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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 worked incredibly well and provided extremely 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 common place 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 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 Elgato software reaches across the network to the HDHomeRun and scans channels (both ATSC from antenna and Clear QAM from cable). Using TVGuide's On-Line programming schedule, it recognized all possible recordable channels and loads their guide on the Elgato guide for recording. This allows a simple “click the box” to record onetime 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 the software is intuitive enough that all programs to be recorded or already recorded are easy to see in the software GUI. Once recorded, the Elgato EyeTV software allows for semi-accurate (to the second, not frame) editing. This allows the file to remain native to the Elgato 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), and auto-compress to a tight archive format (like MP4, Quciktime or DivX) is possible from within the Elgato EyeTV software.

On a Mac G5 (setup 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 is VP of technology & broadcast operations for KERA-TV/FM.