Watch and Stream Cable TV with your Mac via FireWire!

July 1st, 2009 by Barrett Lyon

No home office is complete without some distracting TV to watch. Originally I was going to install a TV in my office, but I thought “I have this nice display, why do I need a TV?”. Well, after a little digging I did manage to get the FireWire feed off my Comcast box working well. This works for any cable box that has an enabled FireWire port, so this is not limited to Comcast.

This works thanks to a 2004 FCC mandate which requires cable companies to provide a functional 1394 (FireWire) port on request. The main issue is that there’s no real easy instructions on how to attach to the FireWire port and control it with a Mac (until now).

Once I found the right software, getting it all working was actually very easy. In fact, for technical people, it is less work than using a Slingbox.

The instructions here are for the Mac, but there are some links at the end of this article to help the PC folks out there too. On Linux, I am sure this is a cakewalk because Video4Linux is very feature rich and attaching to the FireWire device is easy.

Step 1 – Connect the Firewire

Comcast STB Firewire ports This step is rather self-explanatory, but hey… every time I fly somewhere, someone tells me how to buckle my seatbelt. So, connect your Comcast box to your Mac via Firewire. You should find a Firewire port on the back of your Comcast box. On my Motorola DCT-6412 the Firewire is on the back.

Step 2 – Install VLC

Install the current version of VLC. You can find the most current DMG here. The install is very clean because the folks at the VideoLAN Project have really done a fantastic job creating a tier 1 product.

Just install VLC and we’ll come back to it later.

Step 3 – Install Apple’s FireWire SDK

Download and install the FireWire SDK, it’s a bunch of developer tools, example projects, documentation, and other components that will really help you get this thing working. The actual “example” tool kit we need is called the AV/C Device-Control Panel.

First download the SDK by following this link: Apple Development Kits. This requires an Apple developer account. The kit you want to download is 39.6 MB large and is called, “FireWire SDK 26 for Mac OS X (DMG)”.

Download and install the SDK. It will create a new directory called “Developer” which you should be able to locate via Finder. Inside Developer is another directory called, “Applications”, and inside there is “FireWireSDK Applications”.

The full path is: /Developer/Applications/FireWireSDK Applications

You should see an application called AVCBrowser, just double click that.

Once the AVCBrowser is open, you should see your STB appear on the list. In my case it looks like this:



Simply click on “Open Device-Control Panel”.

This should bring up another window that looks like this:



Click on the “Panel” tab and click “Open Device”, followed by “Start Viewer”:



Once you click “Start Viewer” it should create a socket for VLC to attach to the FireWire device and launch VLC. Within seconds you should see whatever channel your STB is tuned to.



Using the panel you can change channels, adjust volume, etc!

Step 4 – Experiment and Enjoy!

VLC is a feature rich application which works very well for this type of use. There are a few things you might want to play with before settling down with “it works”.

Streaming

VLC has a fantastic Streaming/Transcoding Wizard which will allow you to re-broadcast (stream) your feed.

When streaming your TV, it makes a Slingbox obsolete. Just export the stream to your lan or to the Internet using Multicast or a variety of other interesting streaming methods.

There is a fantastic tutorial on how to stream using VLC here.

I highly suggest you play with this. If you have a dedicated Mac powering your stream, you can export the stream and watch TV around the house/office over wifi.

Interlaced video

Comcast also tends to broadcast their channels interlaced, thus enabling the de-interlace option in VLC is a good idea, I usually use “BOB” as the de-interlacing method.

DVR/save shows

There’s a very easy tab within VLC which will allow you to both save and stream a feed. Likewise you can also just save what you’re watching. Just look for the “Streaming/Saving” option in “open network”. The Streaming/Transcoding wizard will also let you “Save to file”.

Good luck!

If you have improvements, suggestions, or additional how-to data, I will be happy to post them here with credit to you.

Also please comment or email me your results, I would love to know if this helped people.

Other useful links:

  • Replay Guide Windows Directions
  • MythTV Cable Boxes which support FireWire
  • Comcast Channel Listings
  • Video4Linux Wiki

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  • 18 Responses to “Watch and Stream Cable TV with your Mac via FireWire!”

    1. comcast cable tv…

      This is a very good and informative post. I look forward to see more….

