Island in the Net

A personal blog by Khürt Williams, full of inchoate writing on photography, coffee, and geekery.

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Watching TiVo on an iPod Touch

I’m finally getting around to working on something I’ve wanted to do for sometime. Last year my kids and I got hooked on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Every Sunday morning we would sit on the sofa and watch it on the TiVo. It was our way to reconnect and watch something we enjoy together. This year, The Clone Wars is on at a time that conflicts with another show that my wife and I enjoy. We decided that we would get a seasons pass to the show via iTunes. Our Sunday ritual was saved. We also ended up with an extra perk. I could now sync the shows to my iPod Touch and we could enjoy Clone Wars whenever and wherever we wanted.

But then the kids and I got hooked on Phineas and Ferb. We looked forward to Phineas saying ‘Where’s Perry?”, Isabella with “Hey Phineas, What ya doin’?”, and Candace with “You’re so busted”. It’s predictable entertainment. Trouble is, out TiVo started to fill up with all the shows – first run and repeats. We would sit down on the couch only to find out that the last episode had been deleted to make space for another show. I started to think about what I could do about this.

My first thought was – expand the size of the TiVo. Western Digital and TiVo partnered to develop an external hard drive.

With the Western Digital My DVR Expander for high-definition TiVo boxes, you can increase the recording capacity of your TiVo box.

However, the My DVR Expander must be mated to a specific TiVo and TiVo does not support the use of other drives – only the My DVR Expander. My second thought was to use weaKnees. Weakness specializes in TiVo upgrades. You send them your TiVo and they install a larger replacement hard drive in your TiVo, fully formatted and with your media access key. The problem is that I would be without the use of the TiVo while they worked on it. Weaknees does provide a do it yourself option but I had little confidence that I could pull it off without borking my TiVo.

I started thinking that it would be nice if I could just pull the shows off the TiVo and archive them. I have over 2TB of storage in my home, 500GB of which is attached to my Mac mini. I’ve been using the Mac mini as a media server for over 6 months. I started ripping and converting my DVD library to h.264 format and importing into iTunes. The idea was that I would eventually connect the Mac mini to my HD TV (DVI to HDMI). However, my wife and kids and I sync our iPods to iTunes on the Mac mini so I’m rethinking that strategy. Perhaps an Apple TV?

Anyway, I decided that my solution would involved getting the video on my TiVo to that Mac mini. I searched around and found a program called iTiVo.

iTiVo is a Mac front-end to your Series 2, Series 3, and TiVoHD device. It will download shows to your mac, and convert them to many popular formats / devices.

iTiVo does exactly what I need and a few more things I did not expect. To get iTiVo connected to my TiVo I needed the IP address and Media Access Key of my TiVo. iTiVo displays a list of all the shows on my TiVo. Not all my shows can be downloaded. Some rights holders restrict the shows. I can add a show to the queue to download of subscribe to a show – like a season pass. iTiVo will download and encode the show for each new episode.

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iTiVo provides a few important options (click Preferences). In the Download section of the iTiVo Preferences I entered my MAK and set the location where I wanted iTiVo to save the video files. It took me awhile to decide what video format I wanted my files. On the one hand Apple TV is better quality but the files are not compatible with my iPod Touch. The iPod Touch format would work well for my iPod but video quality was undesirable for viewing on a TV. I compromised with the iPhone super-res format. I also discovered a bonus feature of using iTiVo. After conversion iTiVo will import the video file into iTunes ready to be synced to my iPod Touch. Cool!

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iTiVo has an experimental feature called “Automatic Commercial Skipping”. iTiVo will find the video blanking interval and remove commercials from your video. A one hour show becomes 40 minutes of fun with no commercial interruption. It works quite well and I have not had any issues. I have not used the subtitles feature.

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Moving files over my network from the TiVo to my G4 Mac mini can make the network somewhat useless for other purposes. To reduce the load on the network I set iTiVo to transfer video files between 10 PM and 6 AM. On my G4 Mac mini iTiVo takes a few hours to download and convert each hour of video but most of my video is ready for syncing with my iPod Touch by the next morning. My kids and I now catch up with our shows by hooking up my Macbook to the TV and streaming from the Mac mini. Time to go look for a used Apple TV on eBay?

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