A low-cost DVR for news

With HD here, finding a way to record programming from broadcast (both cable and antenna) has posed a problem. Some cable companies and satellite providers either charge a significant amount or refuse to rent their HD PVR systems. Even when these PVRs are rented to broadcasters, often they are proprietary or just simply not the easiest to make compatible with our editing systems and servers.

The following is a solution I have found that works well and provides high-quality video. It uses consumer gear to stream HD across an IT network and records to commonly found Mac machines in the broadcast environment. With Final Cut Pro becoming so commonplace in the news environment and easily exported to servers, I found recording to a Mac G5 the easiest way to go.

The system consists of a SiliconDust HDHomeRun TV tuner for computers placed in a terminal room rack and fed an antenna input and a cable input. Elgato’s EyeTV software is loaded on a Mac. The software reaches across the network to the TV tuner and scans channels (both ATSC from antenna and ClearQAM from cable). Using TV Guide’s online programming schedule, it recognizes all possible recordable channels and loads the guide on the Elgato guide for recording. This allows a simple “click the box” to record one time or on every showing. A manual record function is also possible. When the recording activates, the Mac actually receives the streaming video over the network and records it.

Confidence monitoring is displayed if desired, and all programs to be recorded or already recorded are easy to see in the software GUI. Once recorded, the EyeTV software allows for semi-accurate (to the second, not frame) editing. This allows the file to remain native to the software and fast to render for Final Cut. The video can then be quickly “flipped” to your native editing format, cleaned up to the frame and posted into your server quickly.

The typical one-hour Elgato-native file is about 5Mb per hour of HD video, and the quality of the video is nothing short of incredible. I found both the HDHomeRun hardware and EyeTV software to be rock-solid, with no missed recordings during testing or actual use. The software allows for auto-purging (based on a pre-determinded number of days or shows recorded). In addition, auto-compress to a tight archive format (like MP4, QuickTime or DivX) is possible from within the software.

On a Mac G5 (set up as Final Cut Editor), there were ample resources to allow perfect recording of two channels simultaneously. Because the HDHomeRun has two tuners, you can record one off-air and one off-cable channel at the same time without killing machine resources. The result is great video with no lip-sync errors.

Daniel Slentz was formerly director of engineering at Tribune’s WSFL Miami and is now vice president of technology and broadcast operations at KERA TV/FM - KXT FM Dallas/Fort Worth.