Turn your Macintosh into a TiVo-Style Digital Video Recorder

Fall is the time of colorful foliage, going back to school, cooler weather and best of all, the return of your favorite TV shows. Personally, I don’t like to a locked into the network’s broadcast schedule. Nor do I care for inane commercials. Sure, you could buy a DVR or TiVo.. Or I can show you how to turn your iMac, MacBook or even older Macintosh desktop into a decent DVR solution.

Required Hardware:

In order for your Mac to do this trick, you will need a third party TV Tuner. There are many out there but alas, most are for the Windows crowd, although this is changing as Apple’s sales continue to grow.

Fortunately, there are a few companies out there that support the OS X market. Here are three recommended choices along with their product descriptions from Amazon:

Elgato’s EyeTV Hybrid – Mac TV tuner stick:

EyeTV Hybrid by ElgatoPhoto courtesy of Amazon
“The EyeTV Hybrid is the ideal solution for someone who wants both an analog and digital TV solution for the Mac in one small USB stick. With its classic matte aluminum finish and surprisingly small size for such a versatile product, the EyeTV Hybrid is a perfect complement to the Mac. It features a USB 2.0 interface for the streaming of superior quality, uncompressed TV content to your Mac. It is USB powered and therefore requires no external power supply, and contains a full-size coaxial plug. EyeTV Hybrid works with an Apple Remote. The EyeTV hardware delivers free over-the-air digital TV to your Mac via antenna, as well as analog TV via antenna and standard cable. EyeTV Hybrid also comes with a breakout cable for composite video and S-Video, enabling you to connect a set top box for premium channels, digital cable or satellite.” – Amazon product description.

Hauppauge’s WinTV-HVR 950 Hybrid TV Stick:

WinTV-HVR 950 by HauppaugePhoto courtesy of Amazon
“The Hauppauge 1145 WinTV-HVR-950 Hybrid TV Stick External TV Tuner/Video Recorder for Mac and PC will bring high-definition television directly to your computer. This handy device lets you watch your favorite TV shows through your computer, and record them digitally for future playback using high quality MPEG-2. More economical and versatile than a DVR, or digital video recorder, this PC Video Recorder, or PVR, gives you virtually unlimited options for saving and playing back your favorite TV broadcasts and clips.

More versatile than a DVR, the WinTV-HVR-950 is a pocket-sized device that simply plugs into your computer’s USB port. It features a built-in digital ATSC over-the-air TV receiver. If you live in one of the more than 200 cities in the United States that receives ATSC digital TV, you’ll have immediate access to as many as 1500 digital TV stations.” – Amazon product description.

Pinnacle’s TV for Mac HD Stick:

TV for Mac HD Stick by PinnaclePhoto courtesy of Amazon
“Experience both analog TV and the power of digital TV in HD with Pinnacle TV for Mac HD Stick. Its ultra-portable stick makes it easy to take your TV anywhere. Enjoy the stunning picture and sound quality of free-to-air HDTV with ATSC digital TV tuner Take control of TV. Never miss an important moment with pause, rewind and replay Record your favorite TV programs. Schedule recordings with integrated Electronic Program Guide Includes Elgato EyeTV Lite TV viewing and recording software. Key Features include: Ultra-compact USB 2.0 analog and digital TV tuner with remote control and portable antenna, free-to-air HDTV (ATSC), pause, rewind and replay, Record your favorite TV programs–schedule recordings with integrated Electronic Program Guide, and Elgato EyeTV Lite TV viewing and recording software.” – Amazon product description.

USB and not PCI?

Notice that these are all USB devices. While you can find a PCI device for the older Macintosh, remember that the iMacs, iBooks/Powerbooks and MacBooks/MacBookPros don’t have PCI slots. As long as your older Mac has USB 2.0 ports, you can handle all your TV Tuner needs via USB. Also, the older PCI specification is much slower of a transfer rate than USB 2.0.

Note: Depending on your processor speed and memory, you may or may not be able to handle HDTV signals. Consult the required specs. Remember, in February 2009 the US will cease to broadcast non HDTV TV signals.

Each of these devices comes bundled with software to turn your Mac into a DVR. I’m partial to Elgato’s EyeTV software, however Hauppauge’s WinTV software also looks decent. Both will allow you to watch and record video streams. Note that the Pinnacle tuner comes with a lite / cut down version of EyeTV. For those of you who are interested in a free, open-source software solution, have a look at MythTV

Note: Recording HDTV can result in monstrously large files. Make sure you have enough space and that the drive you save them on is HFS+ (OS X Filesystem). Other systems can’t handle such a large file size.

Each of these tuners and software are compatible with OS X. All you have to do is connect the cables and install the software. Now that nice iMac of yours can double as a beautiful flat-screen HDTV!

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2 thoughts on “Turn your Macintosh into a TiVo-Style Digital Video Recorder

  1. This was an extremely helpful article, thank you! My goal is to use a Macbook to record video of TV shows, edit it, and burn it to DVDs for watching in the future. Do you know if any of these solutions allows that capability, or records in a format that will allow editing?

  2. Hi Dane,

    Thanks for the comment. According to Elgato, their EyeTV software will record and edit video. It also converts video for iPods, AppleTVs, and other Macs. According to their site, “Once the video is in EyeTV you can burn it to DVD for safe keeping.”

    Just make sure it’s not the lite version. The Pinnacle tuner reviewed above ships with the lite version of EyeTV. The Elgato tuner ships with the full software.