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. 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,

  2. 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;” />


  3. “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.

  4. 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.

  5. …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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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”

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