Record Shows from your Comcast HD DVR onto your Mac

I have gotten a lot of great response from a post about how to fix a problem with muting and the Comcast DVR. So I thought that I would share another great tip about the cool box, how to get the video off of it and onto your Mac. I currently have two of these DVR boxes, interestingly enough both are a little different. The good news is this technique works on both. The second box that I got, has a eSATA port on it, which I find very interesting. I have not tried to do anything with it yet, but I will let you know when I do.

So you want to get the digital video off of the DVR and onto your Mac. Well you can do it, kind of. Unfortunately there are issues with this technique that are beyond our control. The cable company can add copy protection to the signal, which makes it impossible to watch. As of now, I have not found a way to get around this. The good new is that the local channels (channels that would be broadcast over the air) must remain unencrypted. Now that we got that out of the way, here is how you do it.

DVR

Start with the Motorola Dual-Tuner DVR High-Definition Set-Top DCT6412 or similar unit. As I mentioned, I got mine from Comcast, but I think there are other cable companies like Cox that use the same box. Then you will need a Mac and a standard firewire cable (six pin to six pin). I recommend that you run the latest version of OS X, as I have not tried this with anything other than Tiger.

Next you will need to download the FireWire SDK 22 for Mac OS X from Apple. This developers tool kit provides a cool app called AVCVideoCap. NOTE: FireWire SDK 22 for Mac OS X is the latest version at the time I am writing this. There may be a newer version by the time you read this. Anyway download and install the SDK.

Now you have everything that you need to get started. As a safety measure you may want to shutdown you computer and DVR before you connect them with the firewire cable.

1. Connect the the DVR and the Mac with the firewire cable.
2. Open the AVCVideoCap application. (it is located in the developer tools folder /Developer/FireWireSDK22/Applications/AVCVideoCap.app)

AVCVideoCap

3. If all is good with the world you should see your DVR listed in the device window, select it. In the image above there is no device listed, so if your screen looks like that, there is a problem.
4. Turn your DVR to the channel that you want to record (you can also do this through the computer in the next step).
5. Note the EMI status. This is what will tell you if the video is copy protected or not. Copy Freely means that you can record it no problem. Copy Once, means that you can copy it, but you will not be able to view it.
6. Select the capture from device button, you get a dialog box with some more options. They are pretty much self explanatory, so fill them out and start recording.

The file that you will record is a MPEG-2 transport stream. So you will have a file that will end in .m2t. Since these are not really common file type they can be a bit complicated to play. The best app to use to view these files is the VLC media Player. This app should play these files without any issues.

For more advanced use, and conversion I recommend two more programs. The first is MPEG streamclip, a great quicktime based MPEG app. And since you will be working with MPEG-2 you will need to buy the MPEG-2 playback component for QuickTime. You may want to try things out before you shell out 20 bucks, but it does make life easier.

And that is it. While it might sound kind of complicated it is rather easy and fun. It is really cool to be able to view these high definitions videos on the computer. Apple has clearly laid the groundwork for someone to create a Mac DVR app, it is just to bad that copyright is such and issue with this type of stuff. But as and alternative, there is a cool product called eyetv hybrid that looks really cool. I have not tried this, but I would love to get my hands on one. When and if I do, I will let you know what I think.

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~ by jpicune on October 13, 2006.

46 Responses to “Record Shows from your Comcast HD DVR onto your Mac”

  1. Would the procedure be the same (similar) to back-up programs stored/recorded on the DVR?

    Thanks.

  2. Yes, exactly the same, you just have to play the video and it will stream out the FireWire port.

  3. Everything worked according to your helpful description but my video recordings are missing the audio track. What do you suspect I am doing wrong?
    Thanks.

  4. QuickTime does not like audio in MPEG formats for some reason. Try MPEG Steam Clip, a great app.

  5. is there a way to change the file name so that you can save it to a disk and to an ipod?

  6. I not sure that I understand you question. You can save the file with any name that you want.

  7. sorry. i understand that, but i meant change the file as in a differnet format. as to a .mov or mp4, etc. basically once i download and play in VLC can i change format/export to quicktime or itunes.

    also where you put in “channel” do you know what to put if you are recording something from playback on dvr? do you just use whatever channel it was originally recorded on the box from?

    thanks for the help.

