Capturing Video on your Mac

I original wrote the following article for InformIT and they have generously allowed me to reproduce it here to help disseminate the information. And so, please read on to learn everything you need to be able to watch TV on your Mac, capture video onto your hard disk, and even burn DVDs of TV shows, movies, and other archived video material. The pullquote for the article was:

“You have 100 hours of favorite TV programs and movies sitting on the hard disk of your DVR. So how do you get some of them into your Macintosh and thence onto a DVD disk? “It’ll cost a few bucks, but it’s easy!” says author Dave Taylor.”

Reprinted with permission from InformIT

Capturing Video on your Mac

Date: Jul 16, 2004 By Dave Taylor.

I’m not a big fan of television. Most discussions about the latest sitcom leave me scratching my head and wondering what people are talking about. Nonetheless, there are a few shows that I enjoy watching, and I’m a big fan of movies; I once figured out that I watch over 500 movies per year!

The biggest improvement to my television watching has been the addition of a Digital Video Recorder (DVR). The unit that I have from the Dish Network (my being a Dish Network subscriber will prove important later in this article) isn’t an actual TiVO, but it offers 90 percent of the functionality�including the pause and rewind of live video, and a powerful programming and archival system.

That’s where this article begins, with 100 hours of my favorite programs sitting on the hard disk of my DVR. So how do I get some of them into my Macintosh and thence onto a DVD disk?

There are other reasons to capture video on a computer, especially including editing movies and burning DVDs, but with applications such as iMovie and modern Firewire-enabled camcorders, that’s as easy as plugging the camera into the Mac and turning it on. iMovie launches, and it’s one click to “capture video” and begin the fun, but it’s a phenomenally time-intensive task of turning raw footage into something coherent.

First Things First

The first thing that’s obvious if you look at the back of a modern Macintosh is that there’s no video-in port, so somehow the video that’s coming out from your TV/video entertainment system needs to be turned into a Mac-friendly signal or the Mac needs to get a video-in port.

There are a couple of options in this area from ATI, Eskape Labs, Focus Enhancements and Elgato Systems. I opted for the latter choice because the Elgato EyeTV 200 includes composite, S-Video, and stereo audio connectors along with a more standard coax/cable connector; and it is a Firewire-based video device. Just about all the other choices are USB-based, and I’m interested in capturing the highest possible quality video, which translates to a whole lotta data pouring through that wire at any given time.

NOTE: The EyeTV 200 costs $349 at the Elgato online store.

A Guided Tour of EyeTV

The EyeTV 200 couldn’t be easier to set up: One wire goes from your video feed to the EyeTV unit, and then a Firewire cable connects the EyeTV to your Macintosh. Pop in the CD-ROM, install the EyeTV software, and you’re watching TV or video in a window on your Mac! Very cool! (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Television on your Mac! Now, if there were just some good programs to find!

If you look closely at Figure 1, you see an egg-shaped window that’s the controller for EyeTV, and that has the magic button on it for capturing video: the RECORD button. But before we go there, let’s have a closer look at the controller (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Just as confusing as a regular remote, but this time it’s onscreen.

Because I’m using a satellite system, the unit is locked onto Channel 3. Actually, that’s the biggest complaint I have about the system because a DVR that knows how to interact with the Dish Network (or DirecTV) would be much, much more useful! Indeed, because the EyeTV system includes built-in access to the TitanTV Web-based program guide, it would take only a little scripting to create a permanent “search-and-record” utility that would eventually let me have copies of all those hard-to-find movies. But I digress…

The “+” and “-” keys on the controller let you change channels, and the four buttons in a row offer access to recorded programs, the TV guide, channel listings, and record. The other buttons on the controller are reasonably self-explanatory: rewind, play, fast forward, skip backward, skip forward; a tiny mute button, and a slider for volume control.

Enough guided tour. Let’s capture some video!

Capturing Video

The most important step involved with capturing video is to set the capture preferences. This is accomplished by going to EyeTV -> Preferences -> Devices, where you see the options shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: There’s only a small amount of configuration required for the EyeTV 200 system.

Capturing video takes up a lot of disk space. The format I use for video capture, Standard DVD, eats up about 4MB for each second of video�or about 1.8GB per hour. Super Video CD (also known as S-VCD) is the least painful on disk space (although also the lowest quality) at only 726MB per hour, and high-quality DVD eats up 2.7GB for each hour of video.

An important reference figure is that your DVD burning drive can handle single-layer DVD which means that you can burn about 4GB on each disk, so although you can put only two hours of Standard DVD format video on your own DVD, you can put about five hours of SVCD on a single DVD. However, you’ll want to ensure that your DVD player can handle SVCD format.

After everything is set up, capturing the actual video onto the Mac is quite straightforward. I cue up the Dish Network DVR to the program I want to capture, go into the EyeTV controller, press the RECORD button, then press the PLAY button on the Dish Network controller�and that’s all there is to it.

Now the Program guide shows what’s going on (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: The EyeTV software confirms that we’re busy recording a program.

You can see that we’re only one minute into the recording, but that it is indeed recording the incoming video stream. There’s no way to speed up the recording process, so it takes an hour to record a one-hour program. And sure enough, an hour later I press the RECORD button again and the recording stops.

Burning a DVD

The final step in this process is to then burn a DVD with the video data. For this process, I select the recorded program and choose File -> Save Program as Quicktime Video (a critically important step). For the actual DVD burning, I use the industry-standard Toast Titanium application from Roxio. If you have iLife, you can use iDVD to burn a disk, and there are even some good shareware applications too, which you can find at VersionTracker.

Again, this is easy. I create a new DVD image in Toast by choosing Video -> DVD Video and then dragging and dropping the MPEG video file directly onto the application. Another RECORD button to press and the data starts streaming onto the disk. Eventually, I have a shiny new DVD that contains the original video recorded on my Dish Network DVR; one that not only works on regular DVD players, but also works just as well on Macs and PCs.

Final Thoughts

Although this process might seem easy, there’s definitely a cash outlay involved here. Between a copy of Toast and the EyeTV 200 unit, this was at least a $500 investment�plus the second hard disk I bought and installed on my Mac so that I had plenty of space to work with video. (At least hard disks are cheap now!) With a little bit of homework, you can find 60GB or more drives for under $100.

Nonetheless, if you do want to capture video and save it on your Macintosh or even burn your own DVDs, it’s eminently within your reach and easily done.

4 comments on “Capturing Video on your Mac

  1. I have Dish Network running in my home. I have downloaded many hours of programming onto a Maxtor 4 (750gb). I need to play these programs and Dish will not help me. I do have a Mac, but downloading these items on a computer would take weeks. I would like to just play them through my TVs. I am at another location and cannot use my 722 and 622 which they were downloaded from.
    Dish cannot get me the right info on any of this and I am feed up with their lack of knowledge and lack of customer service.

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