Saturday, May 13, 2006

TiVo on Macintosh: to go or to come back?

Those of us with TiVos and Macs have been waiting a long time for "TiVo To Go" functionality. This is what allows one to download video from a TiVo across a home network to a computer and then watch the video on the computer (or burn it to DVD). This has been available on Windows for a while, but not on Macs. The sticking point has been TiVo's DRM (digital rights management): they haven't made it a priority to develop Macintosh software to decode their video. Well, while the latest version of the Mac TiVo Desktop software doesn't include TiVo To Go functionality, it may contain something even better (unless you're a frequent traveler): what some people call "TiVo To Come Back".

Briefly stated, this allows you to view video files stored on a computer via your TiVo -- no need to connect the computer to the TV (if you're even able to do that). Couple that with the already existing ability to transfer video files from TiVo to computer (via a web browser) and some utilities to convert non-TiVo-originated video to something the TiVo likes, and you can archive TiVo video for later viewing, view video from the web on your TV, etc.

You can look in this thread on the TiVo Community web site for much of the information, but here it is in a nutshell:

  1. Get the newest TiVo Desktop (1.9.3) software and install it.
  2. The software has a hidden option to share video from your computer. Start up System Preferences, open the TiVo Desktop pane, and start and stop it. This will ensure you've got a preferences file. Quit System Preferences; you'll be changing the prefs file manually next.
  3. Change the prefs file to enable the video sharing UI. The prefs file is ~/Library/Preferences/com.tivo.desktop.plist. You can edit it by hand, using Property List Editor, or using a command line operation via the Terminal. The goal is to set VideoUIEnabled to true. The command line to do this is:
    defaults write com.tivo.desktop FileVideo -dict-add VideoUIEnabled -bool true
    It's important that you keep that as one line.
  4. Now restart System Preferences, go to the TiVo Desktop pane, and you should see a "Videos" option. Select that, enter your TiVo's media access key (a 10-digit number; you can get this from you TiVo under "System Information"). You'll note that, by default, videos in ~/TiVoShows are shared. A little poking around leads me to believe that, while running, the TiVo Desktop software checks this directory every 10 minutes for changes.
  5. You also need to open up a hole in your firewall to allow your TiVo to access shared videos. Select the Sharing pane in System Preferences; the TiVo Desktop software should have created an entry under the Firewall option. Click the check box next to it to allow video sharing.
  6. Click the "Start" button back at TiVo Desktop, and your computer should appear at the end of "Now Playing" on your TiVo. You'll only be able to see videos on your computer if you have .mpg or .tivo files in your TiVoShows directory and TiVo Desktop has "noticed" them (it will create .properties files when it polls the directory and notices that files have been added).
  7. If you hold the "option" key down while clicking on the TiVo Desktop preference pane icon, you'll get an option to enable logging. This might be useful to help you debug problems.
  8. To get video off of your TiVo for archiving, use your web browser. Go to the URL https://your.tivo.ip.address/nowplaying/index.html, entering "tivo" for the username and your media access key for the password (I believe you need to append your parental access code to the media access key if you've enabled that feature). You should now see the contents of your TiVo. Clicking on a program will start it downloading to your computer. The resulting .tivo file is encrypted, but of course you can archive it. Put it in your TiVoShows directory and you'll see it on your TiVo the next time the Desktop software polls that directory (of course, you can always stop and start the TiVo Desktop software to for it to rescan the directory right now).
  9. To convert other video to something a TiVo would like, get TiVoizer from VersionTracker. It provides a very simple GUI wrapper around command line video/audio transcoding tools and works quite nicely, placing its output directly in your TiVoShows directory. You can get more information about the video and audio formats TiVos like on the TiVo web site.

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