How to build a super-low-cost, HD-PVR out of any Firewire-equipped Apple Mac

“I found that any Firewire-equipped Mac can be made into an HD-PVR for unencrypted content at the expense of an appropriate firewire cable. Apple even provides the necessary capture software that you need, provided that you know where to look,” Rob blogs for “motivated.”

The Project

Building a super-low-cost, HD-PVR.


1. A cable box with Firewire output
2. A Mac (with an available Firewire port)
3. A Firewire cable for connecting the cable box to your computer (with appropriate connection interfaces)
4. Some spare hard drive space (HD required ~100MB/min)
5. Apple Firewire SDK
6. MPlayer (or, alternatively, VLC)

Rob explains, “In my case, I used a Scientific Atlanta 3250HD Cable Receiver, a 12 inch 1.33Ghz Aluminum Apple Powerbook, and a spare Belkin male-male firewire cable that I had laying around from a Mac-to-Mac data transfer I did at some point. The Apple Firewire SDK is downloadable (free registration required) from the Apple Development Kits Page. MPlayer and VLC are also free downloads. In theory, any combination of 1-3 should work. If your cable set-top box lacks Firewire connectivity, ask for it. The FCC mandates that all cable services provide firewire output (on request if necessary) as of April 1, 2004.”

Full article with instructions here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Mike H.” for the heads up.]

Related article:
Apple updates QuickTime Broadcaster (and how to turn your Mac into a PVR) – March 16, 2006


  1. “If your cable set-top box lacks Firewire connectivity, ask for it. The FCC mandates that all cable services provide firewire output (on request if necessary) as of April 1, 2004.””

    does this effect the uk?, sounds interesting

  2. to Andy, the FCC has nodirect effect on the UK. It is possible that because the feature is required in the US, it is kept on some European models simply because it is cheaper to design and produce one model than two, but the European and American television systems are very different so its probable that the boxes are designed completely separately and share no features.

    There are two questions that I don’t see answered very well anywhere. The author says the it requires some pretty decent hardware, but only mentions problems in playback. For those of us who have a newish main computer far from the TV and an old something or other lying around, what are the requirements to just record? It seems to me that simply recording it should be much less processor intensive. Can my iMac, which has a slower G4 and less ram than the test model used by the author, capture the stream?

    Second question: How easy is it to compress the videos once you have them? 7GB/hour is a lot and if you’re the type of person who likes to keep TV shows for awhile, you’ll run out of space very quickly. Will a free video converter like ffmpegx be able to take these and make them a lot smaller. The pirate sites generally put up digital HD content at about 350mB/hour, and while it is not as good as true HD it’s one twentieth the size. My happy middle ground is somewhere in between. Can I get there?

  3. Been doing this for awhle now…. but you can’t record pay/scrambled channels like HBO.

    When I started, there were a number of cable specific HD channels that DID work… but now, I can’t record any of them except for possibly PBS.

    mdn word = new.. as in this is not new for some of us….

  4. andy: that’s a bit harsh, expecially considering your question.

    If the FCC was to mandate Firewire output on cable set-top-boxes today rather than a few years ago it simply wouldn’t happen — the studios would prevent it. You only have to look at the plethora of TS files on usenet to see why. This is why there is no mandated Firewire output on satellite stb or HD DVD or Blu-ray players,

  5. Ray,

    Man, those Quicksilvers were so reliable. I bought mine in 2001, upgraded it to a dual and sold it to a friend last year. He’s still using it. It’s really not much slower than the dual 1.8 G5 I’m using at work right now.

    And, it would make a great DVR. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />


  6. “actually, YOU are the sad twat for asking the stupidest fscking question I’ve probably ever seen on MDN.

    Since when do our laws and rules EVER apply to you? When?”

    For starters, when you are present in a state, when you live in a state, by consent, when you appear in court in a state to defend an action, when you do business in a state (from, say the UK), when you do some act in a state, when you cause an effect in a state by an act or omission elsewhere (like say, the UK), when you own something in a state, any other relationship where it’s fair and reasonable to drag you into court in that state.

    That’s probably enough for starters.

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