The Beauty that is Apple’s Firewire SDK

For a long time I’ve been aware that Apple’s Firewire SDK contains applications that allow you capture MPEG video streams over firewire from a digital video source. This means that if you have a digital/HD television or set-top box with a firewire port, you can capture that HD content onto your Mac. I’ve never bothered trying it because I assumed my Time Warner 8300HD would have it’s firewire ports disabled. Then, one night I was bored and decided to reasearch it some more. I found out that it is a FCC regulation that cable operators are not allowed to disable the firewire ports on any of their STBs. So, armed with that knowledge, I connected my MacBook to my 8300HD using their firewire ports, and was successful in capturing HD content. There are 2 ways you can this. With the VirtualDVHS application, or the AVCVideoCap application. Use the VirtualDVHS steps below if your TV or STB doesn’t support AV/C. Use the AVCVideoCap steps if your TV or STB supports AV/C.

Virtual DVHS :
1) Download and install Apple’s Firewire SDK found HERE.
2) Connect your Mac to either firewire port located at the back of the 8300HD while the Mac is off.
3) Power on the Mac
4) Tune to the HD channel you wish to capture. (On your STB)
5) Run the AVCBrowser application located under /Developer/FirewireSDK22/Applications/
6) In the Output section of the AVCBrowser’s UI, select channel 63.
7) Run the VirtualDVHS app. (found under the same path in step 5)
8) Set VirtualDVHS’ record channel to 63.
9) Click the connect button in the output section of the AVCBrowser’s UI.
10) Make sure you have the VirtualDVHS’ “Stats Drawer” open and click the record button in the VirtualDVHS UI.
11) Recording should begin, and you should see the Bitrate, Packets, and Resolution stats start chugging away.

AVCVideoCap :

1a) Perform steps 1-4 from above.
2a) Run the AVCVideoCap app located under the same path as stated in step 5.
3a) Select your device in the AVCVideoCap UI.
4a) Click the Capture from Device button.
5a) Choose where you want the video saved.
6a) Enter how long you want to capture in minutes.
7a) Hit continue.
8a) Capturing occurs!

Tips:

1) If you see a lot of “Overruns” occur in AVCVideoCap or if you only see bitrate and packets being populated with data in VirtualDVHS, then your capture won’t be playable. It is most likely because the channel you are viewing is being encrypted by Time Warner. For the most part, local HD stations don’t encrypt their content so give those a try.
2) I recommend using VLC or MPEG Streamclip for playing back your video captures in M2V format. (You’ll have to buy the Apple MPEG-2 Quicktime plugin from Apple if you want to use MPEG Streamclip to convert your M2V into Quicktime or MPEG format.)

13 Replies to “The Beauty that is Apple’s Firewire SDK”

  1. Hey there…

    I was trying to do this with my MacBook and a 8300HD and was having some problems. When I open the video in VLC (it won’t play in MPEG Streamclip) they are in the correct resolution and look nice except they are covered in digital video and sound artifacts. Any ideas on what would cause this? Any thoughts are appreciated.

    Adam

  2. Nevermind…..I got it working and am loving burning all of the stuff to DVD now. It’s wonderful….thanks for presenting this great information!

  3. Hi Matt,

    I can’t seem to get your method to work. I get 0 overruns and I’m trying your AVCVideoCap method with the latest FireWire SDK 23 from Apple. It seems to record with no problems but when I try to play it via VLC nothing happens (no audio or video). Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

  4. Ashu, I would download MPEG Streamclip and give that a shot. I had some issues with VLC too. If that doesn’t work, try the Virtual DVHS method.

  5. Hi Matt, thanks for posting your experience! I have the same setup in NYC with the SA8300HD. Would I be able to watch ‘live’ HDTV on an Apple screen (23″ cinema or 24″ imac) using Fire Wire as described by you, or is your method just for capturing?

  6. You should be able to stream the video in a player while the capture is occuring. VLC should be able to do this. I’ve never taken the time to figure it out though.

  7. I successfully captured video on my MAC through FireWire. The problem is that after approx two minutes, the 8300HD re-boots and the video capture obviously stops. Anyone knows how to overcome this?

  8. hey matt & adam,
    i was able to capture a m2t stream (not an m2v). i’d like to edit in streamclip but no go (i have apple mpeg plugin). so i used vlc to export but i get too much artifacting. is there a way to get an m2v stream and open it in streamclip?
    thanks for your help.

  9. my imac sees the timewarner 8300 box but when i go to record its 0 bytes,am i doing something wrong

  10. Hi Matt, thank you and all the posters for the usefull info but I’m having issues following the outlined steps … So I hope someone is still monitoring this thread.

    I have a SA8300HD+ and it’s having issues so my provider will have to reformat it and, therefore, I’ll lose everything I’ve recorded … which defeats the purpose of having a DVR in the first place.

    After step 4 in DVHS I try to run the AVCBrowser app but it keeps crashing upon opening saying it quit unexpectedly.

    I have a Macbook pro running Snow Leopard.

    Thanks!

  11. I haven’t tried the Firewire SDK apps since Tiger, so I don’t know if the process even works with Snow Leopard. If you’re trying to get your recorded video off the DVR that won’t work anyway, since the DRM on the device won’t stream recorded video. It usually only works for live TV.