  8. To change the format use MPEG Streamclip (the link and directions are above). It will give options to encode to whatever format you want. To record a saved show from your DVR ignore the channel selection, what ever your box is outputting is what you will get via firewire.

  9. if you copy something that says, “copy once” can it be converted , burned to dvd and watched on tv such as the show 24?

  10. Hi I was wondering if you’re familiar with an easy way to get recordings to a PC, or right onto a DVD???
    thanks!

  11. I am a mac guy so I have no idea what to do in the PC world, but I am sure there has to be some solutions out there. If the recording is in HD you will have to convert to go to DVD, but if it is SD you can use MPEG Streamclip to assist you. But if you just want to go to DVD the easy way, spend the fifty dollars on ebay and just pick up a DVD recorder.

  12. still having trouble getting the Hd channels. any suggestins. i unplugged out HDMI cables cause i thought it would encryt it.

  13. So I connected and was able to record onto my Mac, BUT NOW, all of my prerecorded programs on the DCT3416 are blank, and I can’t get it to record anything! Any ideas/suggestions?

  14. Hey there, any way to simply download recordings without having to watch them?

  15. Here is what people are using for PC (Windows XP):

    http://replayguide.sourceforge.net/dct6412/index.html

    People have had success using those instructions for the DCT3416. See:
    http://www.videohelp.com/forum/archive/t315279.html

  16. Hi, In the another artical it shows Virtual DVHS 1.08b. On the left it shows all the shows on your Motorola/Comcast DVR. I downloaded SDK 23, my Virtual DVHS looks nothing like it. Mine has very few features colorful cheesey graphics.

    All I want to do is pull the stuff I have recorded on to the DVR on to my Mac’s HD. I don’t care how big the files are, I can do things to them later. Right now my DVR is full, and want to save some of these shows. (Would like to use the files with my EyeHome or a AppleTV later on)

    I’m not concerned about recording live video, just want to take the previously recorded stuff off the DVR. I have no interest in turning my Mac in to a DVR, but every artical on the internet is about doing that. I just want to pull things off.

    Link to a screen shot of a older Virtual DVHS

    Just confusing I downloaded SDK 23 from Apple.com and my Virtual DVHS looks nothing like one I saw in a different tutorial.

    Hope someone can help.

  17. Thanks, I found this site via google search – I had been messing around with SDK18 and VirtualDVHS – what a pain! This is much easier. Recorded regular TV and HD just fine from Motorola 6412. Now I’m hoping I can write a simple applescript that will work with iCal to set up recordings – thanks again

  18. Some what off topic, but I’m hoping someone may know the answer.

    I’m using a Comcast HD DVR (Motorola 6412) box with an old school tv. I’m curious to know if it is possible to run Apple TV into the Comcast box via the component video inputs? Will the Motorola box convert the signal to old school analog?

    I’m guessing not, but thought I’d ask.

    Thanks

  19. For anyone looking to convert the mt2 files to something more usable(ie .avi).

    lets say you want to take 1080i HD content and save it as a 720p xvid AVI.
    (this is how I save my recorded content because my tv is 720p)

    First use mpegstream clip to convert to mpeg, then use a program called ffmpegX to deinterlace and resize to 720 as a mpeg2.
    (I have noticed that if you use mpegstream clip to cut out commercials from the mt2 file the audio becomes unsynched)

    Once you have the 720p mpeg2 file open it in mpeg streamclip and then cutout the commercials, save the file.

    now take the cut, resized file, and use ffmpegX to encode it to Xvid. I keep my bitrate at about 6000 to 6500 when I encode it and this puts 42 mins of 720p content at around 2gb.

    otherwise play around with it and youll find other sizes to encode to, just be warned it takes time and alot of processor power!

  20. I have a motorola hd box and can record live tv fine. I leave the channel option blank on AVCVideoCap and get black recordings on my mac. What am I doing wrong? Also is it possible in any way to record hbo or sopranos yet?
    thanks

  21. Thank you so much! This worked really well and by following your great directions, I was able to capture the video I needed easily. You are the man!

