Record encrypted cable channels using your Mac

In Seattle, Comcast has been moving most of the channels from unencrypted QAM to encrypted QAM. That means that things I used to be able to record with my EyeTV and HD Homerun setup no longer work. I’ve heard rumors that you could install the Apple firewire SDK and record using the FireWire output of your cable box, but that seemed like a lot of work, and not very well supported.

Enter FireRecord. It makes it much simpler, but with caveats. To use it…

  1. Plug a firewire cable between your Mac (I use an older, slow Intel Mac Mini hooked into a QNAP Nas for storage) and your cable box. This is designed for most standard cable boxes – the FireRecord site has more information on supported boxes.
  2. Download and install FireRecord.
  3. Run the program, pick a channel and set the start and end time.
  4. Once the recording is done, you have a large file with a .m2t extension.  You need to massage it before it very usable.
  5. Download MPEG Streamclip. There are other solutions for the Mac, but they cost quite a bit more. I’ve not found a free solution.
  6. You need to install the QuickTimeMPEG2.component, which you have to purchase from Apple (~ $20/US.) When I ran the install program it said that I needed to install Rosetta for the program to run. Rather than do that, you can drill down into the package and find the file. It lives in the package as Archive.pax.gz. If you copy that file to your desktop, you can uncompress it by double clicking the file. Once you’ve got the resulting QuickTimeMPEG2.component file, just copy it to /System/Library/QuickTime (you’ll need to authenticate before copying it over.)
  7. Now you can use MPEG Streamclip to export the video to other formats.

That’s it. It’s crazy easy.

There are caveats

  1. You don’t get a guide. You need to know what channel and what time your program is.
  2. You can’t watch anything else while recording. The firewire port spits out what’s on your television. The flip side is that anything you can watch on TV you can record, even premium channels (not tested yet.)
  3. The resulting file is only tagged with the file name you gave it (i.e. Discover.m2t.) No fancy file tagging like you get with EyeTV, but a pass through MetaX can fix that.
  4. (NEW) Apparently you can’t turn off your cable box or your Mac will have trouble finding the device when you power it back on.