end, terminate so-called 'Live Recording' on EyeTV.
  7. Use EyeTV feature to export Recording to Titanium Toast. Select Blu-Ray as 'disk-burning' option.
  8. Place an empty writable DVD in optical drive and hit the Ti-Toast "Burn" button.
  9. With the available input resolution arranged by the PVR AVCHD encoding, Ti-Toast uses content as is... only some multiplexing during a few secs, and it then burns the DVD in just a matter of minutes.
  10. Enjoy the result on a Blu-ray disk-player or PSP3, at an impeccable 720p HD-Ready resolution...

Folks, it works and it rocks! The process described above is ideal when you have all reasons to record something on a Digicorder first before transferring it to the Mac. In case you only have a so-called HD Digibox (a HDTV decoder set-top without a HDD) or you want to store something 'Live' into your Mac, then you can actually use a fit-to-purpose feature offered by EyeTV. By doing so, you can avoid the intermediate recording on the set-top's HDD. I reckon, you might even get a 'better' quality component signal into your PVR, as you will avoid potential quality deterioration from the set-top's encoding/recording step. The only drawback of this solution, is that your living-room space gets 'messy' with the MacBook connected to the PVR in plain daylight as opposed to a clandestine capture in the 'dark' when nobody's sniffin' around... you see, my beloved spouse hates to see inside our living-room landscape anything conspicuous with cables attached; she used to choke each time she leaned behind our TV to dust the furniture and saw the cables on the floor. Nowadays she uses a charwoman instead.

BTW, click for sharper view the screen capture at the top to compare two (identical) frames from the same programme (Canvas Extra-time of Sep 21st, 2009), the top frame captured from an analog SDTV signal (thus no decoder at all, just a plain coax input into EyeTV USB) whereas the bottom frame is from a 720p set-top recording AVCHD encoded by the PVR. Pretty amazing, innit? The graph at the bottom shows the in's and out's of a PVR. Finally, in case you've been wondering what storage size any video capture, like the one described above, occupies on your hard disk, count on about one gigabyte per 25 minutes of component 720p video, compared to half that for an SDTV signal, composite or S-Video.

*High Definition
**Hard Disk Drive
***I'm pretty sure the reasons are not technical... rather related to Authors' Rights applicable legislation.


William said...

this is a very interesting article. thanks for sharing.
maybe you can give me some advice. i tried to connect a Telenet HD digicorder to an EyeTV Hybrid. i would like to get digital TV on my iMac because i prefer to use EyeTV - being able to export to iPhone and Apple TV. what i tried didn't work. on the screen i get 'Encrypted' instead. is it possible anyhow or do i really need to run the double recording process you described here?

VJK said...

First of all, Hauppauge also uses the EyeTV software, so no problem there. It sounds strange what you said about the hardware part of the hybrid though. I would have imagined that this could only happen when HDMI is used for transferring video signals. I use the Telenet analog component signals too and these are being handled correctly by Hauppauge. Apparently my Hauppauge box bypasses possible scrambling on the video signal and further encodes it digitally to send to the Mac via USB... although I wonder whether there is any signal scrambling used by Telenet on their analog video signals at all? If yes, how the hell could a plain vanilla TV set of the old gens accept their signal and display it? I mean, what's the use of SCART on a Digicorder then?

Anonymous said...

it's only on the digital channels that i get this 'encrypted' message. i suppose Telenet is scrambling these. so basically, connecting a Telenet Digibox straight to an EyeTV device doesn't work. I really don't understand why Telenet is keeping their customers from using their own hardware. guess there's no alternative than switching to satellite. thanks anyhow for your advice.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i'm also from Belgium and i have the newest Telenet Hd digicorder and the newest hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming edition. I tried to record from the HD Digicorder with HDMI to HDMI but it doesn't work. The decoder says it is protected... Anyone got a solution?

VJK said...

HDMI is a digital port and it might create that problem you just described. I used the HD Digicorder with a card and it used to have a component video port out, and I used the older Hauppauge with the same port. So it worked. unfortunately, I exchanged that digicorder for the newer version and this offers no component video interface any more, only HDMI and good ol' Scart crap. I was planning to buy the next Hauppauge version with the HDMI interface but thanks to what you just said, I'm not gonna do it anyways. No use if it reacts the way you described. Pity. I believe we are both stuck. Like the old saying goes, never change a winning team!

Anonymous said...

Je mag altijd mijn toestel eens uitproberen als je wilt. terrorkieke(a)hotmail(punt)com

Anonymous said...

Ow yes, thank you for the quick response. Maybe if i use a hdmi-switch, it will recognise the switch so that it will work... just mail me and we will discuss it...

VJK said...

That's an idea. If an HDMI switch 'neutralises' the IPR controls crap, then it might work. The problem is on the Digicorder side, I believe. Hauppauge wouldn't care much about what's coming in and from where, really. Telenet is bound to author's IPR and shouldn't allow indiscrminate copying for sure. Probably this is the reason they abolished the (HD) component video port too... On the other hand, you can always copy from the Scart but low res video, indeed. That's absurd though... They'd allow low res video copying but no HD? Sounds like a stupid thing to do. If you try the switch and it works, feel free to post your impressions here... Thanx much for sharing, anyway!

Anonymous said...

Yes i will give it a go but shouldn't we delete this idea because if they find out, they will secure it better i guess...
Telenet is really crappy on such cases. When i want to record in low res, i still would use my dvd-recorder...
Thx for your help and i will let you know something when it's done.
It can take some time because of the holidays and i have to order the device as well. You can mail me if you don't hear anything more from me ;o)
Kind regards

Anonymous said...

I've tried the HD PVR2 GE with a switch and with a splitter. The switch didn't work as i suspected but the splitter did work BUT the splitter MUST support HDCP.
Kind regards

rocteur said...

Would this still work with a decoder from 2014 ?
Which model HD PVR should I buy ?

I'd love to try it but don't want to buy the HD PVR if it won't work anymore .

Thanks in advance