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05.03.2004
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Record HDTV now without restriction

There’s a buzz circulating on the Internet about a little known HDTV recording technique — especially on the Web site for Apple Macintosh users called Mac OS X Hints (macosxhints.com).

Due to a little-known FCC rule that went into effect on April 1, any off-the-shelf Macintosh with the latest OS X software can easily become a high-definition video recorder/player.

That FCC regulation requires all cable companies to provide, as of April 1, a Firewire-enabled cable set-top box to any customer that asks for one. Once equipped with such a box, any modern Macintosh equipped with two free programs — VirtualDVHS for recording, and VLC for playback — can be turned into a free, unrestricted HDTV recorder for any broadcast content.

Mac OS X Hints offers a step-by-step tutorial on the subject at (www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20040426151111599. Begin by calling your cable operator and requesting a new “Firewire capable” or “IEEE 1394 enabled” HDTV cable box. Most cable companies charge a small monthly fee for the box, and provide local stations in high definition for free. Plus, if you subscribe to any premium channel, like HBO or Showtime, that price usually includes the HD version.

Then install VirtualDVHS on the Mac. This free software application can be found in two places. It comes in the Firewire SDK, available to Apple Developers or can be downloaded at from the above Mac OS X Hints link.

For playback, use VLC (also downloadable from the above link). VLC is the only client for Macintosh that can replay full-resolution HD content in transport stream format, which is what you get from VirtualDVHS.

If your HDTV has a Firewire port, you can also use VirtualDVHS to playback directly to the TV. If not, then use your computer display.

According to experimenters, some cable companies encrypt HD content for copy protection. But some still don’t, since the issue is not yet resolved on the FCC level. However, it’s illegal for cable companies to encrypt broadcast stations. So, HD content from NBC, CBS, ABC, WB, UPN and PBS is fair game.

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