  22. I have a DCT3400 comcast set top box. Will this process still work for it? When i plug it in, AVCVideoCap recognizes the DVR, but the capture from device button still remains unlit.

  23. For the most part this works very well. However, i am having some sound problems. When I record from my Motorola box and it is a live broadcast everyone works fine. However, when I try to capture a DVR recording I am not getting any sound. Any ideas?

  24. How do you actually get a copy of AVCVideoCap? On the apple site you have to have a developer account and I let mine laps about 5 years ago and I don’t see another source for this particular application. Any help is greatly appreciated.

  25. You have to be a member, but it is free. As of today the current version is 24 FYI.

  26. I have a question…what cable do i need exactly to do this on my mac and which one is it on the apple site…if someone could show me that would be great…

    Thanks, Adam

  27. Firewire 400, six pin to six pin.

  28. I saw a question made a while back and I didn’t notice an answer, so I will ask it again. this process works great for viewing live TV and while I’m VIEWING recorded T.V., but is there a way to get recorded shows onto my laptop without having to watch it? thanks in advance.

  29. The answer is no, unless you just walk away. A direct transfer would be nice though. Right now you have to play and record the stream.

  30. Well I guess there is a “way” to do it that i’ve just read, but it involves opening your DVR system and slaving the HD to a UNIX based system. Supposidly there are something like 3 partitions on the HD and the third contains the video files. But cracking this sucker open is not an option! 😀

  31. ok.. so i attached the firewire to my dvr and was able to capture from something i recorded. however, i cant get the file to play. I downloaded the MPEG stream that you recommended, but it says my files are too short. I also tried the virtualDVHS or whatever that it comes with, and the VLC. None of these have worked. Any advice?

  32. It’s possible that the video that you recorded was encrypted. Unfortunately the cable company can do that to it’s video feed. By law they should not do it to local channels, but I have seen them encrypted in the past.

    The AVCVideoCap application has an EMI field which will tell you if the stream you are tying to record is encrypted or not.

  33. I followed these instructions and they worked perfectly for capturing live TV from my DCT3416. I have gone on to burn DVDs using all the mentioned tools for Mac. I still can’t get recorded TV to work. I have a movie recorded on my DCT3416. I have verified that it is “Copy Freely”. I go on to play the recorded movie with AVSCap running. When I open the m2t file in VLC, it is completely blank. So, I do not know what to do anymore. These forums never seem to answer this simple question: Can I transfer recorded shows from my DCT3416 to my Mac OSX? If so, what do I have to do different from recording live TV in order for this to work?

  34. I’m using SDK25, AVCVideocap and VLC. My connection is good, live recordings work fine but I can only create a file with a totally black screen when playing an exisitng recording. EMI reports copy freely and I have tried standard and HD recordings, the results are the same. I leave the channel blank in AVCvideocap when I’m playing a recording. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks

  35. What are you using to play back the video captures?

  36. Thanks for the response. I’m using VLC .8.6 The video appears to play but the screen is black with no sound.

  37. Thanks all is working great until i try to convert the file to Mpeg4. I am using Mpeg Streamclip and purchased the mpeg-2 install for quicktime pro, but when i “export as mpeg4” my frames are delayed and very choppy, one frame will stay on the screen for a minute then another will come….the sound is pretty steady, but not sure what I am doing wrong. What should I be doing in MPEG Streamclip that I am not.
    Thanks for all your help. THis is a great tool.

  38. An idea for circumventing encryption that seemed to work for me: When the program starts, pause the live tv for a few seconds, then start recording then play the tv stream (not live, but a few seconds delayed). For some reason I was able to record “live” by watching it slightly delayed.

    Of course, this does not work for those using their computer for unattended recording.

  39. Fantastic! Thank you so much! I was looking for just the thing. I was featured on the local news and wanted it to share with my family. It worked perfectly. Everything from downloading the SDK to viewing in VLC was done in less than 20 minutes.

