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. Hey guys, did it ever come to your mind that sometimes different countries have the same law? Like “you are not allowed to kill someone because you like killing”. Oh and sometimes companies that build their products under one states law ship that stuff to other states. Since he asked whether there was any effect on the UK it might well have been that several countries took up measures to establish some sort of standards (e.g. cable boxes’ outputs). Or that a major company now has built-in firewire ports in all boxes shipped worldwide.

  2. …and when the UK government — nice one Tony Blair — unilaterally signs an anti-terrorist extradition treaty

    How do you unilaterally sign a treaty? Um, doesn’t there have to be at least two parties to make a treaty?

    As I’ve posted here before, this business of layman politics and armchair dysfunction is going to get us all killed. While we argue, they plan.

    As for FCC rules and firewire ports, sounds like typical US Fed mishmash. IOW if your box has FW, cool, and if it doesn’t, ask. The side effect is manufacturers can’t afford to make anything for just one region (think California auto emission rules), so if you’re lucky you’ll get a FW port without it being law.

    BTW, stupid is heated discussion and personal insults over a fscking PORT. What next?

  3. Andy – are you on crack? Your low-life outbursts are not welcome on this site. Why don’t you lurk on other forums where you’d feel more at home where gutter-speak is acceptable.

  4. Getting back to the topic at hand…..

    I too have used the PVR solution with a G4 1GHz tower connected to my cable box. Worked very well in most cases with unprotected video, like ABC, NBC etc. As pointed out above, most digital channels are encrypted so there will need to be a cable card solution.

    Problem is, most networks and distributors are only interested in selling you content on their own terms. Even though the FCC mandated FW connectivity the cable and networks companies found a good loophole and encrypted anything that wasn’t broadcasted. So basically we’re screwed until someone comes up with a box that has a cable card and I would be surprised if that was allowed.

    Even EyeTV can’t do encrypted stuff, so the only way to record video is by analog (post decryption) which kinda defeats the purpose of digital video.

    MW “Congress” – seriously – as in “Congress better plug some holes in that bill”

  5. This was one of the first things I tried last year when I got my Mac. Then I found out that while the boxes have the port, they are not always active.

    This was done before HDMI so it wouldn’t surprise me if they are allowed to stop putting these on the boxes.

    The funny thing was the guy at Best Buy told me there was no such thing as 6pin to 6pin Firewire cables….like the one I use for my EyeTV 200.

  6. Absolutely freaking hilarious mate, best example of sly british humor I’ve seen on the net. You are the master of the understatement. Way to reel the big american fish in there boy. I mean really, “does this effect the UK?, sounds interesting” … Absolutely brilliant. Only a neanderthal would think that anyone in their right mind would be so stupid as to type a post asking if the USA’s laws applied to us on this side of the pond.

    MDN word is “think”, as in what Andy should have done before he posted. Both times.

  7. m2t files should play on VLC. That they don’t probably means the original feed was encrypted.

    VirtualDVHS works well – sometimes you have to make sure the FW connection is set properly. Sometimes it needs reseting in the connection software Apple provide.

  8. Jim – not too sure why you had the problem. I certainly found that generally encryption was the issue.

    Try recording ABC or PBS. If it doesn’t work could be you need a translator. I could have installed something in the past that helps with QT translation.
    VLC should work by itself. I think you have to open the files from within VLC. Haven’t done it in a while (use VLC that is ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />).

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