    2. how to connect pc to tv cable…

      Great job with the info. How did you find it? Please let me know….

    3. pc to tv cable…

      This post enabled me to come out which fresh content on pc to tv cable. Any similar posts like this?…

    4. pc to tv says:

      Great tutorial. If one does not already have a cable box, where does he get one?

    5. Paula says:

      Nice blog! Keep up the good work.

    6. Barrett Lyon says:

      Here’s a copy of the Firewire SDK up for less complicated downloads: http://blyon.com/firewiresdk26.dmg

    7. Carl says:

      Works fine up to a point, but I can’t change the channel off of channel 999 (movie previews). I fiddled a little and got it to accept another channel, but it was frozen. Only 999 streams properly. Is there another trick I need to know?

    8. Christopher says:

      THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!
      EXTREMELY HELPFUL !!! I thought I needed to buy a TV tuner and was intending on doing that out of necessity…then I read your post. It’s SOOOOOOO simple and it’s bulletproof!!
      Thank you very much!

    9. freakqnc says:

      First of all thanks so much for the helpful info, you really did a great job and an outstanding service to the whole mac community with a firewire enabled cable box!

      Although that’s not so bulletproof for everyone… I am having a problem similar to what Carl experienced back in August 2009. The first time worked with no sound, the second time worked with sound but could not change volume channels or anything else for that matter and could only see the channel the STB started on (Ch.1)

      If anyone has any pointers about fixing this issue it would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance!
      :)

    10. Andy says:

      I plugged a firewire (the old one that came with the iPod from back in the day) into the cable box and then into both my iMac and MacBook (both with Intels) and opened the AVC Browser. It seems to recognize the box (a time warner cable SA 8300HDC from New York City), and when I go to look at the viewer, it properly opens VLC and gives me a UDP address, and occasionally, when I reset the box or turn it on and then off, it shows me a very very choppy picture for one second, but then it stalls and I am left looking at a static choppy picture. Is something the matter? I have tried this both with cable channels and regular network, both HD and SD. I also know that the computer is able to change channels on the cable box, so something is going on, but no picture. Can I get my computer to at least show the picture? Recording would be awesome too!

    11. a_o says:

      for some reason this only works with content i’ve recorded with my DVR and not anything that is currently being broadcast.

    12. [...] OS X to control your cable box for the TV, so follow the steps in the tutorial then come back here: Watch and Stream Cable TV with your Mac via FireWire! The free AVCBrowser software isn't user friendly, but it has the buttons you'll find on a regular [...]

    13. Steve Sweitzer says:

      I feel like I’m so close… I’m plugging my cable box into a Sony DV converter box and then connecting through firewire. I know it’s working because I can see the video stream in Quicktime but I have a record bar across the bottom of the screen so I’m looking for something else. I followed your instructions and everything seems to work till VLC opens. When it opens I get the VLC Player audio window. The dropdown says Playlist udp://:41394. Any suggestions?

    14. Paul says:

      I know I am a bit late to the game here, but I just received my HD cable box from Comcast (Pace RNG110). I follow the instructions, but no TV displays. VLC just thinks about loading something. The only difference I can see from your presentation to what I am experiencing is the following:

      The cable box is being detected (Vendor/Model/Attached/Subunits/Stream Format). All info looks the same as your image above, except for the Stream Format. Yours shows “Unknown/Other” in the graphic above, but mine displays MPEG2-TS (0x01). I’m not super technical, so I don’t really know what that means. From what I can see VLC can stream MPEG2 files.

      I called Comcast for assistance, since the woman who sold me the box (at Comcast) said they would assist me, however, now they tell me this is unsupported – the technician did state he felt the Firewire port was disabled (which it is not) and that the cable is encrypted. I have no idea about the encrypted part!

      Any thoughts, help, advice would be greatly appreciated. Football is but two days away!!

    15. [...] to 800 firewire adapter so that I could connect my Comcast Box to my computer and watch TV using AVC Browser through VLC. So my second recommendation would be to check to make sure you have all the adapter [...]

    16. Larry Lyons says:

      Will this work on a 1.25 Ghz g4 running osx 10.4? I’d love my G4 20inch to be able to do this.

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