  40. to record from Comcast set top box: I use AVCVideoCap taken from the applications folder out of the SKD25 Firewire kit. Use a firewire cable to connect the Mac and the set top box. That’s all you need , its simplified. Once you have the .m2t file I use VLC to transcode the file to H264 and mpeg4 audio. Once this file is made, QT player is good to go and I place these movies on my ipod video. Example a 2 hrs m2t file is about 2.7 gigs. Transcoded into H264 it becomes about 1.2 gigs. Transcoded back to ipod compatibility through itunes it becomes about 1.4 gigs. Just drag the mpeg4 file to the itunes movie library.

    Now understand this procedure is not problem free. Transcoding with VLC 086d or 086c on an intel Mac is not reliable yet, using Leopard but more-so using Tiger. A PPC Mac, I use a Powerbook G4 to capture the m2t file and to transcode. Example of the 2 hr movie with the powerbook to transcode to H264 would be about 6 hrs and on an intel(Mac Pro) 2.5 hrs Its a royal pain concerning time but its the powerbook sitting alone doing the work, user does not have to be attentive. VLC is open source, so slow to evolve but we should be thankful for this powerful program. Far better than mpegstream in reliability and ease of use. Just launch and go. The Apple QT plugin bogs the computer down too much and is not versitile enough. Concerning the question of blank video or no audio: assume firewire and the set top box don’t play well. Heck even firewire devices and the Mac have issues. The point is that the user must get a feel for that set top box. Have you ever sat down and watched a movie only to be annoyed with the sound, just does not come in clear enough on some days. So to is the Mac connected with firewire. One cause for no picture ,when Apple System Profiler and the capture application see and seem to be work fine is that the user did not make the connection properly between the two devices. The safest method is the remove power not the power down button but the electrical cord from the set top box. Mac should be powered down also. Connect the firewire cable to each properly. Start power to the set top box first then boot the Mac. Check ASP to see if set top box is recognized. Start AVC set your time limit and watch if recording. I’ve been burned by no video also but I always noticed my set top box was acting funny at times. Even when done with the recording and user disconnects the cable still expect problems from the set top box. It may act slowly or like its struggling. I’m sure I’ve jogged some memories of these types of issues. Concerning the issue of encryption: I’ve transcoded movies that were encrypted and sought a countermeasure but stumbled upon one: transcoding in VLC will make it whole. I’ve not tried enough m2t files to see if it is 100% but anything above 0% is ok with me.

  41. Hi–

    I”m using a Scientific Atlanta 8300HD Explorer. I’m using SDK 23, and everything seems to be working fine, AVcap recognized my DVR box, but the EMI box always remains blank. It says it records, but the mt file it leaves behind is empty, 0 bytes. None of the boxes “frame/packet count; dropped frames, etc” are always at zero. Any suggestions?

  42. i am having the same problem”m using a Scientific Atlanta 8300HD Explorer. I’m using SDK 23, and everything seems to be working fine, AVcap recognized my DVR box, but the EMI box always remains blank. It says it records, but the mt file it leaves behind is empty, 0 bytes. None of the boxes “frame/packet count; dropped frames, etc” are always at zero. Any suggestions?,did you every get this fixed

  43. I have been successfully capturing HD content from my Comcast DCT-3416 for some time. Today, when I started an AVCVideoCap, the DVR/Cable stream freezes and doesn’t continue till I either stop capture or unplug the firewire cable. Is there something different going on?
    I’m attempting restarting both the Mac and Cablebox/DVR and trying different startup combinations. Still not working.
    Any ideas as to why this suddenly isn’t working?

  44. I ended up getting picture back, but no sound through several restarts of both the DVR/Cablebox and my laptop.

    Unfortunately the only fix, before deleting the HD show from the DVR
    was to capture it again with an SD MPEG 4 recorder (AIPTEK camera) for the sound and then sync them up again in Final Cut. I would only consider wasting so much time on such an activity because the program was something I shot for Animal Planet and I needed it for my reel. Serious pain in the but though.

  45. Have you tied this:
    http://www.ammesset.com/firerecord

    I just downloaded it tonight and it’s letting me record right off my Motorola DCH3416 using a firewire 400 cable. I end up with a M2T file in my movies folder. AWESOME!

  46. […] crap from a hard drive right? Not exactly. Back in 2006, I stumbled across some information about how to record shows from the DVR onto my computer. In the post comes the warning “The cable company can add copy protection to the […]

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